Future technologies and education


The World Economic Forum recently launched a report about the technologies of the future, making a projection about what could happen and navigating into the future.

In this article we are going to focus on education and the approach taken in this report.

Malcom X described the term education as “our passport to the future”, and in general terms it can be defined as “the way individuals learn and how we teach the skills they need to build successful careers”.

Every day, in countries around the world numerous people make a conscious decision to learn something new, using formats and programs such as digital and physical resources, skills-based training and self-paced learning to absorb information. Advanced methods of accessing information are driving dramatic changes in individuals and institutions, a trend that will likely lead to the development of two future educational standards.

The first standard, called “institutional credentials“, captures the type of structured education traditionally offered by systems and universities, but with new tools and teaching methods.

The second standard, traditional education, emphasizing formal credentials, will give way to a more meritocratic system of “self-taught skills” that rewards demonstrable competence, real-life problem solving and the creation of measurable value.

Despite all the unknowns, several trend lines have been established over the past decade that help to envision futures that, while uncertain, are still substantially plausible.

This report presents two “scenarios” of the educational landscape: the possible and the probable.

THE PROBABLE.  Personalization of education

The pace of technological change in the workplace is unlikely to slow, and current projections state that “65% of today’s elementary school children will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist”.

Therefore, in the careers of the future, lifelong learning will become a necessary means to remain relevant.

While the number of conventional educational institutions continues to increase, the cost of tuition they offer is also rising in tandem. So, rising prices could make institutional education unaffordable for future generations, forcing students to reevaluate the value of traditional accreditation.

Instead of students asking, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” they might instead ask, “What job looks interesting as a starting point?”

The demand for physical classrooms and physical textbooks is declining exponentially, and as an inverse mirror to these two trends, the market for digital classrooms is growing exponentially. The digitization and virtualization of education is certainly economically efficient, but there are other powerful incentives in this transformation.

Today, our access to information is unmatched by any other period in human history.

In addition, there is evidence that, worldwide, attention spans, especially in the young, have declined dramatically.

These trends create rich ground for innovations in two attention-grabbing learning technologies: digital classrooms and AR/VR (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality) learning experiences.

THE POSSIBLE. Proven competency versus tertiary degrees

  • Proven competency

For millennia, students have relied on costly formal institutions to access knowledge and train for their desired profession. However, Harvard Business Review recently identified a serious “skills gap” caused by the inability of formal education to keep pace with technological advances.

As employers are increasingly faced with the need for people with rare skills, they may become more comfortable with non-traditional, decentralized sources of knowledge, with candidates demonstrating their aptitude through real-world projects and problem solving. For example, Google, Apple and Netflix are a collection of the world’s most successful technology companies, yet they do not require their employees to have higher education.

Aside from a recent increase in applications that is largely attributed to the uncertainty caused by the advent of COVID-19, the number of master’s degree applications is generally following a downward trend in the United States. If these trends continue, both the relaxation of business requirements and the decline in demand for institutional education, it is believed that the future of work could increasingly be characterized by more meritocratic, skills-based hiring and a focus on apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job training.

  • Tertiary degrees

Traditional institutions offer something that no informal education does: respect as a result of the institution’s historical reputation, as well as a “seal of approval” for anyone who graduates with honors. Oxford University, founded more than 900 years ago, is as influential as it has ever been, yet finance is not the only aspect of traditional education that is flourishing.

By 2030, the number of young people completing a tertiary degree in OECD and G20 countries is expected to rise to 300 million, up from 137 million in 2013. To accommodate this demand, it is reasonable to expect a continued increase in institutional capacity as well as the number of traditional institutions.

As digital learning disrupts long-established pedagogies, respected institutional brands can increase their capacity and expand their enrollment in a wide variety of online courses. It is reasonable to expect that increased global interest in virtual attendance at the world’s leading universities, as well as technologies including AI, will help traditional institutions personalize learning and maintain their stellar track record as they reach out to a wider audience.

Institutions have survived and thrived through centuries of advances in locomotion, electricity and computing. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that this resilience will continue in the face of current changes in demand, and that these institutions will readily adapt to the rapidly growing international education market.

Article link: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Technology_Futures_GTGS_2021.pdf