Illustration by Fanny Luor
Illustration by Fanny Luor

Work Culture

Preparing students for the workplace begins with more collaboration in education

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Published on March 14, 2019

Illustration by Fanny Luor

The way we work is changing fast. Skills in demand today could be obsolete tomorrow.

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To prepare for the ever-evolving workplace, students will need to master the art of learning new skills. And one of the best ways to learn new skills? Collaboration. That’s why universities are changing the way they teach, and why Dropbox is working to make it easier for students, staff, and faculty to connect in new ways.

It’s not what you know, it’s how well you learn

For some, college is the time to acquire job-specific skills and industry-specific training. Now, job skills need to be updated as often as your software. In fact, the World Economic Forum reports “up to 65% of the jobs Generation Z will perform don’t even exist yet.” And automation continues to displace many of the jobs that humans do today. 

These changes have been a wake-up call for the next generation of workers, and a motivation for students and universities to rethink their approach. Though STEM-based majors are as popular as ever, educators say learning how to learn is one of most valuable skills students can bring into the workplace. That’s why they advise developing not only study habits, but learning habits. In an era of accelerating change, expanding your curiosity could be the best way to prepare for the future. 

Teamwork leads to deeper learning

Of course, curiosity and empathy are closely linked. Both involve a willingness to listen. Working together with a team not only opens you up to new points of view, it also gives you a chance to teach what you know—which is one of the most effective ways to deepen your understanding of a subject. 

Some medical schools are now replacing lectures with "active learning" environments.

Where learning in isolation can feel limiting—even boring—group discussions can raise questions and spark ideas you might not discover on your own. Camaraderie makes the process more engaging and less predictable. And keeping up with a group helps you stay motivated longer than you might while trudging through textbooks in isolation.

Group-based work like this has one key, consistent quality: interactivity. It’s not just technology that’s driving the evolution from passive note-taking to active collaborating. It’s the changing attitudes of teachers and students. Educators say treating students as “isolated receivers of knowledge” doesn’t work anymore. 

Peer review workshops, collaborative research projects, and group presentations are more effective ways to learn how to write, critique, and communicate ideas because the groups provide a sense of audience and context.  

For example, some medical schools are now replacing lectures with “active learning” environments. Instead of taking notes about equations, students work in groups to solve problems in a classroom setting. And those are skills they’ll carry with them throughout their careers—no matter what kind of job they’re doing.

Preparing students for the future of work 

So how does this translate to the students’ prospects for employment? When asked what they look for in new hires, more than 80% of midsize or larger employers cited collaboration skills. Unfortunately, fewer than 40% think new graduates are prepared to work in teams. To help new employees get up to speed, many companies are turning to collaborative learning platforms that allow workers to absorb information when it’s most relevant.

By blending the physical and digital classrooms and making coursework more accessible, we’re helping professors spend less time on administrative tasks, and more time on teaching and research.

By providing workers with collaborative technology, companies also benefit by encouraging employees to share their knowledge across the organization. As a result, employers are placing a higher value on learnability. As one professor pointed out, “When we can all retrieve the same information, the key differentiator is not access to data, but the ability to make use of it.”

Providing a unified home for information

The way commuter students collaborate in virtual study groups now is analogous to the way remote workers share information with their team. Both use video conferencing and online co-editing docs to share notes. If you’re studying abroad or living at home, those tools save trips back to campus. That’s one of the reasons many universities have been moving workflows and research online. 

By blending the physical and digital classrooms and making coursework more accessible, we’re helping professors spend less time on administrative tasks, and more time on teaching and research.

New partnerships with Klaxoon, Pronto, and WeVideo are helping bring that to life. Soon, students and faculty around the world will have access to leading education apps that make it easier to share assignments, give feedback, and work on group projects.

At Dropbox, our goal is to take the friction out of working as a team. We’re researching how students and educators interact, so we can help them keep developing skills throughout their careers. To see how we’re fueling cross-campus learning and innovative research, check out our new eBook, Secure Mobility in Higher Ed.