Thursday, September 7, 2017

Partnering with machines: 2 trends for the future

Although I write about a lot of different things in this blog, my real focus is looking at technology and how this impacts education.  As such, I was interested to read the Future of Learning forecast from KnowledgeWorks.  I was hooked from the first paragraph when I read "our lives will become inextricably linked to the code in our digital devices as we increasingly use them to navigate, make sense of and contribute to the world around us".  The focus of this forecast is to look at how we as educators can help to prepare our students for their futures, especially in an era where machines are becoming capable of cognition.  The report states:
Education at all levels will prepare learners continually to reskill and upskill and to know how to partner constructively with machines.
As someone who is passionate about curriculum (and tech integration into the curriculum) I'm also hoping to see a shift away from content acquisition towards more higher order thinking skills.  We know the future of work is going to be more project-based and that there will be greater emphasis on inquiry, analytical thinking and problem solving.  The report from KnowledgeWorks Redefining Readiness for the Era of Partners in Code looks ahead to the year 2040, and what work will look like.  It identifies 2 main trends:

  • The rise of smart machines - that will eliminate many routine tasks and will also impact professional and knowledge work.  This could go either way:  possibly new jobs could be created, jobs could become safer, easier and more interesting.  However there is also the possibility of displacing significant numbers of human workers as factories, transportation and so on become fully automated.  Artificial intelligence is already starting to impact the insurance and news industries, as well as medicine and the arts.  Certainly new jobs that are created will demand new skills, especially those connected with computer use.  However studies from the University of Oxford and the OECD show that around 50% of middle-class jobs will disappear and that even today in countries where GDP is growing, this is mostly attributed to technological efficiency and not to human output.  This leads to the second trend.
  • The decline of full-time work - already there is a trend to employ people with specialist skills as and when needed, and often these people can be located anywhere in the world.  As this increases, tenure is shortening and there has been a rise in "taskification" which is the breaking down of jobs into discrete tasks (often at low wages and with informal job structures).  As this trend continues these tasks will be managed algorithmically.  By 2040 it's likely there will be a decline in full-time employment and an increase in "career mosaics" that include different types of work both spread out over time and also taking place concurrently.  The report also indicates that employees are likely to move through their workplaces horizontally rather than vertically, with the average person having a new job around every 4 years.
As these changes begin to impact the workforce, the nature of education will need to change.  The report states, "the act of working will become learning, so people adopt new skill sets to align with employment opportunities".

The report continues looking at 4 different scenarios that may emerge as a result of these trends: there may be high or low technological displacement of human workers, and in addition there may be a systematic and intentional societal response, or it may be market driven.

As I read on through the report I'll be blogging about how these 4 scenarios might impact the future of education.

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