Do We Need to Rethink Learning?

As Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and others have demonstrated, there’s a huge market for matching unused or underutilized capacity with those in need of a product or service. And, as we are increasingly discovering, this concept seemingly knows no practical limits. With the right technology platform, it can be applied to just about anything and everything.

The latest idea involves matching supply and demand in the higher education and vocational sectors. A company led by Harvard University students is taking aim at this issue.

ALEX (Anyone’s Learning Experience) strives to become the Airbnb for higher education by tapping unused capacity—essentially empty seats—and finding employers and individuals who want to take classes. Participating employers can subsidize classes for their employees and reduce training and development costs.

The value proposition is simple: About 40 percent of the U.S. population hasn’t attended college, and more than 2 million open seats remain unfilled at universities every year. With more than 122 million workers in the U.S. over age 25, there’s a huge opportunity to upgrade skills and knowledge.

Accenture has just awarded ALEX its annual Public Sector Innovation Award, and it is providing $10,000 to help advance the new online platform.

This is exactly the type of innovative thinking that’s needed. I recently wrote about how Ecole 42, a French coding school, is reinventing learning in Paris and in Silicon Valley. The school—which eschews classrooms, instructors, books and grades, and provides free education—represents a revolutionary approach to education in the digital age.

The timing couldn’t be better. We are experiencing massive skills shortages, particularly in IT and software development. In fact, 83 percent of respondents to one study reported a shortage of software development professionals, due mostly to the lack of qualified local talent.

What’s more, there’s no immediate end in sight. The demand for software development professionals is projected to grow by 22 percent to more than 1.2 million jobs from 2012 to 2022—significantly faster than average job growth for all other occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

To deal with this expected shortage of tech professionals, business, government and industry need to think in broader, more open ways about learning, education and skills development.

As we wade deeper into the digital economy, we will undoubtedly see new and intriguing ways to wring out inefficiencies in various markets. It’s a trend business and IT leaders must tune into on a number of levels. In the case of ALEX and Ecole 42, it’s something we can all learn from.