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Three Transformations Shaping the Future of Education

By September 3, 2019

Future of Education week is September 16-20, 2019

When we talk about the future of education, it’s impossible to not think about the wave of change already taking place across higher ed and K-12. The workforce is changing rapidly with the rise of new skill sets, students are engaging with education at different points in their lifetime, and technology is supporting student success in a whole new way. 

With so much change already happening, I often get asked how higher ed institutions and K-12 schools can best prepare for the future. For instance, how can institutions take advantage of artificial intelligence to improve the student experience or how can they augment their curriculum to prepare students for the future of work?

In my role at, I get the opportunity to speak with our higher ed and K-12 customers about these topics every day. And although there is only so much we can predict or plan for, there are certain shifts taking place today that are already creating a new path forward for our students.These transformations are happening at institutions across the country as they think about supporting students on pathways from K-12 to higher ed and from higher ed to careers. One example is how blockchain is being used to create universal learner records that live with a student throughout their education journey.
At the heart of these changes is the focus on the lifelong learner and creating a future where education doesn’t start at one chapter and end at another, but is continuous, engaging and highly personalized. 

Here are the top three transformations I see shaping the future of education:

K-20 Student Pathways

We’re seeing an increase in higher ed institutions that are partnering with K-12 schools to create connected student pathways. Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) is a great example. DCCCD has partnered with K-12 school districts on the Dallas County Promise Program which provides free tuition to high school seniors to one of its seven campuses across the state. As part of the program, the district also assigns a success coach who starts to work with students during their senior year of high school. In 2018 alone, DCCCD saw 9,300 seniors in 31 high schools sign up for the Dallas County Promise Program, and more than 40% (2,841 students) enrolled in a DCCCD college. These kinds of partnerships between higher ed and K-12 create a seamless education journey for students and truly set the stage for the pursuit of lifelong, continuous learning.

A Dallas County Promise student at the DCCCD library.

A Dallas County Promise student at the DCCCD library.

Collaboration between K-12 and higher ed institutions can also shape social impact on a broader scale. In fact, Margrove College in Detroit is experimenting with the creation of a K-20 educational campus that is a joint effort between the University of Michigan, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, and the Kresge Foundation. Grad students at the University of Michigan’s school of education can gain real-world teaching experience at the K-12 school, and students in their junior or senior year of high school can start to earn college credit on campus. Margrove is a great example of bringing these connected learning experiences to life and I anticipate even stronger partnerships forming across education as we enter the next wave of lifelong learning.

Credentialing, Re-Skilling & Up-Skilling

With the average age of a college or university student hovering around 27 years old, access to new forms of education, like credential-based programs, are becoming increasingly important. At 27, many students may be juggling a job or childcare on top of coursework or they might be looking to re-skill or up-skill to remain competitive in the workforce. How institutions adapt to this “new traditional” student is a key factor that will shape the future of education. We’re already seeing the rise of new public sector startups that are tackling this issue head on. Colleges are looking more closely at the skills needed in the workforce and matching their curriculum to those skill sets so students can seamlessly transition from campus to career. WGU is another great example of an institution that is blazing a trail to a future focused on lifelong learning. As an online institution, they are creating a virtual community of care for their students and providing a competency-based curriculum designed to help students earn a career-focused degree. 

At the heart of lifelong learning is the notion of meeting students where they are – whether that student is 18 years old, 35 or 55, they deserve a personalized experience that can weave into their daily life and help them achieve their long term goals. At Salesforce, we’ve always placed an emphasis on thinking about the different journeys students take to education. And with Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform, we are providing an equal platform for everyone to achieve lifelong learning.

We’re already seeing multiple institutions bring Trailhead on campus to prepare their students for careers in the Salesforce economy. In fact, Trailhead is partnering with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) so learners can earn college credit by completing admin and developer badges – gaining the skills that lead to top jobs in the Salesforce economy projected to create 3.3 million jobs by 2022. Any Trailhead learner can apply to enroll in a SNHU degree program and have their Trailhead badges evaluated for credit towards one of SNHU’s 100 undergraduate degree programs. Current and future SNHU students can also work on Trailhead modules at any time and work with an academic advisor to apply the right credit towards their program and transcript. 

I can’t imagine a future in education without programs like Trailhead and I’m excited to work more with our customers as they think about these new learning experiences for their students as well. 

Online learning platforms, like Trailhead, provide an equal platform for everyone to achieve lifelong learning.

Innovative Work-Study Programs

With only 33% of business leaders agreeing that graduates have the skills and competencies their businesses need, career readiness is becoming an increasingly important topic as we think about the future of education. While we’ve historically looked at college as the place to start having career conversations with students, we’ve seen K-12 schools take an innovative approach to preparing students earlier on in their education journeys. 

Cristo Rey Network is doing just that. Students from economically disadvantaged families attend classes four days a week, and spend the other day working jobs at nearby corporate partners—including Salesforce—earning a salary that covers the majority of their tuition. The Cristo Rey model proves that academic success is only one facet of preparing students for college and career success. If students come into college with work experience under their belts, they have a stronger sense of a potential career path and can explore that path through additional courses and internships as an undergrad. And Cristo Rey is seeing great results – their students are completing college at triple the completion rate of the national average for low-income youth and many of them are going back to their internship sites for full time jobs after college. Students are gaining the confidence that will set them up for lifelong success, no matter what career path they choose. These innovative models are closing the opportunity gap for students from all economic backgrounds. 

Interested in continuing the conversation? Make sure to join us during the Future of Education Week kicking off on September 16th. Register for the two webinars below and watch our recent Future of Education roundtable event with Jeff Selingo, New York Times bestselling author and higher education strategist, Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education and Heather Hiles, President and CEO of Calbright College:

About the Author

Nathalie Mainland   

Nathalie Mainland is SVP and GM of Education Cloud at She has over 15 years of experience working in technology and education with organizations including Blackboard, Autodesk, and Pearson. Follow her on Twitter: @nmainland