Cybersecurity Upskilling and Lifelong Learning in the Digital Age

Sterling Kellis, Assistant Dean of Technology, College of Information Systems and Technology, University of Phoenix

Guest Contributor: Sterling Kellis, Assistant Dean of Technology, College of Information Systems and Technology, University of Phoenix

American jazz musician Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace, but making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative genius.”

Today, the security industry is in need of a stroke of creative genius to find a simple solution to a complicated problem – bridging the cybersecurity skills gap. Cybercrime is on the rise and companies are throwing money at potential solutions. [1] However, a recent University of Phoenix survey found that 80 percent of US adults have never considered a career in cybersecurity. [2] Without a robust workforce that can keep pace with cybercriminals, companies will always be fighting an uphill battle.

To fill the pipeline, corporations and institutions of higher education must converge and provide unified support and solutions to meet the needs of the future workforce. Bolstering the workforce may seem impossible with such a lack of interest in the industry, but looking at potential professionals through a new lens may provide a simple solution – view candidates as the oil within a 55-gallon drum. Let me explain.

For those unfamiliar with the energy industry, oil is a technical cornucopia. Heat is used to initiate the refinement process, which produces a multitude of useful materials. At a certain temperature, the lighter molecules will start to evaporate and become propane. Heat it up slightly and high-octane fuel for a jet or a car forms. A little bit more heat and diesel are produced. Even more and we get plastics. Even the black sludge at the bottom can be used as tar.

People are like an unrefined oil drum. There is so much untapped potential in the workforce that can be extracted with a little effort. Academia and corporate can do a better job of working together to refine what is inside individuals to craft them into effective solutions for workforce needs. The better we understand and apply this, the more the industry can help individuals expand their skillsets and pursue new career opportunities.

To aid the refinery process, educational offerings must adapt to people’s needs today, to allow them to better realize their full potential. Though working with adult learners, the University has learned that they have a few specific requirements for quality education.

  1. Easily accessible content

Adult learners want content that is easily accessible, yet robust. The majority of University of Phoenix students are online learners and, as a result, most want their education provided through learning platforms that are easy to navigate and mobile friendly. Adults today are busy, juggling careers with family and personal life.

  1. Quality video instruction

Think of how media is consumed today. Video has become ubiquitous in the way people learn and consume information. University of Phoenix uses videos often in curriculum as a result of student feedback. Students want on-demand and engaging videos with adjustable playback options. People are consuming information on the go, listening to audio or watching video while commuting and want increased playback speed.

  1. Interactive training

Students want to control what they are learning. Often, this can be provided through hands-on, formative instruction with interactive simulations. At University of Phoenix, it is believed that education should be agile and relevant. As a primarily online university, this can be difficult, but success has been shown in providing interactive learning options through videos that students can control.

  1. Improved assessment

Adult learners, in particular, highlighted three key traits that they want from their education: They want content to be concise, timely and relevant. Students want to have assignments that provide an improved baseline and formative assessment. This includes improved summative assessment and timely feedback. In sum, they want curriculum that provides insight into how to better understand content between education skills and those needed in the workforce.

  1. Workforce alignment

Understanding the connection between education and career requires degree programs that are aligned with the workforce. Degrees should include competency-based skills and certificate-aligned training. This ensures that students graduating have the skills that are currently in need.

University of Phoenix routinely works with industry experts, like EC-Council and CompTIA, to inform curriculum. Additionally, classes are taught by scholar-practitioners that boast years of industry experience and are often current professionals working in the industry in which they teach. Through this, the University is able to offer agile and relevant cybersecurity training and degrees with industry certificates that overlap between physical and cyber competencies and are aligned to careers through input from industry experts.

University of Phoenix is working to hit all five learner needs in its coursework. Online degree programs are offered via a robust mobile learning platform. The majority run five to six weeks, one at a time, to allow flexibility.

Similar to an oil-drum, people are vessels of malleable potential. An effort to refine and ignite their energy can lead working adults to the career of their dream and, in turn, improve the workforce.

Creatively simple.


[2] This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix on June 19 – 21, 2018 among 2,015 US adults aged 18 and older. Figures for gender, age, race/ethnicity, household income, investable assets, education, household size, employment status, marital status, and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.