The future of learning - are we forgetting what's really important?

Updated: Jul 25


(Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Is facial recognition technology something we should be using in schools? What skills do people need to have to thrive in the future of work? How is artificial intelligence being used within the education sector? In this age of exponential technology and disruptive innovation, what really matters?

These are the questions that have been driving us this week, and at The Future Learning Project we explore the global factors that are shaping the future of learning. This week's focus is:

1. How facial recognition technology is being used in schools, and why that might be a problem.

2. The top ten skills that people need in the future according to The World Economic Forum.

3. How one government is applying the power of AI within the education sector, and the journey has just started.

4. Why focusing solely on exponential technologies and learning new competencies is insufficient.

Facial recognition technology is now in schools. It's already being used to monitor students' attention in China and prevent school shootings in America. The software is even being offered free to schools, again to prevent school shootings.

The technology is capable of identifying or recognising a person from a digital image - for example facial recognition unlocks your phone when it 'sees' you, and helps your phone organise its photos by recognising who appears in them. It is becoming more frequently used by security systems (not just airports anymore), and is slowly but surely making its way into our daily lives.

The problem is that this technology is completely unregulated in America and many other countries. Facial recognition technology can be used for surveillance, data and images collected can be shared and used without users' consent, and ethical concerns are growing. Europe has passed laws that require those being recognised to give their explicit consent, and as the technology becomes more powerful more voices are speaking out.

The voices are led by the people who recognise just how advanced this technology is becoming: Microsoft president Bradford L. Smith has called for facial recognition regulations in the U.S., Google employees don't want their tech. being sold to defense companies, and Amazon employees don't want their facial recognition software being used by U.S. border enforcement contractors.

The implications for schools are many. What happens to students' privacy? Who owns and has access to the data that's stored? How about the temptation to use the technology to monitor friendships and behaviour? Might there be any unintended consequences?

New fields such as nanotechnology, quantum computing, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are driving a revolution in the landscape of work. To prepare for this future of new work in an era of automation, people need to learn new competencies. These competencies must be uniquely human, in that they can't be replicated and performed by machines.

Sourced via The World Economic Forum, this infographic (based on WEF research) makes for a nice visual representation of what's causing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to happen, and detailed the top 10 skills most likely needed to thrive in the new economy. These skills are:

1. Complex problem solving 2. Critical thinking 3. Creativity 4. People management 5. Coordinating with others 6. Emotional intelligence 7. Judgement and decision making 8. Service orientation 9. Negotiation 10. Cognitive flexibility

The infographic also provides helpful references to the top-5 industry sectors (lifelong learning among them) and top industry jobs (teachers and trainers is one) in 2020.

If the skills above are indeed essential in the future of work, how many of our students have the opportunity to actively learn and apply them in an engaging and authentic way? Are they immersed in this process? These can all be learned and practised, but how prepared are our schools and educations to deliver?

In October 2017, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Government launched its Strategy for Artificial Intelligence - the first of its kind in the world. Education is one of the sectors included within the scope of the strategy, and the UAE's new State Minister for Artificial Intelligence is looking at how to use AI to 'cut costs and enhance desire for education'.

Along with improved monitoring and efficiencies to 'disrupt' government, the focus is also on the fourth industrial revolution and preparing the workforce of tomorrow. Experts are advising the government that students need to learn AI skills, and that AI can be used to help teachers teach the required 'soft skills', using predictive models for engagement and comprehension in collaborative, personalised learning. It can also take 'basic' tasks such as grading and evaluation away from the teacher, and in addition students should learn a new AI curricula.

There lies the challenge.

If an AI curricula is added to an already crowded curriculum, what will be removed? If nothing is removed, to what depth or effectiveness will AI skills be learned? Basic grading and evaluation implies a/b/c/d testing - can soft skills be measured through testing? As we've seen in recent posts, the evidence suggests not yet, and performance assessments more effectively measure soft skills - these are not basic to administer at all. And if testing is the means of assessment, what does the teaching look like? As for the overall goal, does using AI to 'cut costs and enhance desire for education' align with transforming learning to prepare the workforce of tomorrow?

It's very early days yet, and this is a brand-new initiative venturing into new ground that the UAE Government is to be applauded for. We will continue to watch with interest, and leave your thoughts about AI in Education and learning in the comments below.

This project has an optimistic vision and we are preparing for an abundant future - one of learning, new work and new opportunities. Yet it would be a mistake to believe that this bright future as a result of disruptive technology is guaranteed - we are far from it, and the changes that are happening bring serious ethical and environmental concerns to the fore.

We know that it's not possible to mine the rare metals needed for our technology without causing serious environmental harm - we will soon be mining the seabed on a large scale to find more. We know it's not possible to make smartphones cheaply without slavery in the supply chain. We know that automation places millions more low-skilled workers at risk of slavery, as they lose their jobs and compete for ever fewer positions. We also know that the gig economy means no job security, no benefits, and permanent uncertainty.

To focus solely on disruptive tech. and learning the competencies needed to thrive in the new world of work would mean that we are being distracted from the things that really matter: the wellbeing of our global community and natural environment. Being prepared is important, but this must be realised under an umbrella of awareness, stewardship and meaningful action.

With the wealthy and powerful looking for safe boltholes just in case things go bad, it has to be us that ensures that we also learn about how our common interests can be protected and nurtured. We will keep a close watch out for examples of how this can work from around the world, and let's also think about how we can make this happen together.

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.

Sean

#Technology #ArtificialIntelligence #AI #Government #SoftSkills #Digitalskills #Socialcontract

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