Modern Skills For The Modern Student


Professor Shelley Kinash
Ron Kordyban

Today is a new technological frontier – an exciting world of mass digitalisation and a place where technology has revolutionised people’s lives in terms of communication, education, networking and career development. Alongside the digital revolution, there are new opportunities and freedoms because traditional boundaries such as geography, time and money are no longer the obstacles they once were.

For example, worldwide, students can now learn online for free on a wide spectrum of topics through a host of providers, ranging from top tier university massive online open courses (MOOCs) to private YouTube videos. It is a telling sign of how education has changed when the children of Bill Gates study using Khan Academy – a free online learning service available to all. Job hunters are now able to access, research and apply for jobs anywhere in the world from their own device, and may even be video interviewed online.

In order to best take advantage of these new opportunities and the ever-changing landscape, students of today need modern new skills to set them up for success. If educational systems continue to evolve so that they meet the needs, interests and motivations of 21st century students, then students will need to update their skill set for learning. Here are an indispensable few of these student skill sets.

1. Online Networking
About the skill: Long gone are the days of a tight and limited social circle based solely on old friendships, close family and geography. The modern student needs to be able to expand and extend his networks based on shared interests and skills, on an open and accessible international stage.
Why it matters: This skill will help in finding relevant employment opportunities; allow engagement in meaningful online discussion and sharing, as well as solidify critical professional networks.
How to obtain it: Keep active and regular on social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Join groups and conversations on these social media platforms and try to exchange ideas, ask and answer questions, provide endorsements and engage in general networking. Attend relevant webinars and online presentations that relate to your professional and personal interests. Follow industry leaders on social media and delve into their followers to find like-minded individuals with whom to communicate.


2. Coding
About the skill: The ability to program can be seen as an essential modern language in a world where every industry from agriculture to banking continues to see an increasing involvement of computers and technology. Most experts agree that the ability to read and write code is well worth the modest effort it takes to acquire.
Why it matters: In addition to a host of jobs which directly relate to computer programing, the act of coding focuses thinking skills and allows one to better appreciate and understand the growing role of computers and how they work.
How to obtain it: With coding in such high demand, there is a host of options with respect to both where and how to learn this skill. Many schools and professional training centres offer programing courses and there are a number of free and paid online courses and programs, including MOOCs.


3. Online Content Curation
About the skill: In the age of the information superhighway, being able to find, sort and store high-quality content is essential.
Why it matters: This skill is valuable as it increases efficiency and can be a tremendous time saver. An effective online content curator can help mitigate some of the downsides of Web 2.0, such as the amount of questionable and incorrect information as well as the sheer volume of data available. Accessing relevant and existing sources quickly helps to save time and avoids reinventing the wheel.
How to obtain it: Be aware of online bookmarking and content curation tools and use them. Develop your working knowledge of time-saving apps and programs which help to take the pain out of source referencing. Use your social media feeds to narrow your information flow to high-quality and relevant sources. Make use of RSS feeds and other new aggregators to keep receiving new material from good sources automatically.


4. Image and Sound Editing
About the skill: Education has becoming increasingly multimedia by nature. Videos, podcasts and infographics are increasingly taking over from textbooks and PowerPoint presentations for content delivery in both online and face-to-face modes. Interactive eBooks and new web-based presentation options such as Prezi are also being transformed into media-rich formats. Skills with software such as Photoshop as well as video and sound editing software are now seen as required rather than optional for students and future employees.
Why it matters: Considering the sheer volume of information on the Internet today, an online voice needs to stand out. Adding various multimedia elements will help students’ voices be heard (and seen). Increasingly, students’ assessments are becoming more image, sound and video-based, mirroring the industry context. Being able to excel at digital editing will allow students to rise above those without such skills.
How to obtain it: The best way to acquire these skills is a combination of study and practice. In addition to the traditional face-to-face training options available, there are a number of online courses and MOOCs on various software such as the Adobe Creative Suite, Garage Band, Camtasia, Audacity and similar offerings.


5. Personal Online Branding
About the skill: Students are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their digital footprint, both in terms of projecting a positive and professional online image as well as minimising any potentially embarrassing web-based liabilities. This entails identifying, defining, refining and promoting an online identity to ensure that one stands out.
Why it matters: Establishing online credentials, professional memberships and associations, and creating/maintaining a positive trail of web activities is a great way to set a strong career foundation.
How to obtain it: Using professionally focused social media such as LinkedIn is a great way to start. Keeping all online activities from blog entries to public chats positive and professional is critical. Watch spelling and grammar! Be aware of the increase in affordable options for getting personalised logos, CVs, and digital footprint consultancy though crowdsourcing sites such as Fiverr.


6. Social Media Management
About the skill: The ability to grow and manage social media is an essential skill for modern students. Being able to monitor and influence targeted traffic while at the same time increasing their sites’ search engine optimisation rating is a double win.
Why it matters: Managing social media leads to the building of authentic relationships, communities and networks, as well as helping students stay informed and connected. In addition, managing social media can drastically increase site traffic and direct viewers where students would like them most.
How to obtain it: Read, browse and learn as much as you can about the growing field of social media management, including data analytics. Various training courses and instructional videos are readily available. Use and become proficient with one of the many available social media management tools such as HootSuite. If you have not signed up for the main social media outlets, consider expanding your horizons by doing so.


7. Online Entrepreneurialism
About the skill: The Internet has made global markets accessible to nearly everyone. More apps, programs and tools are making e-commerce easier, user-friendly and widely accepted by the public. Goods and services are now easier to buy, sell and exchange. The growing trend of crowdsourcing can be seen in examples such as Fiverr, Uber and Airtasker. The question of gaining the necessary start-up capital has also been addressed by crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Why it matters: From buying used textbooks to selling a new idea, online commerce continues to grow. This trend shows no sign of changing. It is hard to think of any industry that is not involved. Online entrepreneurialism is an especially important skill for students who are interested in running their own business and/or working in an international business or multinational corporation.
How to obtain it: Be aware of existing ways to finance, advertise and distribute goods and services through leveraging the power of the Internet. Look at existing businesses or areas which have been slow to adapt and consider competing with those. Leverage affordable outsourced online services to reduce costs. Think of new opportunities enabled by disruptive innovations and changes.


In the growing knowledge economy, students need to continuously develop the modern skills which will help them succeed in school and university, participate and contribute, stay up to date, get jobs, create their own jobs and, in general, thrive professionally. A big part of this digital skills revolution will involve ongoing learning and continuous self-improvement in a world which demands innovation, creativity and the ability to identify new opportunities and then adapt to take advantage of them. In addition to developing the skills described in this article, the 21st century learner needs to be able to identify trends, and constantly appraise and re-evaluate what skills are moving in and out of demand as change not only continues, but accelerates.

Professor Shelley Kinash is the Director, Advancement of Learning and Teaching at the University of Southern Queensland

Ron Kordyban is the Blending Learning Coordinator & Blended Learning Designer at Bond University

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Shelley Kinash

Shelley Kinash

Director, Office of Learning & Teaching at Bond University
Dr Shelley Kinash is Director, Office of Learning and Teaching at Bond University. Prior to Bond, Shelley taught as a Visiting Academic to the Faculty of Education (Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and Early Childhood) at University of Southern Queensland. Shelley was an Academic in the Faculty of Education (Educational Technology and Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies) at the University of Calgary for 12 years. Shelley earned her PhD in Educational Technology in 2004. Her dissertation topic was Blind Online Learners, which she authored as one of her three books published by Information Age - Seeing Beyond Blindness. Shelley remains research active. You can contact her on

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