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At a time when employers are seeking workers with increasingly sophisticated analytical and problem-solving skills, the public is losing confidence that America’s educational system is up to the task of preparing these workers.

Despite reports from employers that even factory jobs require some form of post-secondary education, a series of recent polls show the public’s opinion of American higher education institutions is waning.

The nonprofit advocacy group Public Agenda published a report in September 2016 that underscores this loss of confidence. Based on a nationwide survey, the report notes that for many years, the percentage of survey respondents who said they believe a college education is necessary for success in today’s work world was on the rise.

But in 2016, only 42 percent of Americans said they believe college is necessary for workforce success. That represents a 13 percent drop from the 2009 survey results.

On the flip side, a majority (57 percent) of Americans said there are many ways to succeed in today’s world without a college degree, representing a 14 percent increase from 2009.

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The Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2016 State of American Jobs report found that only 16 percent of Americans believe a four-year degree prepares students “very well” for a well-paying job in today’s economy.

It can be hard to reconcile statistics like these with the piles of studies that have shown that higher education is still one of the best investments an individual can make in his or her future earnings.

Higher education is more important than it’s ever been to an individual’s success, and higher-level cognitive skills are crucial to the future growth of the American economy.

The key to maintaining confidence in the value of higher education lies in making sure that educational institutions equip students with the right tools for today’s world.

Wanted: A new approach

Employers today increasingly need workers who have critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills.

That means we need to re-think the way we educate and train the workforce.

Learners need critical thinking skills.At the 2017 Education World Forum in London, OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher spoke of how education today must act as a compass that enables students to “navigate” and make judgments.

“The modern world no longer rewards you for what you know,” he said. What’s important is whether you can apply knowledge, solve problems, work with others and analyze situations.

So educators today not only have to help students acquire subject-matter knowledge; they must also help students develop these critical intellectual skills.

And they must do this amid a media environment that has changed dramatically in recent years.

Learning isn’t changing; it has already changed

In the past 10 years, the way we go about acquiring knowledge in our day-to-day lives has undergone a radical change.

Think about the last time you needed to learn how to perform a simple home repair, or to cook something you’d never made before?

Did you open a book, start at page 1 and read to the end? Did you wait until you’d waded through all of that material to try out your new skill and see if it had gotten through?

Probably not.

More likely, you ran to the nearest Web-enabled device, typed your problem into a search engine and pulled up a recipe, YouTube video or how-to article. Minutes later, you applied that knowledge, and a new skill had been learned.

There’s a big difference between learning how to change a circuit breaker and learning the kinds of complicated biological processes that form the foundation of a medical degree, but the realities of how we all interact with information in today’s world are the same no matter what we’re learning.

Yet the educational system we rely on to prepare a new generation of workers is, in many respects, still stuck in the Industrial Age.

Seeking a solution

How can we better serve teachers and students?

That’s the question we strive to answer at Odigia, and the result is a digital-learning platform created specifically to address the problems discussed above.

At Odigia, we start by giving teachers tools that make it easy to create and modify compelling course content, while providing real-time data to quickly identify which students need help and which course concepts aren’t getting across, so that adjustments can be made before it’s too late.

We think students deserve a learning experience that is as engaging as the online world in which they conduct much of their daily business, and one that supports their individual learning styles.

We have found success in using game theory to give students a clear picture of their progress, and to motivate them to keep moving through the  material and not fall behind their classmates.

It’s also important for any learning platform to include features that help students develop and demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills.

One of the most important ways to do this is to encourage non-linear thinking. True mastery comes when a student can apply a concept across different disciplines, and this process also encourages the kind of problem-solving and critical thinking that is crucial in today’s knowledge economy.

We built Odigia’s Connections feature to encourage students and teachers to make connections that aren’t written in the course outline, and to use their knowledge to create genuinely new ideas.

Another key to developing soft skills is fostering lively discussion that isn’t relegated to the confines of the classroom. That’s why we built Odigia’s discussion forum to be highly visible and easy to use. Added features like flagging, favoriting and post filtering foster active collaboration among students that can bridge the gap between the classroom and independent study.

Up to the challenge

By harnessing a more robust, interactive learning platform that is designed specifically to meet the needs of teachers and learners, higher education institutions have the opportunity to better deliver on the demands that both employers and students place on them.

It’s all about helping teachers teach, improving learning outcomes for students, and helping learning institutions improve retention and manage costs.

What can Odigia do for your school? Contact us to find out.