Reinventing How We Learn – The Future of Education in a 4IR World

19 Aug 2018

We are at the beginning of a new path, a period of rapid transition driven by technology. The Fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is the amalgamation of automation, connectivity, artificial intelligence and robotics, creating entire industries, sectors and careers, and leading others to vanish entirely. 

Since the first industrial revolution over two hundred years ago, there have been many technological advances that have changed the way we live and work. These paradigm shifts have led to higher living standards and productivity, driven economic growth and often helped extend life expectancy. 

The digital era we are entering may feel disruptive due to the speed and vigour with which it is changing, but it is likely that these changes will ultimately benefit society. To ensure that we gain the most out of the 4IR opportunities, we must take deliberate, considered and coordinated action to ensure that the advancement of technology benefits everyone. And to do this, we must reinvent how we lean, train and work.

To build practical and relevant future of employment, we need governments, corporate leaders and social service frameworks to understand the implications of the digital world and how they need to adapt to better serve their stakeholders. To gain this understanding, we need to invest in research. We need data that considers and understands the implications of how  automation, ‘smart’ applications and the Internet of Things will change our lives. We need to understand which jobs will disappear, where robotics, artificial Intelligence and automation will move processes online or away from human intervention and expected timespans for when this will occur. 

The second part of understanding how we must adapt for the future is to recognise how technology will create new roles. From robotics and cybersecurity to supply chain management, many new industries and jobs within them will arise and require workers. Indeed, it is not just about learning how to use new technology. Many existing roles will actually require the worker to integrate technology into existing roles, compelling them to learn new skills to facilitate this integration. For example, in many industries we will need to consider how creative collaborations between traditional roles and new algorithms can affect discriminatory practices, and how this should be managed and regulated. This presents the issue of training – how do we know what to teach when we are yet to understand what skills are needed?

Current research shows that workplace skills change every 2.5 years. Therefore, learning is key to career sustainability and yet, traditional forms of classroom formats, textbooks and generic testing do not complement this rapid pace of transition. For some, the answer in ‘continuous up-training’. This system of training requires all employees to devote time to learning and perfecting new skills that have evolved alongside the technology, helping employees adapt to rapid change. 

From childhood education through to adult learning and development programmes in employment, we need to provide access to training that can be manipulated by the individual to ensure relevance in today’s world. To do this, courses and learning materials that anticipate and adapt to the needs of the student are crucial as a one-size-fits-all approach no longer apply. To achieve this approach however, we need a significant shift in how we approach learning. 

Many universities, including MIT, are already implementing this approach by offering pioneering online programmes. MIT, for example, offers MicroMasters, providing quality, on-demand, industry-relevant skills that are recognised by leading employers, and at a fraction of the price of traditional education models. However, it is important to acknowledge that as individuals, we are constantly bombarded with information, making it difficult to focus on learning the particular skills we need for the future. Therefore, alongside digital learning, we must explore individualised learning. 

A New Approach to Training Delivery

Traditional learning materials fail to consider specific needs or learning styles. They are often based on a standard curriculum or presentation that is delivered en masse, in-person. This approach is becoming archaic, particularly as it ignores the potential of available technology to deliver more effective training. An example of a company already implementing a new form of training is Deloitte. They have been utilising artificial intelligence to curate and customise training content that anticipates the educational needs of employees based on their role, level, and courses their peers are taking. The programme organises content available and sets out a bespoke approach instead of their previous ‘stock content’. 

As well as reimagining content, we must also change the method of training delivery. Where traditionally learning has taken place in a classroom, digital transformation has opened up new possibilities for students, enabling them to dictate when and where they train. Dynamic, online platforms that curate courses whenever is relevant to them allows convenience and efficiency. Whilst there is always likely to be a place for student/teacher interaction, taking the body of the learning online can save time and costs, leaving the more complex discussions and feedback to meetings where more value can be gained by both parties.  

Adapting to Flexible working 

Alongside technological development is societal evolution. Changes to how we approach work as individuals and families. The popularity of flexible working led by benefits to both the worker and the employer is becoming more and more commonplace. Long gone is the concept of the 9-5 work day, five days a week at the same desk in the same office. Remote working, contracting, freelancing and global, cohesive teams are fast becoming the norm. 

Acknowledging this trend, companies must develop training strategies that include the needs of contractors to ensure every team member, no matter their working structure, delivers the same approach, quality and objectives company-wide, regardless of their location.

Individuals, companies, sectors and governments must all place focus on learning, and indeed continuous learning, in order to reach the potential 4IR presents. Learning should be within a creative and smart environment that allows workers and students to prove that they are innovators and provide them with the skills they need to adapt as rapidly as the technology does. 

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