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Rethink Higher Education: The Benefits of a Self-Designed Specialization

Move beyond the traditional classroom and design your degree based on your career goals.

It’s time to rethink higher education. Adult learners are increasingly becoming prevalent in higher education, making up nearly half of all students enrolled. And, 25% of all students are at least 30 years old.* Moreover, higher education as a field is expanding beyond colleges and universities and flowing into the business world. As there is increased demand to expand our global workforce and build our knowledge economy, organizations are compelled to maximize efficiencies and create internal learning environments for their employees.

Learning never ends, and there’s a constant need for training and retraining. As a result, learning leaders are required to shepherd this evolution of higher education to provide the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools for all to succeed at work. Learning leaders are needed throughout different kinds of organizations—of all shapes and sizes, with different purposes and audiences—to bring to life learning opportunities with tangible and effective academic achievement.

Rethink Higher Education: The Benefits of a Self-Designed Specialization

Many businesses are reaching their employee base via online professional development, with more than three-quarters of U.S. organizations providing this service to their employees. That’s a 900% increase since 2000. Still, nearly half (47%) of all training is instructor-led in person in a classroom.

Regardless of the mode of delivery, these academic directors, directors of education, educational consultants, and other learning leaders require a variety of skill sets. They need to be able to train employees professionally as well as communicate the importance of their company’s profession, vision, and mission to new employees. Organizations need someone with a solid pedagogical background and a sense of what it means to not only develop a program and curriculum but also to evaluate and assess the program and then communicate its effectiveness. These educational leaders should have an understanding of working with adult learners and possess management, supervisory, leadership, and strategic planning skills.

While it sounds unlikely that organizations can find someone who knows a bit about everything, it’s getting easier for learning leaders to gain the knowledge needed to take advantage of these dynamic opportunities within the new higher education landscape. Self-designed specializations are gaining traction within PhD in Education and Doctor of Education (EdD) programs because they offer students the freedom and flexibility to tailor their program to complement their professional objectives. Here are a few benefits of the self-designed specialization:

  • Customize coursework. Students gain a grounding in the fundamentals of higher education and reaching adult learner populations, but can choose the courses that best fit their personal and professional goals. Students can also potentially use the self-designed specialization to transfer credits from another program and remain on track for their program.
  • Be prepared to teach in nontraditional settings. Doctoral graduates are no longer confined to teaching in traditional college and university classrooms. A self-designed specialization can help prepare graduates to deliver education in corporate, nonprofit, government, healthcare, or military settings.
  • Become a strategic partner. By providing graduates with additional skills beyond teaching, a self-designed specialization can help them secure a seat at the executive table, where key strategies are discussed and decided. Learning leaders build skills and drive the workforce forward, adding value in a role that is increasingly critical to any organization’s success.

Though not new within traditional higher education, self-designed specializations are becoming more popular in online degree programs. For example, Walden University offers self-designed specializations in five doctoral programs, including the PhD in Education and Doctor of Education (EdD). Online education inherently offers students the ability to expand their career options and earn a degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits working professionals’ busy lives. Self-designed specializations take that one step further, allowing students to tailor their program of study to their interests and goals.

*E. Westervelt, Shaken By Economic Change, ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Becoming the New Normal, nprEd, on the internet at

†V. Snyder, Commodifying Your Knowledge for Scalable Personal Branding Impact, Forbes, on the internet at

‡Designing Digitally, E-learning Facts, on the internet at