Harder, faster, better, stronger.
Those aren’t just the lyrics to a catchy song. For thousands of UCLA students these words are a daunting reality as the job market forces them to know more, perform better and adapt faster.
The reality is no degree, regardless of rigor, intensity or technicality, can prepare students for the challenges of the modern economy. Students entering the workforce must contend with new software, changing technologies and rapidly evolving industries.
As such, their education must have the flexibility to account for these challenges. But while UCLA has taken some small steps towards addressing this with multidisciplinary classes and makerspaces, it recently took a giant leap backwards.
At the beginning of the summer, the university quietly announced its contract with lynda.com, an online repository of courses and tutorials on a myriad of differing subjects and software, would not be renewed. It seemed campus administers hoped one of the most powerful and valuable tools students had access to would silently fade away.
Lynda’s offerings amounted to thousands of hours of video tutorials from industry experts, spanning fields such as photography and computer science. Access to such a platform allowed students to learn practical skills not taught in the classroom that could boost their resumes and increase their employability.
Unfortunately, a lack of widespread awareness for the program meant many students did not have the opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to them. To add insult to injury, the university chose not to renew the contract or replace it with a similar service. In doing so, students lost a priceless resource for supplementing their degrees for the modern economy – and UCLA demonstrated it does not prioritize professional training in its budgeting.
The flexibility of online educational platforms allows students to learn technical and professional skills without having to sacrifice their academic passions. English students can learn how to build websites, biology students can learn management skills and mechanical engineering students can learn graphic design. Online platforms like Lynda allow for the type of crosspollination that is characteristic of the rapidly evolving modern economy. Even with the current push toward multidisciplinary coursework within academia, platforms like Lynda break down the barriers between disciplines more than even the most well-intentioned college administrator could.
This may seem like just a bag of parlor tricks, but access to a platform like Lynda is actually a quintessential step towards creating degree programs that keep up with the demands of the modern workforce while also serving the academic mission of a university.
Online training platforms offer on-demand modules for students who need certain professional skills quickly. For example, if a student wanted to break into the marketing industry but found that many positions in the industry now require an understanding of Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, Lynda offered them the chance to quickly gain technical ability with these programs. This sort of flexibility would be impossible within the constraints of the traditional academic model, which often prioritizes theory and research over technical ability.
“I feel like online education platforms are a pretty vital resource – especially for new students who want to explore different courses of study and chose a major, or even for students who want to be creative outside their major,” said Timothy Sandoval, a second-year chemistry and materials science student.
UCLA said in a statement that its contract with Lynda was not centralized – funding had to be drawn from a variety of different sources. As a result, the contract could not be renewed when enough new funding was not secured.
“Enough funding did not become available this year, and although the contract was not canceled, the contract did end,” a university spokesperson said.
Sure, usage numbers for Lynda may not have been high enough to justify the cost of the license. But the blame for that falls squarely on the administration. Though there were some marketing materials for the service, it was generally unknown to students – a simple questionnaire could have told you that.
Through a more direct marketing push, one which went beyond fliers and signs, but instead attempted to integrate the program with the student body, UCLA could have made students more aware of the resources available for them. Furthermore, the university could have provided training and seminars to educate students about Lynda and the added benefits it provided. Doing so would have pushed administrators to find funds for the service, not come up with an excuse to cut it.
Certainly, the information a platform like Lynda provides might be easily accessed for free in other online locations. However, what is most important is reducing barriers to entry for individuals wanting to learn new skills. Having to scour the internet and devise your own education program makes it near impossible to do so, especially on a UCLA student’s timetable. Online repositories of educational tools provide students with innovative ways to learn new technical skills outside the classroom.
The workplace has evolved, and so too must the university. By cutting Lynda, UCLA has shown professional development and education are not priorities. But, online education platforms are essential to cultivating compelling resumes. The university should not be taking them away but educating students about their benefits.
A goal of any university is to make students employable after graduation. Learning these days doesn’t just happen in the classroom – and it’s about time UCLA found its way outside too.