The future of work is changing, and the education system needs to keep up. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that rapid advances in automation and AI technology will mean that about 14% of the global workforce, particularly those whose jobs involve routine physical activity, will need to reskill and change occupation by 2030 in order to avoid obsolescence.
Worryingly, though, it appears there’s insufficient provision to prepare adult learners for what’s set to be the greatest upheaval in the workplace since the Industrial Revolution.
The pace of change means older adults (not the traditional university students) will soon become the largest group of new learners in education. Many people currently in employment are turning to continuous professional development programmes to ensure their skills are up to date and relevant to the rapidly evolving requirements of the roles they already have – not to mention the roles they might want in the future.
Indeed, the past 18 months has seen a significant increase in the time spent by employees on learning new skills simply to cope with the change in working practices forced upon them by the impact of the pandemic. A recent LinkedIn report reveals a 159% rise in the number of CEOs championing learning and development programmes within their organisations.
Put simply, our parents’ generation’s experience of a job for life no longer exists. In fact, the speed at which things are developing means we’re entering a period in which even traditional degrees and professional qualifications don’t carry the weight they once did. In many cases, such as in the software developer community, demonstrable skills for the job at hand are now valued more highly than academic credentials.
Learning is clearly no longer a one-stop-shop. It doesn’t end after school or university but instead will be an integral part of the daily routine of successful and satisfied workers, much like fitness has become a bigger part of everyday life during the last 10 years. It’s crucial, then, that the delivery of this learning changes to meet this new model.
A multi-modal approach to education in work
Tending to centre around the institution and/or educator, traditional approaches to delivering education are outdated and poorly suited to today’s primarily digital world. The lecture format, for instance, was originally optimised for a time in which books were a scarce resource. Today, with such a vast wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, it’s a hugely inefficient way of taking on board new information. Many existing online courses, such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), are often no better, simply reproducing traditional learning formats, with static, non-interactive recordings of lectures.
A multi-modal approach, however, including written, audio, and visual content in a variety of formats and with multiple touchpoints, has been scientifically proven to accelerate learning. Allowing experts to curate the best available online content into engaging courses that cater to a variety of learning preferences, this approach means learning online can really come into its own.
The ability to continually update and adapt content as new resources become available is especially important in the fields of science and technology where the subject matter can quickly become outdated. By way of illustration, over 1.8 million scientific papers are published each year in more than 28,000 journals. While keeping up with this volume of information is often seen as a problem, it’s actually an opportunity, the key to which lies in its curation.
Today’s learners want access to the latest information to make sure their skills are relevant. It’s important, therefore, to help them find, analyse, evaluate and retain that information as it becomes available.
Holistic learning experience
Prior knowledge has long been considered the most important factor influencing learning. With employees at various levels and in different disciplines all seeking to better themselves, it’s clear that we can’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to education and learning. In addition, our prior knowledge has been transformed by the opportunity of the internet. For example, with over 500 hours of content uploaded every minute to YouTube and over 500 new articles uploaded to Wikipedia every day, while we may not realise it, we are learning all the time from sources across the web.
The sheer scale and variety of information opens up the doors for truly personalised learning for all and is why online learning can be highly effective if used in the right way.
One of its benefits, for example, is that it allows students to learn at their own pace, thereby allowing for greater engagement. This engagement can be further augmented by the formation of new connections across previously held concepts. Cognitive scientists have shown that new content is more likely to be retained if it’s related to what already exists in a student’s memory. Online courses should take the latest developments and insights, and integrate them alongside existing materials. If, in addition to this, learners can ask questions and interrogate what they’re taught, they’ll enjoy a more holistic learning experience. After all, the best way to fully understand a concept is to challenge it.
Technology has a key role to play in enhancing learning – leveraging the biggest and most complete learning resource the world has ever seen (the internet), unlocking models like “learning on the go” with mobile apps or even greater interactivity using virtual worlds and augmented reality.
Workers are taking charge of their own destinies, upskilling and reskilling to ensure they’re prepared for the future. As the world changes around them and their ability to learn is ever more closely correlated to their ability to perform a skill and land a new job, it is of crucial importance they are to be placed at the centre of their own education, and encouraged to learn faster and remember more. The traditional education system isn’t fit for this purpose, though.
By leveraging the world’s most valuable educational resource – the internet – and building a multi-modal model approach suited to every individual’s specific needs, we’ll create a new medium of education for a new type of learner, one capable of keeping up with the pace of change.
Joshua Wohle is the CEO and co-founder of Mindstone, an edtech platform that curates learning materials from the internet.
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