As the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, technology is helping to redefine education, moving studies online, into virtual classrooms and learning platforms – a move that could rewrite how we approach learning in the future.
Before the coronavirus, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) had already given way to a wave of new, digital technology such as automation, connectivity, artificial intelligence and robotics, creating brand new ways of delivering training and education for both students and employees across all industries.
Training remains a crucial element of an employee’s personal, professional development, so whilst the coronavirus may have put many lives at risk, and even more on hold, the digital world is providing a plethora of ways to keep students and employee’s studies on track.
For example, as training rooms and lecture halls around the world close, the method of education delivery has been forced to rapidly evolve. This digital transformation opens up new possibilities for dynamic, online platforms that curate courses that are personalised, relevant, convenient and efficient. For example, learning platforms such as Docebo, Udemy, Skillshare, WizlQ and Adobe Captivate Prime, allow students and trainees to tailor their learning to their own specific needs, facilitating collaboration and creativity in an online environment. Utilising the benefits of AI and machine learning allow students to continue to learn despite a lock down means that in the future, digital learning could become the norm, not a necessity saving time and costs for many employers.
Indeed, the flexibility of online learning systems is changing how training is deployed. Learning is key to career sustainability during the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Research estimates that on average, workplace skills in the digital age will change every 2.5 years, yet the type of skills the 4IR demands cannot be learnt in traditional classroom formats or textbooks. They also do not allow for the rapid pace of transition.
‘Continuous up-training’, where all employees are required to devote time to learning and perfecting new skills that have evolved alongside the technology would ensure that when workers return to work, they are fully equipped to drive forward their organisations, helping to set the global economy back on track. To deliver continuous learning, courses and learning materials that anticipate and adapt to the needs of the student are crucial. Many universities are already implementing this approach by offering pioneering online programmes. MIT, for example, offers MicroMasters, providing quality, on-demand, industry-relevant skills that are recognised by leading employers, and at a fraction of the price of traditional education models. Whilst in the private sector, forward-thinking organisations are also adapting their approaches to skill enhancement, taking much of their training online and ensuring that it maps directly to the needs of the individual. Deloitte, for instance utilise artificial intelligence to curate and customise training content that anticipates the educational needs of employees based on their role, level, and courses their peers are taking. The programme organises content available and sets out a bespoke approach instead of their previous ‘stock content’.
The global lockdown is likely to drive forward the idea of personalised training, predominantly as it is work that can be done remotely, when other operations are reduced or limited. After the worst of the virus has passed, it will be important to consider the best use of resources in order to support economic progress. It is likely that ensuring all employees receive targeted, relevant training that enables them to be the most effective company asset, becomes a key part of the future of workplace training.
In addition to learning platforms, the 4IR has also led to the emergence of robotic trainers. Since before the coronavirus crisis, artificial intelligence, robotics and intelligent tutoring systems have been changing the teaching format. Human lecturers are now being supplemented by online tools and digital tutors to provide a more holistic training experience. In some cases, researchers have taken the concept of technology-powered learning a step further with ‘robotic teachers’.
“Yuki”, the first robot lecturer, was introduced in Germany to deliver lectures to university students at The Philipps University of Marburg. The robot acts as a teaching assistant during teaching sessions and is able to analyse how students are doing academically, what kind of support they need and design tests for them. Although Yuki requires significant improvements, his deployment perhaps signals a future path of digital teachers.
The coronavirus is likely to facilitate a societal shift unlike anything seen in a lifetime. Although before the virus, many industries were considering and embracing the benefits of flexible working, post-crisis, the idea of working from home will be part of the natural order of work. The traditional 9-5, five-day work week will be replaced by many forms of remote working, contracting, freelancing as cohesive teams abased in multiple locations become the norm. In order to keep pace with this societal shift, companies must develop training strategies that ensure that no matter the work structure, each employee delivers the same quality and consistency, regardless of their location, and the key to this is consistent, continuous training.
Although we are in the early days of managing the pandemic, individuals, companies, sectors and governments are all being forced to make seismic shifts as a result of the effects of the coronavirus. Learning, and indeed continuous training, in order to reach the potential 4IR will become central to facilitating global economic recovery.
The pandemic provides an opportunity to undertake total transformation of the global education sector, to integrate technology throughout the learning journey and empower the student to work with the technology, to drive progress and growth. By taking this time to consider and develop smart and creative learning environments that allow workers to prove that they are innovators and provide them with the skills they need to adapt to a post-coronavirus world, will help prepare all organisations for a new future.