Updated: Jul 25, 2020
What happens when schools are too slow to enhance their instructional methods to meet the demands of the real world? What is one of the most critical factors that drives how students learn? What happens when laid-off workers in declining industries refuse to retrain for new jobs? Which 'soft skills' are becoming essential in learning and the workplace?
At The Future Learning Project we ask critical questions and explore the global factors that are shaping the future of learning. This week's focus is:
1. How technology is set to transform teaching and learning, whether teachers and schools like it or not.
2. Why small changes to the learning environment can transform how students learn.
3. Why the use of AI may not need to a net loss of jobs, and how people can be retrained for new work.
4. Why some major employers are struggling to attract people with the right skill sets despite excellent qualifications.
Our first article via The World Economic Forum looks at how technological advances (in this case the blockchain and AI) might challenge or transform current traditional approaches to teaching and learning. It argues that students are seeking more personalised and engaging learning experiences, wish to participate in the process, and implies that if pedagogy doesn't change, learning will be transformed by technology regardless.
It's certainly a possible scenario, but is it a desirable one? One in
which schools and teachers are too slow to enhance their pedagogy and collaborate with students in relevant, purposeful and engaging learning experiences? Will teachers, schools and/or learning systems that fail to adapt become irrelevant? Will 'custom textbooks' really be a part of our students' learning future, and are they the answer? What about the data that's generated? Who will control that, and how will it be used?
As we've seen from recent research, resistance to innovation change is systemically hard-wired within state education systems. As teachers and educators, we need to get in front of this lead the type of innovation that takes place, rather than react to external forces.
Arguably, the two most critical factors driving the types of teaching and learning in a learning environment are (a) assessment and (b) the learning environment. Assessment is important because if student achievement is measured and teachers are held accountable to data that's produced, then the perceived best method to achieve positive results will eventuate. For example, cramming knowledge and 'teaching to the test' will result if data is generated and success measured solely through knowledge-based testing.
The second critical factor is the learning environment. For example, if an observer were to enter a classroom in which students are seated at individual desks in rows facing the teacher, then it is likely that the bulk of the instruction in that classroom is teacher-centric and instructional. There may be reduced opportunities for student collaboration and critical discussion, and a desk in rows layout will likely not suit different learners at different stages of their learning.
Our team has been fortunate to be involved in helping teachers transform learning spaces over the years, and this article from The Hechinger Report looks at how simply changing the learning environment forces changes in teaching practices. Different types of furniture and design with students and learning in mind rather than the just teacher can transform student engagement and autonomy, and demands more of the teacher than simple lesson preparation.
The next time you visit a classroom, have a look at how it's arranged. What are your observations, and what might this mean for the learning that's taking place?
What happens to people's jobs as a result of automation is an open question. MIT Technology Review shares a perspective that rapid automation and use of AI may not necessarily lead to a loss of total jobs, and that new ones will be created. The research indicates that many routine jobs are already being lost, but new positions are being created that replace them. The problem that's caused is that the replacement jobs are not always available in the same places that job losses tend to occur. This leads to some areas to decline economically, incomes to also decline and other areas to thrive. People can be reluctant to move due to family and community ties, and families suffer.
What's the solution? The article discusses about up-skilling and training, but who bears the cost? Unfortunately this issue is becoming more politicised - we have seen examples of laid-off workers in mining refusing to retrain due to political promises to reopen the mines, when all the evidence suggests that those jobs are not coming back.
Maybe we could have a discussion about these issues with young people. We could provide students with a data set and examine what trends and challenges emerge. Perhaps we can involve them in designing solutions?
To conclude this week, from the World Economic Forum we look at growing evidence that non-cognitive 'soft skills' (communication, teamwork, motivation) are becoming ever more important in the labour market for four key reasons:
1. Today's jobs demand more non-cognitive social and service skills. 2. The labour market is rewarding these skills monetarily. 3. People with better soft skills are more likely to be employed. 4. People without soft skills don't proceed as far in study and the workplace.
The article goes on to reference the fact that some major employers are struggling to attract people with the right skill sets despite excellent qualifications, and still others are starting to bypass qualifications and credentials altogether. The development of these core competencies needs to be woven into how students work and engage with learning tasks daily.
Like all skills, communication, teamwork and developing intrinsic motivation need to be learned, understood and practised, and leaving it until students enter the workforce has real-world consequences. Maths and English language competence and ability remain essential, but they are no longer enough. Are our schools and learning systems adapting to meet these challenges?
Thank you for joining us this week - please don't forget to comment on our articles and posts - we want to share ideas, critical thought and constructive feedback.