APU Business Careers Careers & Learning Leading Forward Online Learning Podcast

Podcast: Transforming Higher Education to Meet the Needs of the Workforce

Podcast featuring Dr. Marie Gould HarperDean, Wallace E. Boston School of Business and
Elena Agaragimova, founder, Bloom Youth

The world is changing quickly and higher education must learn to be agile and innovative in order to meet the changing demands of students and businesses. In this episode, APU’s Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Marie Gould Harper, talks to Elena Agaragimova about her work providing workforce training, career coaching, and the inevitable changes happening in education. Learn about the concept of micro learning and the development of shorter learning journeys, customization of education, the role of technology, and why educational institutions must partner with industry to ensure students have the skills needed in the workforce. 

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Marie Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host, Marie Gould Harper. Today, we are going to talk about redesigning higher education, upskilling and positive psychology. My guest is Elena Agaragimova. I want to take a moment to provide some information about her so you can get a feel for what we’re going to talk about today.

Elena is an engaging skilled trainer and talent development specialist credited with combining operations, education and international expertise to design and deliver programs for diverse audiences. She is known for her ability to drive change within individuals and organizations that are looking to reach their potential and maintain their competitive edge in the business world.

Start a Business degree at American Public University.

She started her career in higher education. Having worked across various institutions, departments, and regions. In her recent years, she dove into business and founded an education platform that prepares you for the future, Bloom Youth and co-founded Bessern, an organization that focuses on tech solution for productivity and wellbeing in organizations.

Elena has a strong passion for learning and development, promoting creative and engaging workplaces, and all about optimizing performance through the development of others with a keen interest in neuroscience. As a career and talent development coach, Elena has over 12 years of experience working with individuals across different generations, supporting them in achieving their professional and personal goals.

She also recently wrote a guidebook on how to shift yourself and others towards a path to success. Finally, she is a regular contributor to Forbes Middle East and various publications and online platforms in the Middle East region.

When she is not leading talent transformation, she volunteers her time to help young students with their career development goals. Elena, welcome to our podcast and thank you for joining me.

Elena Agaragimova: Thank you. It’s good to be here. Looking forward.

Dr. Marie Harper: Elena, you have a very diverse background and we can take this interview in a number of ways. I want to start off with your thoughts on higher education. What are your thoughts on how we can drive change in higher education given the current mood about the industry?

Elena Agaragimova: Great question. And it’s interesting because it took a pandemic for us to really start taking action towards change when it comes to higher education. And coming from higher education background and having worked in just different areas of the industry, what I can tell you is that we have amazing people on board in education that want to make a difference, yet the system itself can be a little bit slow to change.

So when it comes to higher education, there’s various things that we can really look into and I’m not going to speak so much on the academia aspect, that’s not my background, but what is my background is career preparedness for students. And this is where I feel there’s going to be the major shift for institutions.

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And what I mean by that is that typically right now if we’re looking at career development in higher ed, there’s one counselor per 300 to 400 students. And so this one career counselor is supposed to provide this amazing career support and it’s just not feasible.

So when it comes to transforming higher ed, I think one of the focus areas should be that student affairs/career development piece. How can we make career development and really making sure that students are prepared for the future accessible and affordable for all? Not only those students that are knocking on our office doors to ask for that career advice, what about the rest? How do we implement a strategy and how do we help students post-graduation, essentially closing that gap between corporate and higher ed?

And a final point I’ll make here. It’s not only on the higher ed institutions and administrators. There’s three responsible parties. One is the student themselves. The second is the higher education institutions and the people running these entities. And the third, of course, is the corporates. And the funny part is that the three are not talking very much.

This is one of the biggest challenges. So, in a nutshell, I would say, we need to have a more future-focused approach and we need to make career development accessible for all, not only a few that actually knock on our doors.

Dr. Marie Harper: That’s very interesting. You have highlighted a conversation that I had earlier this afternoon with a group of colleagues, as well as outside vendors. And I think everyone’s speaking the same language. How do we bring these entities together to talk about what is best for student? With the businesses stating that they need during this first phase or the short term of developing the new norm, they need employees who can be up and running.

And I think that ties into your background. And the second question that I have for you is how do you tie neuroscience into your learning and development activities by getting individuals, as well as organizations, to see the path of moving from point A to point B?

Elena Agaragimova: So before we started the journey with Bessern and Bloom Youth, what I used to do is corporate training and corporate learning, essentially, and also work with universities. And what I’ve noticed then between my co-founder and I, who also comes from a very commercial corporate background, and what we’ve noticed is that this whole idea that we learn by listening, or just listening to somebody and whether in a lecture or in a training session like corporate, the traditional trainings right now, the traditional workshops is maybe half a day or a day.

They run a couple of days. People get together in a room, 20 people talking about soft skills development or leadership development, let’s say, and then they walk away and the chances are nothing gets registered. That’s the reality of the training world today. And that’s why it’s very difficult to measure it. There’s no ROI because we’re simply not doing it the right way.

So then we started asking ourselves, “How do people learn better in a world where we’re continuously disrupted?” So there’s a lot of distraction coming our way daily from our phones and now working from home. You have family, perhaps whomever you’re sharing a home with. So there’s a lot of distractions coming at us that then also prevent us from learning.

So what we started looking at is how can we identify some processes? This is where behavior change, positive psychology and neuroscience play a part. So based on a lot of our research about habit creation, creation of routines, we found that in fact, our brain doesn’t learn when it has mass input. What that means, basically, is that we’re not going to retain information. We need to continuously change up the way we learn.

So if you’re sitting in a classroom or a corporate office for hours at a time trying to learn a particular topic, particularly if we’re talking about career development and soft skills, it’s simply doesn’t register with our minds.

Again, because we have so many distractions and so many challenges that we might be dealing with, so mental health is another part of it, which I’ll mention. So we said, how can we create these processes?

And what we learned is that by creating micro learnings and micro actions that people can do, this is how we learn. This is how learning sticks. So what that means is that instead of going and kind of giving that theory-based lecture approach to whatever we’re doing, the traditional trainings follow, we say, how can we help people learn? How can we help people develop practices, routines, and habits, and essentially processes for them to learn that the way they learn best?

So we’re not there to necessarily teach them. We’re there to give them the tools and the information to help them create processes that work for them. And on top of that and actually something I heard, I think earlier today, if you’re not applying the knowledge, you’re not really learning.

And that’s the case in most training sessions and university work. We go in we listen, but then we’re not applying it. So what we’ve done with our with our work with corporates and institutions is we’ve created micro learnings in a way that people learn micro information about a particular topic and then they go and apply and implemented right away. That is how learning sticks. Otherwise, it’s just simply not effective.

Dr. Marie Harper: I like how you’ve introduced the micro learning. And is it safe to say that you believe that it’s best to customize the learning process to each individual and let them create what’s best for them? I’m thinking about preferred learning styles. So how do you address that and how do you customize the programs?

Elena Agaragimova: Sure. So, you’re absolutely correct. The future of learning, overall, is individualized, it’s personalized. And the beautiful part is the technology makes it affordable and accessible for all. And it, it, it allows us to customize the learning for an individual.

For example, a better way to run a training program is to create learning journeys for individuals based on the level that they’re at. An example, a corporate training, again, or even in a university, they put people in the room of 20 to 30 people, let’s say mid-level managers and they give them a training on emotional intelligence.

Everybody in that room is going to be at a different level of that emotional intelligence. It’s not feasible that everybody’s going to walk away after a day training. And they’re going to all of a sudden have more information about emotional intelligence because they all learn at a different level.

A better approach would be to create learning journeys for them using tech. In our case, what we do is we have an app that we use. So we create learning journeys for individuals. And before they join on the journey, they take an assessment. An assessment that identifies them exactly where they are in the process of learning about emotional intelligence.

And then based on that, they’re prompted what we call vitamins. So we call them vitamins, the vitamins for the mind, basically. They’re prompted to take these vitamins daily, where they’re combination of micro learnings, short readings, video interactions, as well as access to different information and access to a coach, which is a really important aspect.

Although the learning is individualized, at the end of the day, it cannot be just a traditional e-learning, the LMS, the learning management system, where it’s the the Coursea of this world, which are beautiful for some aspects, but what it’s missing is that human support.

And when we’re talking about individualized learning, we’re not only talking about the micro learnings that they learn on their own, but we’ll also talk about how can they get support of a human being when they get stuck on a particular topic. Aagain, whether it relates to soft skills or career development or hard skills. So this is very important is to have that support. That is what a lot of e-learning solutions are missing is that live support.

Dr. Marie Harper: I’m happy to hear you add that part in, because I’ve always felt that there’s been something missing, especially on the academic side. And I think it is that individualized human touch to assist people or individual learners when they get stuck.

Because some of the complaints I’ve heard have been, especially from corporate learners, is that their organizations we’ll get a “package” but they neglect to tell them what they are supposed to do when they get stuck so they continue to be in the loop.

With that said, what are your thoughts on everything that you’ve said, especially as it relates to micro learning, how can higher ed blend, integrate, or continue to collaborate with this type of model? Because I think it’s very different for them. So what are your thoughts and suggestions on how we can get on that bandwagon?

Elena Agaragimova: And one point also bit before I go into that you mentioned about that individual support, the thing is that in the world of academia or corporate or training, there’s so much content out there, Marie. There’s so much content, there’s a lot of free content.

So if a person really wanted to learn, do you need to go to an institution? Do you need to go to a particular training? There’s a lot of content for free. And now some of the biggest institutions are putting out a lot of free courses, but what’s missing again, is that interaction and that individualized approach. And, like you said, you can give somebody here’s how to do this, but people will get stuck. So we don’t know what we don’t know. This is why that human interaction, whether it’s coaching or mentoring really is important.

When it comes to higher ed, what we also need to really address, and I know we’ve been talking about this for years and we all understand that the challenges, and now finally there are more and more organizations that are coming up with solutions. But, for example, when it comes to individualize learning, I am still mind boggled that business administration is still one of the most popular majors out there when it’s, in fact does not prepare us for business or admin or the future of work. Yet it’s still one of the most popular.

And at the same time, by the time a student enrolls in a particular institution, by the time they graduate that particular field may or may not be even relevant to their work. So when it comes to individualized learning, what institutions really need to start looking into is how can they create those micro learnings for the student. Instead of offering a particular degree of study with set curriculum that they need to take, yes, of course they can take electives and all these things, but how can a student create building blocks of their own major, essentially?

You’re a student, you go into an institution that provides very future-focused relevant content information, and you just building on the building blocks. Because right now, a lot of the higher education institutions offer very similar degrees across different areas. And many of them are not future-focused. So let’s say cybersecurity, for example, let’s just talk about digital skills, cybersecurity, biotech, space industries. There’s not many majors that are very focused on these topics.

So when you’re thinking of educating future youth, how are we really preparing them for the future? And if we’re not, how can we redesign our curriculum to fit their particular needs? And how can we create short learning journeys versus making them go through four-year degrees or five-year degrees. I’m not saying to get rid of those completely, but we need to start offering more alternative options of letting students create their own journeys based on where they want to be and based on the future of work requirements.

Because right now, majority of higher ed does not unfortunately do that, but we have gotten better in terms of offering a short executive courses, shorter hands-on kind of technical courses, which are all relevant, like trade school-type courses. And an important part as well here is to identify that not everybody is meant to a four year or a Master or a further study. Some people are better with trade school, short-term degrees that again, that give them the tools.

And the final point I’m going to make here is that higher education is not going away anytime soon, absolutely it’s needed. It’s always going to be needed, but they’re going to have a much higher competition. Because now there are institutions that are coming out with these micro learning blocks of knowledge that students can basically take on their own. Units that they take on their own and create their own sort of curricular.

And then also there’s a companies like Google who have Google Academy, who came out and said, listen, you don’t need a four-year degree come to our six month bootcamp and learn how to do what we need you to do to make sure that you get the job in the future. And you’re good to go.

And if you’re talking about the future generations, if I’m a young person coming in and I just want to maybe work for Google or the likes, I don’t really want to go somewhere else. Am I going to choose a six-month program that’s going to probably guarantee me a job or give me the skills I need, or am I going to spend four years in an institution? This is the question and this is the challenges that higher education is going to have to deal with.

Another final point is that, especially with everything that has happened with COVID and just the change of the way we work, there’s a lot of talk about the questioning of the value of higher education. And again, I don’t think we need to completely get rid of it, absolutely not. I think education is there and it’s there for a reason. But what I’m saying is that the career development aspect needs to be much more stronger, because again, now universities are going to compete against other providers that will actually almost guarantee jobs versus higher education institutions that are not closing that gap between university study and corporates.

Dr. Marie Harper: Well I liked the direction you were going, and you actually challenged me because some of the questions that you posed are a lot of the concerns that I have had from the corporate sector. And I can’t say that those types of questions just started with the pandemic. It’s basically been the questions that I received over probably the last 20 years since I’ve been on the higher ed side.

And I think you have posed some legitimate concerns and I see that, and I would like to think that we are addressing from that standpoint. And I think the pandemic has, for some institutions that have fought the shift, that they really have to deal with it.

I like the fact that you mentioned competition outside of higher education, because I think that’s a real threat too. What I’m seeing as a lot of technology companies, and we know technology can move fast, especially if you have the expertise in that area.

But I do agree that this is an opportunity for higher ed to rethink the strategy, our purpose, and if it’s educating individuals, and, as you’ve mentioned, customize the process. I’m happy to report that some of the things that you mentioned, we are exploring those areas in an effort to rebrand who we are. For example, one of my future shows, I hope to have Dr. Cali Morrison on. And she has been charged to develop some of those micro-credentials that you mentioned, we’re calling some of them nano certs.

But we recognize that in order to assist any type of organization, it doesn’t have to be corporate, and especially in what they’re calling the interim economy, which is the short term, as far as how I define it, that we have to prepare students to be able to function in the next couple of years as we transition. And I agree with you, it is what skills do they need now? How can we best upskill them to do the functions that we need them to do now.

Dr. Marie Harper: When we think of the traditional degrees, as we get our economy jumpstart, again, we can think long-term plans. And I like how you brought up individual customization. I think we’ve missed that. We do ask our students, what would they like to major in, but we’re assuming they know what they want to do. And I think it should be a collaboration between the student, the organization, and higher ed. And that we create those type of situations and maybe even start backwards, like, what do we want the end result to be as we know it? Almost like a strategic plan, you come up with something that may span over five years, but you build in milestone points where you check to make sure that what you’re doing, the plan you’re developed, still makes sense. And if it doesn’t, how are you going to readjust it? Would you agree with that train of thought?

Elena Agaragimova: You were spot on about the fact that students often don’t necessarily, it’s not that they don’t know what they want to do, it’s more they don’t see all the different opportunities where they can apply what they know, and what they like, to apply this in their future jobs.

And a lot of the graduates I speak with, they tend to go for the big names, the big companies, because that’s what’s known. That’s where the money is at, supposedly. But they don’t always understand the kind of stressors that come to working with a consultancy, for example. The 12-hour days.

And so this is where that conversation needs to take place on one-on-one conversation. And because students, they might have some ideas, but the market is so global. It’s so diversified. And now with everything being fully remote, although we’ve been there for some time, but now there’s so many opportunities to find a job that you like, to monetize, to diversify your income as well. The gig economy has been growing. And it’s probably going to grow even more as a result of COVID. As corporates are looking to cut costs, maybe it’s more cost efficient to hire freelancers, et cetera.

So looking at what are the different things you can do with just expanding their search criteria when it comes to work and also providing them with ability to be resourceful, Marie. That’s the biggest thing is like we teach from the moment the student is young. So from the moment we are kids, and as we go through high school and like the K-12, and then we go into universities, everybody’s telling us what we need to do.

And then we graduate and we’re supposedly we have all the tools that we need to be successful, but we don’t, because what we’ve been learning is how to follow direction. We need to be enabled. We need to teach them how to be proactive about their career, how to take ownership, how to do what needs to be done.

What I like to use with students that I work with is the startup methodology. So when you’re building a startup or you’re building a company, if one door doesn’t open, you’re going to try a 100 other doors until somebody is somebody opens the door.

So when we talk about our own career development, our education, we need to be resourceful and proactive and looking at it as us, as a startup. I’m a product I need to launch myself into the job market. What do I need to know about myself to present myself in a specific way. A basic self-awareness emotional intelligent aspect. What is my value proposition? My communication skills? What is my personal brand? And then understanding, where can I apply my skillset?

And this is one of the things that also students miss is they don’t take advantage, many of course many do, but many I speak with don’t take advantage of being able to intern, being able to jump from job to job, just to experiment when they’re younger. And that is because, again, we teach them how to kind of it’s like you finish your degree and you need to get a job, but does it have to be this way?

Can you go through different experiments, even starting as early as high school before you even choose your major? How can you choose a major when you’ve never even worked in the field? So that’s a different conversation, of course, but that’s one way we’ll work with high school students, as well as, how do they choose a major?

For university students, if you’re not studying and working at the same time, you’re already behind. Period. You’re already behind, the world is very competitive and it’s going to become a more competitive.

So, this is where that individualized, but again, tech makes it accessible and affordable. There’s many solutions, applications, learning journeys that institutions can get access to. And create internally even to get them to be more proactive and take ownership at the end of the day. And that’s to take accountability versus expecting that the minute you graduate from university, the job market is going to, job market is going to want you. It’s not the reality.

And so I think that we need to have a little bit more of, I guess, reality checks for some of the things that we’re doing. Because again, we’re asking the question: Are we preparing the generations for the future of work? And if we’re not, what is it costing us? What is it costing us by not offering what we should be offering to stay future-focused and relevant. And it’s costing us a lot now, and it will cost us even more in the future if we want to go into financials of it.

Dr. Marie Harper: One of the things you talked about was the diversification of skillset. I love hearing other people think like that because that’s how I think. I actually give the example to my students. I was like, you have to think of your skillset the same way you would have your retirement portfolio. Just as you would diversify the different types of stocks and bonds that you would have in your portfolio, that’s how you have to think about your skillset.

One of the things that frustrate me, especially in the United States, we will talk your experience in the Middle East shortly. But how do we make that shift from being a culture that focuses on one particular job. And get everyone to explore working on developing the skillset?

For example, a lot of times when higher ed advertises their programs, they may say, this is the path that you should take to become an engineer. Why are we focusing on the engineer? Why can’t we focus on skillsets?

So I’ve seen many corporations get in to a position where they have hired for a specific job, but when something such as the pandemic comes up, you have employees who do not know how to shift to what is needed for the organization.

Therefore, I think that’s why some of the businesses are struggling is because they’ve geared people so narrow to one particular area that when something that they did not expect comes up, they didn’t know how the shift. What are your thoughts on that type of concept or what could we do to even work from a cultural standpoint of getting people to think in diversity of skillset and way of doing business?

Elena Agaragimova: Well, I think at one point we’re not going to have a choice. Because what’s going to happen and what we’re, what I see happen a lot then in the world of recruitment even is that now young talent, especially a good talent, has so many options that if you, as an institution or a corporate, if you are an HR or recruiter who looks at a person based on, or you’re looking for something very specific versus looking to recognize talent or recognize potential. Recognize the soft skills. If you’re just looking at very specific things, you’re going to miss out on amazing talent.

That’s number one, as institutions, again, with so many options, you’re going to lose on students and you’re going to lose on retention. So there’s two things to address here. One from an institution perspective of how do you manage that? And one from individual. Let’s start with individual as an individual.

As an individual, what we need to focus on is being curious, being curious. And again, I always pose a question whoever’s listening, when was the last time you looked at, what does your industry look like? What does your job role going to look like a year from now, two years from now, five years from now?

What are you reading when it comes to AI, machine learning, virtual reality? How is technology going to affect your field? Looking at future-of-work reports? Have you looked at them? Looking at the competition. What is your competition doing? How are you proactive in your career development? That is the question.

And what is a potential threats? Of course we cannot predict many threats, but it’s like looking at what are potential threats. For example, with technology, we know that a lot of customer service-based roles are already automated. They will become even more automated. A lot of jobs within that space is going to be gone. That’s the reality.

I think there’s like three, 3.5 million. Don’t quote me on this. I don’t remember specifics, but I guess over 3 million truck drivers that are in the US currently, and the next five to seven years, if not before that, all of those are going to be machines driving. And as a company, are you going to hire a human being who is, who needs to rest who’s prone to mistakes and accident, or are you going to hire a machine that is going to drive nonstop for 24 hours and do what you need them to do? Of course, you’re going to do that.

So being curious as an individual, we need to be curious, that’s called being proactive and again, taking accountability. There’s a lot of things we cannot control. A lot of things we can. That’s on the individual side.

On the institutional side, if of course change takes time. And that’s understandable. And institutions are designed for better, for worse, in a way, depending on which one, of course, but in a way that changes a little bit slower. There’s a lot of bureaucratic things that go into it.

We need to learn how to be more agile. We need to learn how to quickly adjust to what’s happening because eventually what’s going to happen is you’re going to be run-out from competition. So that’s the reality. So what we need to look at is there’s a couple of options.

If you’re an institution is going to be offering those traditional four-year degrees, et cetera, and again, some, some institutions do this, but if you’re not already doing it, tying it in with some kind of apprenticeships. Tying it in with experience, that is absolutely a part of the curriculum.

In many cases, it’s not part of the curriculum. Let’s say an engineering student, maybe they’re working on particular projects throughout. Maybe they’re required to take an internship, but it needs to be embedded. Like every class that a student takes needs to be embedded with a company. Who can then give them that they go so they study in the morning, they go in the evening, for example, or afternoons or whatever works. And they actually work in a company.

Like back in the day, that’s what we used to have. I think in the sixties. We used to have apprenticeships. We used to have hands-on learning. So that’s what needs to be embedded because there’s nothing wrong with an engineering degree.

What a higher education does give you is that broader view of different things that you can do. But again, if you’re learning and not applying, then what are you doing? That’s the question. With those programs, the experience piece needs to be absolutely embedded in the curriculum, not once a year internship, every single semester, every week, the student used to go and apply what they’re learning.

And I bet you there’s a lot of companies who would be more than happy to host students because that’s their talent pipeline. And companies struggle with that. That’s their talent pipeline. And there are various, of course, programs that do do that. But many, many institutions do not. And the point of this to bring it to diversity.

And the final point about diversity is that when you’re diversifying your skillset, even if you are an engineer, when you go and you do different things, you start to learn about different ways that the business operates in that particular industry. What other things can you pick up? What other things do you like?

So an engineer thinks in a very structured, in a very specific way versus an HR person. There’s a lot of skills that they can apply, not necessarily in engineering fields, but in other fields as well. But they will not know unless they get that experience.

And again, for the future, we need to look at diversifying. And the way you do that is to not only focus on one area of expertise, of course, unless you’re maybe a doctor or a NASA scientist or something that’s different, but I’m talking for the majority of the job market out there, there is a way to diversify and to not only diversify your skillset, but also diversify your income at the end. Again, that comes with practice. It does not come from just pure classroom. It just doesn’t, it doesn’t work.

Dr. Marie Harper: I’m glad you shared those points because your statements actually confirm the presentation that I heard earlier by an organization that is doing just what you described. You’ve made me a believer in a day because you confirm something I heard earlier. And the fact that, in addition to having these internships, simulations, I’m still hearing from companies that those type of efforts still aren’t really working for what they need an employee to be able to do when they come to their organizations.

But, if we spent the time embedding these opportunities and collaborating with organizations who can share with us what they actually need, their future potential employees to do, that that would be a win-win situation for everyone who is a part of the equation.

And I think that will be a mind shift. I’m the Dean of a school that you mentioned earlier, the School of Business, one that is highly sought after, but every school has a business school. What makes us different? And you are sharing some ideas that I’m assuming, and it sounds like, that you have experienced that, and you’ve done enough research in those areas and you see what is working.

And it brings me to my last point. I’m thinking about what is occurring in the United States. You do a lot of work in the Middle East region. Do you see any differences in the trends that are emerging in this type of work relationship with higher ed, the business community, as well as the students, or do you see the same challenges?

Elena Agaragimova: I’ve done some kind of business, whether within higher education or education space in 13 different countries at least at this stage. And every career development person at an institution like career services person that I meet many of the higher education folks that I meet in my work, it is the same challenges. It is the same challenges.

So although in the Middle East and some of the institutions, it’s the same challenges, but they may be a little bit quicker to adjust because there’s a little bit new.

So because they’re new, they haven’t had the years and years of history of doing things a certain way. There’s not that bureaucratic process. So in the US, of course, I’m sure there’s the same case in many institutions, I just cannot speak on those experiences, but in the middle East, I see the turnaround with implementing and trying and having that agile methodology embedded in an institution is much more noticeable, at least in my experience.

In the US there are institutions that are doing amazing things that are very future focused, but if we’re looking at traditional kind of institutions that are out there still far behind. And the thing is that one of the biggest challenges when, when I talk to institutions about this and the leaders of education is that they always bring up the idea of human resource and budgets. Like we don’t have the human resources to do this, and we don’t have the capital to invest in this, et cetera.

But again, with access to technology, with access to understanding how can we create these learnings and coaching and make it accessible and affordable for all? There are so many solutions out there. It’s just about, again, being curious as a leader of an institution, and really taken proactive approach to saying, how can we transform what we’re doing? How can we enhance our student experience? How can we make sure we maintain our competitive edge?

To be honest, it will show up sooner or later because we will see a huge transformation in the next five to 10 years. It’s already happening. I think it’s going to accelerate, and institutions that are going to survive are those that are going to get agile and learn how to maintain their competitive edge. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot of colleges and universities die down in the near future.

Dr. Marie Harper: Yes. I agree with that. I’ve had opportunities to share some of the thoughts that you have just expressed. That is the concern that we have, the higher education industry is in flux. And we have the opportunity to look at some of the things that you have mentioned today and make a decision, a conscious decision. Are we going to shift, or are we going to stay the same?

And I feel sad about the fact that there may be some individuals that will dig in to the status quo and continue on, trying to just tweak what they’re currently doing. But based on some of the information that you have shared, you’re coming from a trainer perspective, I’ve talked to some executives in corporations and they’re willing to try what’s next. And they have accepted that it’s not going to be business as usual. So I am hoping, I’m trying to be encouraged that many of my competitors or counterparts will see the light and make the shift.

And I agree when you say that the situation is really deep in the United States, whereas other regions such as where you are currently in the Middle East, that they have it, but it’s kind of new, so it’s easier to address. Because people, they don’t have a philosophy ingrained in their head and also by it being new. And then with the pandemic that something has to be done and it has to be done quickly. And you have embraced technology as being a feasible solution to correcting the problem. Well, Elena, I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise. In closing, do you have any final remarks that you would like to share with the audience?

Elena Agaragimova: Just that change is inevitable. So we might as well get used to it. And yeah, this is what’s going to keep us going. And, and it’s, again, there’s so many simple solutions and small steps that every institution and individual can take towards a more future-focused and ready for the future, essentially. It’s a decision, as you said, we need to make a decision. That’s it. Once you do that, the rest is easy.

Dr. Marie Harper: I like how you said, “Change is coming.” Because I think this pandemic was the game changer. I know people who were against working from home, I know individuals who did not respect online learning, but they had to shift to it.

It was almost like sometimes we have people in industries that their back has to be forced against the wall before they’re willing to open their eyes and try something different. It shouldn’t have to be that way. We should be open to change. I think change management. There’s going to be a lot of emphasis on that as well, for the employee, as well as the organizations.

Shifts and responsibilities, even though my strength, one of my strength areas is in the field of management, we have to rethink the role of management. We don’t need dictators anymore. We don’t need the police to be in the work environment. We need individuals who can coach, who can empower their employees to get the job done.

One of the things that I’ve always found helpful is to stay connected to the people who work the front lines, because they know exactly what’s happening. We have organizations who focus on that. The leaders are supposed to know all the answers they don’t, and we shouldn’t put them in the position that they should have to have all the answers. It should be acceptable to reach down, to get diversity of thought.

I was talking about a diversity of skillset, but diversity of thought is important as well. And people come from, they provide perspectives that tie into their experiences. And with that type of thought process, we should be able to see that everyone has something to offer, whether or not we’ve been exposed to it, or whether or not we agree with what they’re saying. Obviously there is an audience that believes what they believe, and therefore, I think we should take it into consideration.

Well, finally, I want to thank you, our listeners for joining us. We have been speaking with Elena Agaragimova. This is Marie Gould Harper thanking you for listening to our podcast today.

About the Guest:

Elena Agaragimova is an engaging skilled trainer and talent development specialist, credited with combining operations, education, and international expertise to design and deliver programs for diverse audiences. She is known for her ability to drive change within individuals and organizations that are looking to reach their potential and maintain their competitive edge in the business world. She has started her career in higher education, having worked across various institutions, departments and regions. In her recent years, she dove into business and founded an education platform that prepares youth for the future – Bloom Youth and Co-Founded Bessern – tech solution for productivity and well-being in organizations.

Elena has a strong passion for L&D, promoting creative and engaging workplaces and all about optimizing performance through the development of others with a keen interest in neuroscience. As a career and talent development coach, Elena has over 12 years of experience working individuals across different generations, supporting them in achieving their professional and personal goals. She also recently wrote a guidebook on how to shift yourself and others towards a path to success. Finally, she is a regular contributor to Forbes Middle East, and various publications and online platforms in the Middle East region. When she is not leading talent transformation, she volunteers her time to help young students with their career development goals.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of experience.

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