Learning and working through social networks: Still a (mostly) untapped opportunity for higher education

TLDR: My Australian National Senior Teaching Fellowship report is now out and available for download. My fellowship explores the roles that social networks play in graduate employability, and how universities can foster social network capability through interventions at curricular, pedagogic, and organisational levels.

My fellowship findings and resources will be of interest to Australian university leaders who are developing strategies in response to the National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund, and to educators who are designing or reviewing degree programs.

Readers can access the connectedness reflection tool for educators for free. I also offer facilitated sessions to support educators with curriculum development and review, and strategic industry partnership development. Please get touch if you’d like to find out more.

Full article:

As many of you know, I’m interested in how education can ensure that learners are prepared for the future (and increasingly the now!) of life and work. Some of my research is about the capabilities that individuals can develop – so-called ’21st century’ skills, and the learning & teaching approaches that foster these. But I am also interested in other factors involved in future-capability, beyond individual skills.

For the last five years, through my Australian National Senior Teaching Fellowship Graduate Employability 2.0, along with a range of other research grants, I have been exploring how individuals, educators and educational institutions can enhance and make the most of social networks for learning and career success. I’ve discovered this goes far beyond ‘networking’ and having a polished LinkedIn profile.

How can individuals benefit from social networks?

My research suggests that there are at least three ways in which individuals can benefit from social connectedness in 21st century careers. They are:

(1) networks for career development (the one we usually think of) – activating social networks for career development through mentorship, access to resources or opportunities

(2) networks for learning – learning new skills by collaborating with others, or by sourcing information, knowledge or capabilities from others

(3) networks for innovation and problem-solving – solving problems or creating new knowledge by collaborating with, or sourcing information, knowledge or capabilities from, others, particularly those from a different discipline or context

Developing and using networks for learning and innovation / problem solving are centrally important to how 21st century society works.

What does higher education need to do?

Both the capabilities needed for social networks and the social networks themselves can, and should, be developed through higher education. The good news is that over the last few years universities have started to appreciate the roles that networks play in student career development and graduate employability. More and more students are learning the basics of networking for career development while they are undergraduates, which sets a good foundation for social network development over time.

However, learning, problem solving and innovation through social networks are still much less likely to be included in curricula. Since last year much teaching has moved online, but students are still being allocated into teams of 4 with their same-discipline course peers (in a break-out room in Zoom or Teams) to engage in learning. This approach is useful for some outcomes, but it doesn’t get at the real scenarios, processes and outcomes through which graduates will end up adding value.

There are some great exemplars of authentic and ‘free-range’, interdisciplinary and socially networked learning out there — e.g., some kinds of work integrated learning, enterprise and entrepreneurship learning, and research-based learning experiences. I cheer internally every time I hear about one. But this learning is by no means ubiquitous.

The main reasons seem to be that while valuable, it can be more resource-intensive and risky to deliver than classroom-based learning, challenging to arrange logistically and financially, and difficult to assess.

What next steps can educators take?

For social network-based learning to occur effectively and consistently, certain educational elements relating to curriculum, pedagogy and layers of institutional connectedness need to line up. You can access the connectedness reflection tool for educators for free to start to characterise the strengths and opportunities of your program, School, or institution.

More broadly, educational programs and institutions need to be well-connected with their communities and social ecosystems, something which many universities still struggle with. My research interviewees described the university either as a ‘walled garden’ or a series of siloes – neither of which support social network-based learning. My book Higher Education and the Future of Graduate Employability – A Connectedness Learning Approach deals with these issues in more detail, including some case studies from different institutions.

For more information

I encourage readers to check out my fellowship resources:

Final Fellowship Report – Graduate Employability 2.0: Enhancing the Connectedness of Learners, Programs and Higher Education Institutions
The Graduate Employability 2.0 model and framework
Connectedness Reflection Tool for Educators
Fact Sheets

I also offer facilitated sessions to support educators with curriculum development and review, and strategic industry partnership development. Please get touch if you’d like to find out more.


Making career changes – COVID-19 and the future of work

I was on Australian Channel 7 Sunrise television yesterday talking about the future of work, and what it means for career changers – thinking about where the opportunities are, and what can people do to make the most of them.

I only had a few minutes on TV and I had a lot more to share, so I’ve written up this blog post.

The topics I’ll cover in this post are:

  1. Why is it that so many people thinking of changing careers?
  2. Where are the job opportunities right now?
  3. How do people maximise their career adaptability in order to successfully change careers?
  4. What will work look like in the future?
  5. What about career opportunities beyond the immediate future?

Why is it that so many people thinking of changing careers?

According to survey research conducted by ING Future Focus, about 3 million people in Australia are thinking of changing careers post-pandemic. The research found 35 per cent of surveyed Australians wanted a new job after COVID-19, and 17 per cent were rethinking their career path entirely.

I think the reason for this is twofold. First, the ABS reports that about 1 million Australian jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic, affecting disproportionately hospitality and retail jobs, casual workers, young people, women, and minorities. The rest of us are working differently than ever before – as businesses have moved their operations online, many of us have been working from home. New roles have also emerged very quickly. Back in February, I’ll bet no one would have guessed that they’d be undertaking tasks around crisis management, staged return to work management, or working from home co-ordination. I think working from home is set to continue, as businesses and organisations reinvent themselves permanently as more online and less ‘bricks and mortar’.

The second reason is that while we’ve been experiencing this instability, we’ve been at home with some time and space to reflect, and to think about what our options could be. Some will be prioritising financial safety in their reflections, and others will be thinking about where the opportunities are for them in the new world of work.

Where are the job opportunities right now?

At present I’d describe the job opportunities out there are being about core needs – safety, food, health, and entertainment while at home. The opportunities are what you’d expect – many job roles in healthcare and social care, in essential retail (supermarkets), and in logistics and delivery work. As the economy opens up more, there will be more opportunities in retail again, but hospitality and tourism are likely to be rocky labour markets for some time.

There is also an interesting trend around big companies like banks and telcos returning their global operations to onshore, so there are more Australian jobs in call centres, back-end operations, data processing, and IT. My little sister just last week got her first full-time job working at a major insurance company processing claims because the company brought these functions back to Australia.

How do people maximise their career adaptability in order to successfully change careers?

Career change is a multi-step process. The first step is to make space for yourself to think and act. No one who is under severe financial stress can think strategically or creatively about their careers, so ensure that you have done everything you can to ensure your financial safety first. This might be applying for government benefits, talking to your bank to stop mortgage payments temporarily, or making the most of the job opportunities I’ve described above, even though it may not align 100% with where you want to go.

The second step is to start to think about yourself not in terms of your job title, but in terms of the values, strengths and capabilities that you have. For instance, someone who works in hospitality might have great interpersonal skills and abilities to resolve conflict, and find great satisfaction in that. Engineers tend to be great project managers with well-developed analytical capabilities. It can sometimes be difficult to reframe in this way by yourself, and in this case talking with other people (such as colleagues or friends who are prepared to be honest and up-front with you) can help to help illuminate what your particular strengths are. Professional career counsellors are also great at helping with this process.

From your reframing, you can then go ahead and start to explore opportunities that are out there, or that you might be able to create. Speaking of creating opportunities, now is probably not a good time to throw everything you have into a new venture, but it is a great time to start exploring side gigs if you’ve got an idea for one (virtual clutter organising anyone? With all this working from home I really need someone to Marie Kondo my computer!)

You may also need to upskill or reskill for new opportunities. You can often start the skilling process informally and cheaply / free through online platforms like Linkedin Learning, Youtube, or MOOCs through Coursera. If you want to get a formal credential, and this can be an advantage in the jobs market, TAFES and universities are currently offering subsidised 6-month certificate courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level in areas of national priority such as aged care, information systems, and education. Griffith University, where I work, is offering certificates in cybersecurity and data analytics, which are good areas of jobs growth.

For more on career planning in an era of disruption, you can check out my blog post on this topic here.

What will work look like in the future?

I’ve been involved in several research projects investigating the future of work. While none of them predicted the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, we did predict that there would be major changes to the world of work over the next few years. My research suggests that change is actually going to become the ‘new normal’, and many of us will need to reinvent ourselves professionally multiple times throughout the course of our careers.

We’ve actually got a ‘double whammy’ of change happening right now. We’re in a pandemic, and we’re also at the beginning of the 4th industrial revolution[1]. But the good news is that history suggests we’re fairly resilient to these kinds of changes. For instance, the Plague in the Middle Ages in the late 1300s led to the Renaissance in the 1400s – an unprecedented time of expansion in science, culture and the arts.

Our 21st century post-pandemic expansion is going to be digital. It’ll be about things like artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality, and cloud computing. On the basis of our experiences in the last few months I suspect and hope it will also be about reconnection with community, social engagement, and environmental sustainability.

What about career opportunities beyond the immediate future?

At the moment the economy is in a deep recession. Even while the recession is going on, COVID-19 is driving enormous digital transformation. When the economy recovers, there will be even more digital innovation across many fields.

In the research project 100 Jobs of the Future, we interviewed experts and asked them to identify key trends and advances in their fields, and project what key work opportunities in the next 10-20 years might be. The 100 jobs are meant to inspire and help young people (and not so young people!) see possibilities in the next wave of careers.

There is a digital thread that runs through 99 of the 100 jobs[2] that were generated through the research. But for those of us who aren’t full-stack programmers and have no desire to be, there is good news as well. Only about 20 of the future jobs were digitally intensive – ones around things like cybersecurity, machine learning programming, and quantum computing development.

The rest of jobs rely on the use of digital technology in various ways, particularly to connect with other people – to care, to educate, to persuade or inform – or to help with practical tasks like food production or building or cleaning. Others key themes that ran through some of the jobs were scientific advancement, and advanced use of data.

You can browse all 100 jobs or do the jobs explorer quiz at the website 100jobsofthefuture.com, but here is a sample of them by key theme.

Connection with people jobs – Nostalgist: This is a role in aged and dementia care. Nostalgists work with people to recreate experiences and contexts from bygone eras to help them feel safe.  Other people jobs include: Virtual tourism manager, personal brand and content manager, digital memorialist, 100 year counsellor, cyborg psychologist.

Practical jobs – Biofilm installer: Biofilm installers are a kind of specialised plumber who installs a layer of good bacteria into pipes and waterways to help break down waste. Other practical jobs: Robot or drone mechanic, energy and data systems installer

Organised jobs – Virtual clutter organiser: This one’s for those of us who have ever felt a little overwhelmed about the volume of your email, online photos or other data. You can hire a virtual clutter organiser to sort out your online data, Marie Kondo style

Science jobs – Biomimicry innovator, de-extinction geneticist, terraforming microbiologist

Health jobs – Nutri-gutome consultant, genetics coach, data-informed diagnostician

Outside jobs– Cricket farmer, digital apiarist, agroecological farmer

Creative jobs – Autonomous vehicle profile designer, swarm artist

Jobs I would personally love to do out of the 100 jobs: Trendwatcher, fusionist (someone who brings people from different disciplines together to solve problems and generate ideas), lifelong education advisor (and I’m already doing all three of these!)

[1] Researchers argue that there have actually been 3 other industrial revolutions – the first (and most famous) one kicked off in the 1700s with people moving off the land and the invention of the steam engine.

[2] If you were wondering about the non-digital 100th job, it’s Analogue Experience Guide – someone who helps people disconnect from their devices and reconnect with nature.


100 Jobs of The Future: what are the job roles that could be created in the next few years?

Screen Shot 2019-07-24 at 3.07.28 pm

Media reports and scholarly literature alike tend to emphasise the jobs that might / will disappear over the next few years under the influence of automation and artificial intelligence. Some reports suggest that as many as 50% of job roles will disappear. Others suggest that work might eventually become a thing of the past entirely, resulting in either a leisure-based utopia and universal income for humans, or the end of society, economy, and possibly even civilisation as we know it.

Over the past 5-6 years that I’ve been active in this area of research, I’ve worked to temper these claims. Yes, some roles have disappeared already (typesetter, switchboard operator, toll and parking fee collector…) It is very likely that other roles will follow behind them in the next few years (tax accountants, warehouse jobs, many types of customer service roles, telemarketers [yay!]…) Other jobs roles will continue to exist, but the tasks inside those roles will become more about (i) interacting with technology, and (ii) things that only humans can do (or things that it is too expensive for machines to do).

I’ve always wanted to know about the other side of this story: Could there be jobs that become more common? Will there be entirely new jobs created?
This is what the ‘100 jobs of the future’ research project is about.

I (at Griffith University) worked with colleagues from Deakin University (Russel Tytler and Peta White), with funding supplied by Ford Australia, to try to figure out what the ‘uniquely human’ job roles might be in the next 20-30 years, including some entirely new roles. We explicitly wanted to provide a counterpoint to the ‘Robots are Coming For Our Jobs’ narrative, and to inspire young people to think about the possibilities that they might be able to find or create for themselves.

We interviewed a range of experts in technology, science, and various social science-based fields, to figure out what the key broad trends were that might impact on the world of work over coming decades*. By overlaying these trends onto one another, we were able to construct job roles and descriptions, and an indication of the kinds of human capabilities that might be required to do them. We then built a quiz based on career theory to help young people identify future job roles that might suit them, and to get them started in developing their interests and capabilities.

It was a really fun project. The report, quiz, and supporting educational materials are available at 100jobsofthefuture.com

Here are the jobs:
• 100 year counsellor
• Forensic data analyst
• Energy and data systems installer
• Additive manufacturing engineer
• Freelance virtual clutter organiser
• Entomicrobiotech cleaners
• Aesthetician
• Fusionist
• Ethical hacker
• Aged health carer of the future
• Gamification designer
• Farm safety advisor
• Aged persons climate solutions consultant
• Genetics coach
• Flood control engineer
• Agroecological farmer
• Haptic technology designer
• Food knowledge communicator
• AI educator
• Health shaper
• Trendwatcher
• AI intellectual property negotiator
• Human habitat designer
• Virtual and augmented reality experience creator
• Algorithm interpreter
• Innovation manager
• Virtual assistant personality designer
• Analogue experience guide
• Integrated ecology restoration worker
• Virtual surgeon
• Automated transit system troubleshooter
• Integrated energy systems strategist
• Waste reclamation and upcycling specialist
• Automation anomaly analyst
• Integrated home technology brokers
• Water management specialist
• Autonomous vehicle profile designer
• Lifelong education advisor
• Weather control engineer
• Behaviour prediction analyst
• Local community co-ordinator
• Drone experience designer
• Biofilm plumber
• Machine-learning developer
• Early childhood teacher
• Bio-jacker
• Massive 3D printed building designer
• Terraforming microbiologist
• Biometric security solutions engineer
• Mechatronics engineer
• Biomimicry innovator
• Media remixer
• Bioprinting engineer
• Memory optimiser
• Blockchain talent analyst
• Multisensory experience designer
• Chief digital augmentation officer
• Nanomedical engineer
• Chief ethics officer
• Net positive architect
• Child assistant bot programmer
• New materials engineer
• Community farm finance broker
• Nostalgist
• Community support worker
• Nutri-gutome consultant
• Cricket farmer
• Offworld habitat designer
• Cross-cultural capability facilitators
• Personal brand manager & content curator
• Cyborg psychologist
• Personalised marketer
• Data commodities broker
• Predictive regulation analyst
• Data farmer
• Quantum computer programmer
• Data privacy strategist
• Real-virtual transfer shop manager
• Data storage solutions designer
• Regional community growth co-ordinator
• Data waste recycler
• Robot ethicist
• Data-based medical diagnostician
• Robot mechanic
• Decision support worker
• Satellite network maintenance engineer
• De-extinction geneticist
• Shadowtech manager
• Digital apiarist
• Sharing auditors
• Digital implant designer
• Smart dust wrangler
• Digital memorialists and archivists
• Space tourism operator
• DigiTech troubleshooter
• Sportsperson of the future
• Displaced persons re-integrator
• Sustainable energy solutions engineer
• Drone airspace regulator
• Swarm artist

*I acknowledge that some have crticised the use of trends (and megatrends) to predict the future. These people argue that some of the most impactful influences are very difficult to predict – they are truly disruptive and result in what Kuhn would call paradigm shifts. This means that the some of the jobs in the list might be too ‘safe and predictable’, and too like our job roles of the present. I think that it’s still worthwhile to do the research. While not every job role we’re predicting will happen, and others will be too similar to jobs of today, it’s worthwhile to use the jobs we’ve created as a somewhat concrete launch point to think about the kinds of things we might be doing in 20-30 years time. In turn, we can use these jobs to inform our design of broad-based educational experiences so that people have the right kinds of capabilities.


Journal special issue: call for abstracts

I’m seeking article authors for a 2019 special issue of Higher Education Policy and Management on the role and impact of employability and employment outcomes in higher education:

The special issue is titled ‘Employability and employment outcomes as drivers of higher education practice: Implications for development of a future-capable workforce’

For more information, please visit:


The career service is dead, long live the career service? The work of the university career practitioner in an era of graduate employability

I’ve always been interested in career services. Those of us who have enough life mileage 😉 may have visited a career service in high school or university to do a range of aptitude tests, and be matched with an ideal career (mine was ‘lawyer’ – not sure what this says about me??). Others will have visited the career service to talk with a counsellor about changing courses, or how to find a job after they graduate.

The work of the university career practitioner has become increasingly complicated and demanding over the last few years. Not only have careers themselves become more complex and mutable, but the career service’s client base and range of activity has become far more diverse. For instance, I’ve noticed that it is now very common for career staff to be engaged in a massive laundry list of activities at the university, covering: curriculum and learning resource design and teaching; industry brokerage and partner relationship development; staff professional learning; institutional marketing and promotions; and creation of institutional policy and strategy, in addition to ‘traditional’ career counselling activities. Another disruptor is digital technology and social media. The use of digital tools means that the reach of the career service can be far greater than before, but their use is also associated with a range of interesting challenges.

The structural positioning and overall focus of many career services has changed as well. With the rise of the graduate employability agenda and a sector-wide focus on preparing learners for careers (or at least initial career outcomes) (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2018), some career services are suddenly finding themselves in the institutional spotlight, taking on significant responsibility for the university’s approach in this area. Others are capitalising upon burgeoning leadership interest in work integrated learning and employability skills to foreground the possibilities offered by an integrated institutional approach to career development learning. However, in other universities career services continue ‘out in the cold’ as “stand-alone entities, often organisationally aligned with student support services or marketing departments” (McKenzie & Howell, 2005), and are not (yet?) part of university-level conversations about learning and teaching.

University career services: No longer out in the cold?
University career services: No longer out in the cold?

In my keynote address at the Career Development Association of Australasia conference coming up in Hobart in May, I’m going to explore how career services and individual practitioners are responding to the disruptive changes to career development practice I’ve outlined above. I’ll talk about how they’re surmounting challenges, and reinventing themselves and their work to continue to best support the career development of learners.

I’ll share some findings of my Graduate Careers Australia-funded research project with Alan McAlpine and Michelle Grant-Iramu from QUT into the ‘future capability’ of the career service (actually, from a certain perspective one might also think of it as the career adaptability of the careers service!) Through nearly 40 interviews with career service managers, practitioners, institutional leadership, and academic staff across a total of nine universities in Australia, the UK and Canada 2017-2018, this research explored:
– the impact of disruptive influences within and outside the institution on career services and the work of career practitioners
– the big challenges that career services are facing in the current era of ‘career service ultra-super-hyperactivity’ (see also Dey & Real, 2009)
– how career services are transforming themselves in response to, and in anticipation of, ongoing changes
– the different organisational strategies that they using to influence the direction of the university in exciting ways,
– the ways that practitioners are working to integrate career development learning across the institution
– how career services managers and university leaders perceive the future of the career service – what’s coming next, and how can they prepare?

I invite you to join me in discussion on these topics at the conference. I am very aware that delegates will have relevant lived experience in their own contexts and practices, and I’m keen to take the opportunity to learn from you, as well as sharing what I have discovered so far. If the technology is amenable, I’ll lead a structured conversation about your experiences of the disruptors, the approaches you are taking to navigating these, and the ways that we can work together to assure the future capability of career development practice in educational institutions.

Dey, F., & Real, M. (2010). Adaptation of Casella’s Model: Emerging Trends in Career Services. College Student Educators International.

Jackson, D., & Bridgstock, R. (2018). Evidencing student success in the contemporary world-of-work: Renewing our thinking. Higher Education Research and Development. (In Press)

McKenzie, M., & Howell, J. (2005). A snapshot of Australian university career services. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 6-14.


Are our universities ‘too fat’?

I’m in Canberra. I’ve been attending the 2018 Universities Australia conference*, and I’m writing this from a corner in ANU’s ageing Art & Music library (I love the smell of it – oh the nostalgia! It reminds me of my undergrad days at UQ, when I would spend solid days in places like this. At the time I didnt realise the luxury of it). Alas, today my usual spot in the Chifley library is not available, because it’s being knocked down to make way for a schmick new student hub.

ANU's new student hub sign

Australian universities are in an interesting spot right now. Everyone’s committed to expensive infrastructure projects, and some are going into significant debt to do it. In my current city of Adelaide, we have a new University of Adelaide building for health and medical sciences going up right next to a UniSA cancer research institute on North Terrace. The rumour that UniSA added a spire to the top of its building to make it slightly taller than the Adelaide one hasn’t been confirmed beyond doubt, but there’s definitely some competition going on.

Many of these infrastructure projects are aimed at attracting students and industry partners, and bringing our activities into the 21st century. All of them started earlier than any concrete promises of government funding ‘reforms’ or MYEFO**. At that stage, we were all chasing increased student demand, and there was a sense that we could keep expanding forever – although actually after a big increase when the demand driven system was introduced, enrollment growth stabilised at just below population growth by 2016-17. Last year in my committee-plenteous middle management university job, I would field at least two new course proposals per month that made claims*** about being able to find amazing student load from entirely new sources.

Now we’ve put the anchors on. In the last two months the buildings have still been going up, but the Commonwealth $ will be the same, at least under the Coalition goverment, and later will be linked to ‘performance’ in various ways – most probably QILT indicators of student satisfaction, student retention, full-time grad employment and so on. It’s no surprise that now universities are variously looking for more money from international student load (FPOS), and domestic full fee paying students (micro-credentials for executive education, anyone?), both of which are risky moves. They are also looking seriously at belt-tightening, rationalisation and efficiencies, which is what the minister has been talking about for a while now.

So here’s a question: Are universities indeed ‘too fat’?
Universities all report their top level financial results to DET. Most post a surplus of between 2% and 6% (not so much regionals and dual-sector unis, many of which are definitely struggling), but according to UA, the average surplus has been declining over the last few years. These surpluses aren’t about profit, because universities are not-for-profit entities. The surpluses are instead what the university has on hand at the end of the year, including money from things like research and capital grants for which spending is already committed for the next year. The surplus figures are therefore not a great indicator of how much belt-tightening universities can stand, or might need.

So how efficient are universities in doing what they do? Is there more room for efficiency? By ‘efficiency’, I mean obtaining maximum value with minimum wasted effort and expense. This is a hard one, and one that VCs differ on somewhat (most recently, Margaret says yes we can be more efficient, at least with investment in infrastructure and technology, Glyn says no – specifically in terms of academic to professional staff ratios, and Jane also says no – in terms of the salaries and superannuation that academic staff receive).

To tell you the truth, the whole conversation makes me uncomfortable. The reason is that in pursuing university efficiency, we risk ending up negatively impacting our #1 stakeholders – our students. We risk ending up with very large face-to-face class sizes; courses ‘put online’ with not enough consideration of good pedagogy; ill-prepared, harried teachers; poor assessment feedback; and not enough support for students who need help, amongst other things. I am not saying that we shouldn’t pursue efficiency. I just think that we need to do it carefully, and using blunt indicators such as surpluses and staff ratios is highly problematic.

Here’s one challenging issue we could start with: Like many others, I have noticed that universities are afflicted by the ‘red tape plague’ that affects many large organisations these days. We’re busier than ever, with many academics working more than 60 hours per week, and this makes staff on the ground very angry when the Government suggests we need to tighten our belts. As an academic, I now spend far more time than ever before filling in forms, sitting in committees, and administering things… or clarifying confusion and roadblocks about forms, committees, systems, and administration. This is partly driven by reporting, KPIs and overregulation (apparently universities have the most reporting requirements of any Government funded sector), it’s partly that our systems and processes are becoming more and more complicated and sometimes don’t work together very well, and it’s partly the risk management culture. Academics grumble about not having enough professional staff to support them with all the red tape, but I dont think this is really the issue. Seriously: how do we reduce the administrivia in university life, and focus on core business?



*I might post about the contents of this later on, if I have time. It was very focussed on workforce changes because of automation, which disappointed me – it was a bit narrow and superficial, with some exceptions.

**MYEFO – ‘mid year economic forecast’, a euphemism for the recapping of funding for Commonwealth supported student places that happpened at the end of 2017, representing an end to the demand driven funding system.

***not always wonderfully substantiated, admittedly


Career planning in a disrupted world of work

In a disrupted age where we don’t know which jobs will exist in the future, and young people can expect to have 19 jobs across 5 industries in their lifetimes*, how do you plan your career? How do you know which education / training course to choose? How do you know that the choices you are making are the right ones?

When I present about the future of the world of work and careers, these are by far the most common questions I receive from audiences. There is a great deal of anxiety out there about employability and the future of careers, particularly given that course fees are higher than ever, and it can now take 4-5 years for university graduates in some fields to find career roles.

In this post, I’m going to share a simple process for individual 21st century career development. It is based in design thinking approaches, and also has resonance in lean enterprise methodologies, and anyone can do it.

The starting place is this:
People often approach career development like they are opening a McDonalds franchise.

There are more than 37,000 McDonalds restaurants worldwide. Each new franchisee is pretty certain that they will have many customers and turn a reasonable profit, because within reason there are known outcomes. The whole idea of franchising is that if you pay the money and follow the formula, you’ll be successful**.

McDonalds Wagga Wagga: one of more than 900 in Australia
McDonalds Wagga Wagga, Australia

People can often approach career development in exactly the same way. They think about what career success or a desired role might entail for them, and then they attempt to follow a formula to reach it (‘study hard in school, get into teaching at university, study hard at university, finish my degree, become a registered teacher, apply for a job at x school…’ etc).

This approach doesn’t work for a few reasons. The first is that the desired end will almost definitely change, as we learn more about ourselves and the world of work, as we go through our lives, and as the opportunities out there change. The desired end may not even be what we thought it was in the first place (‘I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but now I realise teaching isn’t anything like what I thought’). In actuality, about 6% of adults end up doing what they thought they were going to do career-wise when they were young (Polavieja & Platt, 2014). The second is that lock-step or formulaic approaches and strategies often don’t work either, and can mean you miss out on opportunities***. Careers are never linear — even very successful people (actually, especially very successful people) stumble across opportunities and end up in unanticipated places.

So how should you approach career development?

My answer, based on research with people who are satisfied with their careers (and happily it turns out that most of us are), is kaizen.
Kaizen - change good
The english translation of kaizen is ‘change good’, and it means continual improvement, in an emergent way. Software people might call it perpetual or continuous beta, and designers might call it ongoing prototyping. Here’s the process:

1. Seek to understand
yourself, and also the world of work.
The process is grounded in self-empathy — that is, gaining an understanding and appreciation of who we are as individuals. What is important to you in career? What are your strengths? Where and how do you want career to fit into your life? What interests you and inspires your curiosity?****
It is also grounded in exploration of the world of work. What are the opportunities out there? What skills and capabilities are required for different roles? Do the opportunities fit with your values and priorities?

Understanding happens through exploration (e.g., talking to employers, career consultants, parents, friends; directly experiencing work and workplaces) and reflection. For those feeling a bit paralysed by indecision, a quick tip: Your understanding doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect to go on to the next step, and your understanding will increase as you take action.

2. Make a (small)(provisional) decision.

This decision is about what you’d like to try next. The beauty of it is that there is no ‘wrong’ answer – the decision is provisional, and simply guides the action you’ll be taking next. Because the decision is a small and provisional one, it’s relatively easy psychologically to redirect and explore something else. If you discover through subsequent experience that it’s not a great fit, that’s OK; it all adds to your experience and will enrich what comes next.


3. Take action!
Try something. Take the first small step on the basis of your small provisional decision. Enroll in the course, find a business mentor, apply for the role, sign up for the internship.

4. Test – adapt
Once you’ve started to take action, it’s time to test and adapt.
Do you feel as though you could be on the right track? If so, keep going! If not, you might need to revise your small provisional decision and shift course (accountancy doesnt seem like a good fit anymore?), or maybe shift your approach (not the right mentor? Not the right degree program?). In so doing, you might need to increase your understanding through exploring options, making other small provisional decisions, or trying other actions. You could also decide to persevere for the moment to increase your understanding of the current path.

5. Keep going
The most important part of the kaizen career process is that you keep going. Every decision is small and provisional, every action step is small, and testing and adaptation is happening all the time. It’s an ongoing process of enquiry and growth. We’ll never be ‘finished’, and that’s actually really exciting because we all get to keep exploring******.

*according to the Foundation for Young Australians (2016). As one young person put it at an event I attended recently, “they say we’ll have about 200 jobs across 50 careers – I don’t know how they predict the exact number, or if it even matters. However you think about it, it’s a lot of change all of the time”.

**The irony of this is that even opening a McDonalds franchise is no longer like opening a McDonalds franchise — they no longer have the market dominance they once did, and are changing business models and products to accommodate a market that has different needs.

***don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that choosing an appropriate degree and studying hard aren’t good ways to progress your career – I’m saying that thinking about these decisions and being open to additional opportunities and possibilities is also important.

****following curiosity and interest seem to be better predictors of career satisfaction than following ‘passion’. Elements of intrinsic motivation are important for career satisfaction, but passion puts a lot of needless pressure on people, limits their options, and feeds into the ‘McDonalds franchise’ idea by asking us to overcommit. What if you don’t feel passionate about any career options? What if you are passionate about several at once? What if you feel passionate about a career option now, but know from experience that you’ll have another passion next week? What if your passion doesn’t match up with the opportunities on offer?
In actuality, passion for elements of one’s career often happens after quite a lot of career experience.

******checking my privilege here — I am aware that there are many, many people for whom work is acutely about survival, and managing significant financial/food/housing insecurity in their lives.


The university of the future part 3: Hub of a learning network

In an age where learners can download all of the content they want for free, there is limited value in continuing to feed them a pre-digested, pre-prepared curriculum. The institutions that will thrive in our age of digital hyper-connectivity will do so because of the quality and depth of the learning experiences they offer, the relationships that they foster, the networks that they broker, and their bespoke content generation (research).

This is the long-awaited third installment of my ‘university of the future’ series, all of which commence with a highly self-indugent and fairly provocative quote from yours truly 🙂

In the first two installments last year, I talked about the importance of interdisciplinary experiential learning, and of building a strong community of learners, teachers and industry/community. In this third installment, I’m going to make some remarks about the future university as hub of a global learning and practice network.

Generally speaking, universities are extremely ineffective at social networking. They focus on short-term, transactional and contractual relationships with students and research / commercial partners. They lock down their infrastructure and put their learning resources behind firewalls (cf MOOCS, but these have other problems I’ll get into in another post). They don’t understand that the most productive relationships, even in the online realm and involving payment, are long term, based on trust, and involve sharing and reciprocity.

In the conventional university the pedagogy is closed and walled, with a curriculum that is more or less one-size-fits-all-learners, and based on a distributive (transmissive) system. By contrast, people like George Siemens and Stephen Downes talk about connectivism and networked pedagogy — the idea that learning can be open and connected, characterised by self-regulation, co-creation and investigation. In networked pedagogy, the network is diverse. The learning is adaptive, and adapted, to individual and network needs.

I think that universities are changing.They are employing industry engagement personnel, albeit still mostly for research development, and purchasing CRM systems. They are trying to improve their responsiveness to industry skill needs. However, they still aren’t as responsive as they need to be, in part because they are still addicted to curriculum content (as are the professional accrediting bodies). Our curriculum is quite static. It takes a long time and usually many committees to renew.

I have a vision of the future university as hub of a learning network, encompassing industry, professionals, users and researchers. The university becomes a conduit and knowledge integrator for the latest university and industry generated research and practice trends that students and professionals alike can access as needed. Learners can forage within the network for task-relevant knowledge and information, and apply it to their practice, with the support and facilitation of teachers. They can make new contacts and find new collaborators.

I think I’m actually talking about a ‘meta’university’ model here — overarching, accessible, global, and community-constructed frameworks of materials and platforms. The universities with the best pipelines to industry and academic research, practice and people, that can supply these to learners in useful ways, will be the most successful.


Grand Challenge Lecture: Future Capable — Learning for Life and Work in the 21st Century

Last month I delivered a ‘grand challenge’ public lecture at Queensland University of Technology. The Institute for Future Environments hosts these lectures, which, as you’d expect, are all about the big challenges facing humanity, from feeding the world’s booming population to managing scarce natural resources and reducing our carbon footprint. Over the years they’ve hosted people like Professor Federico Rosei from the University of Quebec, who presented on new technologies for energy sustainability, and Professor Kevin Burrage from Oxford University, talking about personalised medicine.

My lecture was (of course!) about why, given disruptive changes to the world of work, society, and education, we all need to be future capable, what future capability means, and how we can all learn to be future capable.

Here’s the abstract:

This presentation asks what it means to be capable in the context of a world of work and society undergoing massive disruptive change under the influence of digital technologies. It engages with the key shifts that are occurring to the labour market, work and careers, and explores the 21st century capabilities and skills that research suggests will be important to graduates’ productive participation in the years to come, including capabilities for complex problem solving and innovation, enterprise and career self-management, social network capabilities, and digital making skills. It suggests some key ways that universities can foster 21st century capabilities, and some strategies for building agile and dynamic educational institutions that are as ‘future capable’ as the graduates they produce.

And here’s the lecture itself:


Teaching philosophy update

Edit: I was succesful in my application, and as of June 2017 am now a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy!


I just finished writing a new application to the Higher Education Academy. I became a Senior HEA Fellow in mid-2015, and posted about my teaching philosophy then. This time, I’m going for the big one: Principal Fellow. There are about 700 Principal Fellows worldwide, and these people tend to be highly experienced senior staff with strategic institutional and sectoral leadership roles in learning and teaching.

I’m applying for my Principal HEA Fellowship through QUT’s scheme QALT (QUT Academy of Learning and Teaching). My application involved about 8,000 words, all-told : a reflective account of practice demonstrating that I meet all Dimensions of the PSF at Descriptor 4 level, a record of educational impact (list of roles and activities), three advocates reports, and my learning and teaching philosophy statement.

This application drove me nuts. It was much harder to do than my previous one, and not just because it was four times the length. I had trouble pulling apart my integrated experiences to address the different criteria. I dithered over my reflections and wondered exactly which examples of practice should go where. It took me a total of two months at 1-2 hours each work day to draft and then edit the thing.

I reached the teaching philosophy part and thought I’d be fine. ‘Excellent’, I thought. ‘I can cut corners here by using my philosophy from my SFHEA application!’

Except no.

I copied-and-pasted my teaching philosophy statement, read it over, and realised it didn’t fit. Not because my philosophy of teaching has changed; but because the focus and scale of Principal Fellow is completely different. In my SF application, I spoke largely about the learner, and the role of the teacher and the learning environment. In my PF application, I started my philosophy the same way, but got far more into what I believe higher education is for, and which pedagogic principles and practices should infuse everything we do. It got quite grandiose, really.

Anyway, here it is. Upon reflection, most of my work has this kind of focus rather than at the SF level, so while the PF application was harder to write, the PF  aligns better with my thinking and practice. Cross fingers that I am approved — my application now goes to three reviewers, and I will hear back in about 8 weeks.


I believe that higher education is vitally important to personal, social and economic well-being and growth in the 21st century knowledge society. Universities are responsible for teaching high level capabilities that are needed for leadership, social responsibility, innovation and problem solving, all of which are integral to navigating a successful global future. Given this mandate, I feel that contemporary university programs must be orientated towards real world relevance and application – that is, they must be of use – as well as continuing to support learners to develop disciplinary depth and high level critical capabilities grounded in history, theory and context. Education for relevance and application should include the development of ‘future capabilities’, including disciplinary agility, enterprise and entrepreneurship, digital literacies, social network capability, and career/learning self-management, all of which are often sorely lacking in university graduate capability lists and curricula (Bridgstock, 2009; 2015). I often argue that in a world where more and more information is available online for free, provision of pre-digested curriculum content is much less important than previously. Universities will soon be differentiated by the provision of quality learning experiences that develop future capabilities, and the extent to which they foster the growth of learners’ professional relationships and networks.

Thus, in order to meet the future capability needs of learners, teachers and educational institutions need to be future capable as well.  My perspective on the dominant pedagogic approaches taken by the future capable is exemplified in my distributed knowledge network model of the university depicted in the figure below (Bridgstock, 2016). The model is based on research I conducted into the actual and preferred learning strategies of digital industry professionals (Bridgstock, 2016, published online), and is designed to create a responsive, continually updating curriculum. It has grounding in, and integrates ideas from, experiential, active learning theories and authentic learning (Dewey, 1938; Herrington & Herrington, 2005), social constructivism (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), communities of practice and enquiry (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and connectivism (Siemens, 2005).

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 5.06.58 PM

At the centre of the model is the learner who is engaged individually or in a group in task- or enquiry- based experiential learning. The green ring depicts their learning community, which may include other learners at different levels of capability, teachers, and industry/community members. The community is embedded into a much larger distributed knowledge network comprising global digital and face-to-face connections – such as learners, teachers, practitioners, industry, users, and other interested individuals. The acquisition of capability occurs in cyclical manner between authentic activity and the ‘classroom’ (whether physical or virtual), with teachers scaffolding learners’ processes of reflective metacognitive learning how to learn and emergent meaning making (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003). In strong contrast to the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ transmissive model of education on the 20th century (King, 1993), 21st century academic teachers must guide, coach, and mentor. They support learners to plan their learning, and then to filter, compare, contrast, and re-contextualise learning strategies and experiences, and identify new sources for relevant knowledge and skill acquisition, which is what learners will then do for themselves continually throughout the rest of their professional and personal lives. The learner is co-designer and co-constructor of their learning, which may traverse formal, informal, curricular and co-curricular realms as needed.

In the future capable university, teachers are vital to ‘bottom up’ educational innovation and growth, and to the ongoing facilitation of high quality learning experiences (Salmon & Wright, 2014). For teachers to be effective, they must be supported by organisational structures and processes that are germane to new ways of working and teaching. Teachers’ bottom up actions must also be met by complementary ‘top-down’ policies and strategies. Thus, I work with teachers and institutional leaders to build future teaching capability. I believe in the power of transformational leadership in stimulating organisational change (Avolio, Zhu, Koh, & Bhatia, 2004) that inspires and stimulates new ways of thinking, and affirms and capitalises on existing practice.

Avolio, B. J., Zhu, W., Koh, W., & Bhatia, P. (2004). Transformational leadership and organizational commitment: Mediating role of psychological empowerment and moderating role of structural distance. Journal of organizational behavior, 25(8), 951-968.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. London: Penguin UK.

Bridgstock, R. (2016). The university and the knowledge network: A new educational model for 21st century learning and employability. In M. Tomlinson (Ed.), Graduate Employability in Context: Research, Theory and Debate. London: Palgrave-MacMillan.

Bridgstock, R. (2016, published online). Educating for digital futures: What the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education: Simon and Schuster.

Herrington, A., & Herrington, J. (2006). What is an authentic learning environment? In A. Herrington & J. Herrington (Eds.), Authentic learning environments in higher education (pp. 1-13). Hershey: Information Science Publishing.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1).