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What are the building blocks needed to create a learning-integrated ecosystem?

In a 2016 report, the World Economic Forum predicted that by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that were not yet considered crucial to that job then. Today, we are in that future. And, not just that — with the added unprecedented unpredictability of the COVID-19 crisis, many industries, including edtech have been forced to transform.

With the feverish pace of change in the 4th Industrial Revolution, the demands of our lifestyles, our industries and labour markets have evolved — and will continue evolving. To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, the workforce of today must become lifelong learners.

Yet, “lifelong learning” is a term that is vague at best, and obfuscating at worst, with little consensus on what it actually means. To come up with practical solutions, we need to go beyond questions about ‘what is’, and move on to questions of how-to’. What the future demands is a “Learning-Integrated Life” — making the key question: ‘How do we live a learning-integrated life?’

What is the current state of learning?

In traditional systems, life is broken down into distinct stages of classroom learning, work, then retirement; in contrast, in a learning-integrated life, learning is a continual journey that extends past compulsory education, into the individual’s working career, and beyond. A learning-integrated life encourages independence: The learner is self-directed, choosing independently to engage in intentional learning, upskilling, and retraining for both their professional development and personal enrichment.

However, while it is important that the learner takes the initiative in seeking out and seizing learning opportunities, the onus does not rest solely on the individual. For the continual journey of a learning-integrated to be possible, we need to establish a system that places the motivated learner at its core, exposing them to opportunities for learning and skills development throughout their lives.

Yet, in today’s global society, learning stops when schooling ends for many people. Meanwhile, those who actively seek learning opportunities while in the workforce often end up stumbling their way through a complex and fragmented system, enrolling themselves in courses that are time-consuming, expensive, and — where their credentials are not recognised — with no clear return on investment. Employers who do try to support their employees’ enrichment are limited by the capacity of their human resources team, and often restrict the training available to skills that are most needed by the employer or compliance training, rather than new skills or development.

The COVID-19 crisis has only brought into relief how inequalities pervade the education space. Worldwide, traditional systems of classroom-based have broken down, and educators have been forced to quickly adapt remote methods of teaching as schools and university closures affect over a billion learners worldwide. However, not every student has the tools needed for online learning — and these students find themselves left behind. This trend of inequality continues in the corporate education sphere, where far fewer low-skilled adults (20 percent) receive training than the medium- or highly-skilled (40 percent) — those most in need of reskilling and upskilling aren’t receiving the training they need.

Education can be a great equalizer if inclusive, but in its current state, where access by disadvantaged learners is often restricted, it instead perpetuates and deepens inequality instead.

Reforming the educational ecosystem to support a learning-integrated life

To create an ecosystem where a learning-integrated life is possible for everyone, individuals, education systems, employers and governments must change the way we view learning: We have to move away from traditional classroom learning that grants credentials based on seat time, and establish a new norm that acknowledges and values non-traditional systems.

Moving away from the siloes of schools and classrooms, we should consider more flexible, affordable and accessible pedagogical models, with entry and exit points based on skills, experience, and abilities. This can include short-term or modular programmes; stackable credentials; skills validation for experience picked up on the job; and greater use of self-directed and online learning — and these only just scratch the surface.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, here are some guiding questions for those looking to create an educational ecosystem that supports a learning-integrated life:

  1. How affordable and accessible is the system you’ve envisioned?
  2. Is learning incentivised, thus promoting a “continual learning culture” with self-motivated learners?
  3. Is this system high-quality and flexible, and can it be personalised to every individual’s unique learning pathway?
  4. Rather than an emphasis on seat times, is learner performance instead consistently assessed against learning outcomes and skills development?
  5. Is it sufficiently responsive, and able to adapt to the evolution of learner demands, employer needs, and workforce trends?
  6. How effectively does it employ data to help learners chart their unique pathway, by keeping them informed about which options are most appropriate to their community and have value in the job market?
  7. Does it draw on digital tools to enhance learning at scale — such as increased personalisation, greater success rates and cost-effectiveness, and educator and learner analytics?

Everyone has a stake in creating quality, accessible opportunities for learning. If you’re looking to learn more about the future of work and learning in 2020 and beyond, download our whitepaper here.

This article first appeared in e27.

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