When Innovation Outpaces Education

​What do we do when the jobs we want are more advanced than the degrees we can obtain?

I work in digital marketing, helping companies around the world transform their web presence through content creation. Every day, I’m learning something new and growing my circle of connections.

The only catch? I didn’t go to school for this. I graduated from North Carolina State University in 2008 with a B.A. in English literature and a minor in journalism. I thought I’d teach creative writing, or maybe work at a local magazine back home. When I decided to go back to get my Master’s degree at my alma mater a few years later, my field-related options were limited to Technical Communication or Rhetoric.

A lifelong stutterer, I pictured endless speeches and debates with the latter, so I chose the Tech Comm path. I spent four really long years driving from High Point to Raleigh to attend night classes after working all day as a proposal writer. During my tenure there, I learned the ins and outs of corporate communication. I discovered how to create compelling white papers, pitch a press release, and write a comprehensive white paper. Not once do I remember discussing the massive role the web plays in company discourse.

This was back in 2010 when digital marketing was still finding its footing. Case in point? In an Ad Age article that ran the year before on the subject, a few of the “top 10 trends to look out for” included larger ad formats, GPS-enabled devices, and a jump in mobile marketing spend from $1.7 billion to $2.16 billion.

Now? Mobile marketing spend is projected to reach $65.87 billion by 2019. What does that prove, besides the fact that smartphones are getting smarter and both companies and customers are cashing in? It reveals that technology is sophisticating at a pace that’s nearly impossible to keep up with.

If it’s difficult for businesses to stay on track, consider how long it takes for colleges and universities around the globe to create degree programs centering on these new technologies. Of course, many schools are expanding their course offerings to accommodate innovative new trends. Take Princeton’s course on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technology for example. Yet, as a whole, students aren’t graduating with degrees in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, edge computing or myriad other tech-centered sectors set to take center stage moving into the new year. This capability extends into all sectors of industry, from Food and Beverage to real estate. For instance, forward-thinking companies like Leads Nerds are leading the pack, leveraging social media to help agents find reputable leads in a fraction of the time it took before. And this is only the beginning.

Thus, specialized certification programs are taking the place of traditional degree tracks, while startups across Silicon Valley are headed up by entrepreneurs who never set foot on a college campus, except maybe to give a TED Talk.

How do we justify the importance of secondary and post-secondary education without taking massive steps to modernize the system? Even when we do update our textbooks and online course catalogs, how do we keep them up-to-date, especially when we can’t even accurately forecast whether or not a new trend will pop up and revolutionize the way things currently are?

As someone who went to school for 16 years and now works in an industry that virtually none of her coursework applied toward, I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do have one.

We can’t discount the value of learning. Even if that means students taking a slightly different approach to the standard classroom-based instruction, it’s more important now than ever before to encourage exploration and new discovery. After all, how can we stay at the forefront of emerging trends if someone isn’t tinkering with a design or taking apart a solution to make it better?

Maybe in the future, we’ll all be heading off to class in a car that drives itself, taking notes on our paper-thin tablets about the new tech trends shaping 2025. While we wait for the catch-up, we can still strive in the interim to be more aware, more curious, and yes – more educated – than ever before.