Traditional universities today have it backwards: students spend time learning to be specialists—diving deep to develop domain knowledge and then, once graduated, are expected to figure out how they fit into a larger picture.

Instead, they should be spending time helping students see the larger picture and preparing them to learn specialties as new ones arise.

Tomorrow’s success

Cathy Davidson, director of the McArthur Foundation, estimates that 65 percent of grade school children will work in jobs that do not exist yet. Today’s economy requires a broad understanding of business, design, technology, communication, language, psychology and more.

"An estimated 65 percent of grade school children will work in jobs that do not exist yet."

Success in this economy requires that one understand the basics of all of these disciplines and how they interrelate to create new opportunity. This understanding builds what IDEO calls “The T-Person”: the breadth of understanding whole systems with some specific depth of expertise.

Locating the T

The “T-Student” requires placing knowledge about coding on par with narrative. It means understanding user experience as well as entrepreneurship.

The principles of design and principles of business need to be taught not as separate concepts, but synergistic notions that succeed in tandem. And most importantly, it means that universities need to create a foundation of curated experiences and context to see how all these areas of inquiry intertwine to build world-changing ideas, products and services.

Lastly, universities need to help students learn how to learn. Right now there is 70 percent year over year growth in YouTube searches that begin with the phrase “How Do I…” software, applications and programming languages all have shorter and shorter half-lives.

Realizing resourcefulness

Today’s graduates will have to teach themselves most of the tools they will end up using, so the obligation of today’s universities is to create the conditions for learning: The environment (and the safety-net) to see the context of why one needs to learn digital skills, where to learn them and how to learn them. And while teaching the frontier of these technologies is still important, it is similarly important to prepare students for all the learning they will need to lead for themselves.

Instead of teaching “dots” and expecting students to connect them once they graduate, today’s universities need to be teaching pictures of what can be, and then letting students learn, as new technologies arise, how to see and strengthen the dots.