Do we overestimate the potential of technology?

Updated: Feb 8

How is automation changing work, and what new skills will people need? How do we know what's going to happen in the future, and is it a good idea to even try and understand? Is blockchain really that powerful, or is it a fad? Does educational technology really help learning?

At The Future Learning Project we like to read and think about what the future of learning might look like, by being curious about what factors are influencing how and why the nature of work and life is changing. This week's focus is:

1. Why constant innovation and improved efficiency in the workplace means changing roles for people, and new skills.

2. Why making firm predictions about the future of work (and learning) is problematic, and what traps need to be avoided.

3. How blockchain might transform education, but there are a lot of unknowns.

4. Why promised improvements in educational outcomes through the use of digital technologies are not happening as expected.

"... economists agree that technology is likely to polarise the labor market, dividing work into two camps: high-paying and highly skilled jobs at one end, and low-paying, low-skilled jobs on the other."

Sourced via The Exponential View, this is a good look at a warehouse that is at the forefront of work automation. In short, the goal is constant innovation and improved efficiency, which means more robots, with human jobs changing from repetitive manual tasks to repairing the robots and packing bags before delivery. The company (Ocado) is currently testing robots to pack bags instead of humans, and argues that increased automation and improved efficiency has seen a net creation of 14,000 jobs that would not exist without robots.

So what are the implications for learning? If technology actually is likely to polarise jobs, then preparing students with the competencies needed to perform highly skilled tasks is one function.

But what about those that do not have access to these opportunities? How can we ensure that every student has the opportunity to access high-quality learning?

It's imperative we find a way - the opportunity gap is already wide, and set to grow further.

"There’s another problem with the prevailing narrative about jobs of the future: some advocates have a habit of relying on bad data."

This is a timely reminder about the problematic nature of future-focused research and discussion. In truth, no one actually knows what's going to happen, and advocates who makes predictions about the future of work (and learning) can seize of pieces of information and incomplete research to make assumptions. We have to recognise our own biases, along with tendencies to assume and make connections that don't necessarily exist.

That said, it is important to recognise trends, and apply thought to what those trends might mean. Questions that guide our thinking at The Future Learning Project are:

1. What trends are emerging in changing of work that people perform as a result of exponential technologies and disruptive innovation?

2. Which trends are likely to continue and accelerate, and how is work likely to be disrupted?

3. What knowledge, skills and competencies will people need to thrive in this new era of work?

4. What are the implications for learning?

The questions can vary, but the general theme does not.

The article closely questions tendencies for educators and policy makers to focus on technology as an unproven solution to an uncertain future. Technology is likely part of the solution, along with very human understandings of knowledge, soft skills and competencies.

Blockchain is emerging as a potentially disruptive technology, and there's a lot of work going on to identify exactly how it might be useful within education. Basically, blockchain is a decentralised, distributed ledger that is spread across many networks as blocks of information. The design of the system means that transactions can be recorded in a verifiable and permanent way.

Socratescoin markets itself as the 'currency' of the knowledge economy, and uses an open-source blockchain platform. The company is heavily invested in exploring opportunities for blockchain in education, and this infographic shares some of the thinking that's taking place at the moment. It will be interesting to see how transformative this technology proves to be.

Although two years old, this is still an interesting listen about the booming market in educational technology. It's part of a spreading innovation series under the auspices of the World Economic Forum, and looks at why promised improvements in educational outcomes through the use of digital technologies are not happening as expected.

In theory digital technologies provide the opportunity to educate children well at scale and at cost through a combination of software that personalises and democratises learning, hardware, and data analysis that provides powerful information to inform evidence-based policy.

So why is this technology not being rolled out as quickly as hoped? Here are some key takeaways:

1. The story of a company named Amplify, which despite having an entire curriculum pre-loaded on a tablet overestimated the company's ability to penetrate a traditional, government-protected, risk-averse field such as education. It was a powerful product, but constraints such as Internet access, political resistance and the cost of the tablet didn't help.

2. A key problem is that the technology with its shiny product is often at the centre, with issues such as delivery and infrastructure underestimated.

3. Innovation within the use of technology needs to come from those who understand how student learn and what barriers to learning exists - interventions need to be designed by them and not silicon valley.

4. Changing the way teachers work, especially in developed countries, is very difficult. Teachers need to be activators of learning - this is important and skilful and hard to do well.

5. Technology is a powerful enabler of personalised learning and can change the nature of the teacher's role, but it does not replace the teacher.

6. Innovators and players within the educational technology space need to stay in for the long run.

7. It looks as though the potential for innovation within education technology is more likely to happen in the developing world, due to fewer systemic constraints to overcome and and ambitious emerging economies likelier to take risks.

Educational technology is clearly a big part of our learning future, but it's certainly not the whole story. The role of the teacher will remain key, but teaching practices must evolve from traditional instructional methods to a role in which the teacher is mentor and facilitator within a dynamic learning environment.

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#Automation #Blockchain #Competencies #SoftSkills #Technology #Research

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