In the last 10 years, attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to five. The number of personal electronic devices has outnumbered people on the planet. The first iPad was introduced in April of 2010. At the time, skeptics questioned why someone would want an oversized smartphone. That’s humorous now since we have tablets, mini tablets, plus sized phones, smart watches and convertibles. The technology has been a game changer in everyday lives. When was the last time you heard a busy signal when making a phone call? There is a generation who has no idea what a busy signal even is. And yet, the university education model has remained somewhat constant for decades, really centuries. Is there a looming transformation?

The discussion in academia these days is consumer versus customer. The customer for university education is the student. Brochures highlight the college experience with images of students strolling through lush verdant campuses, interacting with smiling peers and intense conversations with a small ratio of students to teachers. The online presence of these universities continues to highlight the variety of campus activities that cater to specific interests. But, consider the consumer for higher education. That would be businesses, those companies and institutions that require and hire university-educated graduates. Business, as a consumer of the degreed student, wants employees who have specific expertise as well as soft skills of communication and teaming. In the past, internships, limited one-time assignments and co-op, a joint venture between employer and university for five-year programs, have served as education to employment transition type programs.

I had a rather successful co-op run for four years as a mechanical engineering student. I even filed for a patent. In total, my co-op time gave me two years of work experience, but did it actually give me experience? With my first job out of college, I felt confident about my engineering skills. But when a peer took credit for my work, I had no idea what to do. None.

After mentoring, coaching and speaking on incidents like this, the solution is simple: it takes some experience to know what to do. How does a student get this soft skill expertise? Honestly, you can’t get in a situation and instantly Google for the answer. Enter Knod, a learning model that bridges the gap between education and employment by partnering universities and businesses in an experienced based project as part of the curriculum.

A recent report from Hart Research Associates calls out that just 23 percent of employers say recent college graduates are well-prepared when it comes to the ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. That’s a sizable gap between education and employment. Yet, it is not surprising considering businesses need employees who are confident professionals with crucial soft skills, team leadership, project management, professional communication, and collaborative problem solving. Theory and methodology are not enough. This belief was highlighted in a Gallop Survey in 2013, which found that 88 percent of business leaders were in favor of increased collaboration with higher education institutions.

Focusing on knowledge and skills in a real world setting differentiates Knod as a learning model. The project-based learning experience is designed with business to develop students not only on specific industry, business and technical expertise, but also which develops, refines, and strengthens the soft skills to prepare students for the future workforce. By partnering with employers, Knod puts students in real-life situations so they learn how to act and react to clients, colleagues and crises.

How is it different than intern or co-op? Students work online and on site with employers on specified projects as a team, seeing a project through together as a team rather than working on one-off assignments. The students have to make it work and this is where the incredible amount of soft skill training and development comes in. As a student told me once,

 “Everyone is nice the first week or so and then you realize this person is impacting your grade. That forces you to put into practice how to give feedback and how to team and how to work together for the common good to ensure the best outcomes.” 

That statement is an employer’s dream. Learning models like Knod’s global learning network become the employee pipeline for partnering corporations.

It’s that time of year when high school juniors are selecting schools. I doubt at this time, many students and parents are debating customer versus consumer for higher education. I know I didn’t. Ask most people why go to college, and the answer is to get a job. The goal of securing employment begins to shift the conversations of higher education. In just five years, we’ve had the technology shift of personal devices outnumbering the people on the planet. Before, we heard remarks of who needs a tablet, or even 30 years ago, naysayers speculated who would want a computer at home. Knod is changing the game as the first global program to fully exploit the student to employment pipeline with the objective of closing the education to employment gap. Is the traditional educational model going away any time soon? No. Is there a demand for new education options that meet the needs of both the student as a customer and business as a consumer? Yes, it’s tipping point. Game on.