The 4IR marks a new period of rapid transition driven by technology. The amalgamation of automation, connectivity, artificial intelligence and robotics, is creating entire industries, sectors and careers, and leading others to vanish entirely. Indeed, it is estimated that automation will threaten more than 800m jobs worldwide by 2030.

Since the first industrial revolution over two hundred years ago, each leap in technology has changed the way we live and work. These paradigm shifts have led to higher living standards and productivity, driven economic growth and often helped extend life expectancy. However, to ensure that we gain the most opportunities from the 4IR, deliberate, considered and coordinated action to reinvent how we lean, train and work must be taken.

Here are three ways education must evolve to prepare for the digital age:

1. Personalised-Learning

Current research shows that workplace skills on average change every 2.5 years. Therefore, learning is key to career sustainability and yet, traditional classroom formats, textbooks and generic testing do not complement this rapid pace of transition.

For some, the answer is ‘continuous up-training’, where all employees are required to devote time to learning and perfecting new skills that have evolved alongside the technology. To do this, courses and learning materials that anticipate and adapt to the needs of the student are crucial as a one-size-fits-all approach will no longer apply.

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.

In the private sector, forward-thinking organisations are also adapting their approaches to skill enhancement. For example, Deloitte have been utilising 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’.

2. Platforms to Replace Classrooms

As well as reimagining content, we must also change the method of training delivery. Traditional classrooms could become a thing of the past as digital transformation opens up new possibilities for dynamic, online platforms that curate courses that are relevant, convenient and efficient.

The rise in artificial intelligence, robotics and intelligent tutoring systems across the educational sector  is changing the teaching format as human lecturers with the required experience and teaching skills may no longer deliver enough. As a result, digital tutors may take over. For example, “Yuki”, the first robot lecturer, was introduced in Germany in 2019 delivering lectures to university students at The Philipps University of Marburg.

The robot acts as a teaching assistant during lectures 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.

Whilst there is always likely to be a place for student/teacher interaction, taking the body of the learning online or automating it utilising the benefits of AI and machine learning could save time and costs, leaving the more complex discussions and feedback to meetings where more value can be gained.

3. Adapting to Flexible working

Alongside technological development of the 4IR is the societal evolution that is currently happening. Over the past decade, there have been substantial changes to how we approach work with the popularity of flexible working led by benefits to both the worker and the employer becoming more and more commonplace. Long gone is the 9-5, five days a week workday as remote working, contracting, freelancing and global, cohesive teams fast become the norm.

Acknowledging this trend, companies must develop training strategies that ensures that no matter their working structure, each employee or student delivers the same approach, quality and objectives regardless of their location. This may redefine the learning environment but several studies have proved its benefits. For example, the Evangelical School Berlin Centre in Germany gives no grades until students turn 15, has no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam. The students are set ‘challenges’ instead of regular tests to prove their learning, for example, they may demonstrate how to code a computer game instead of sitting a maths exam or be encouraged to travel to learn a language instead of studying it in a classroom. And it is an approach that is delivering impressive results.

The ESBC has consistently gained the best grades among Berlin’s gesamtschulen (comprehensive schools) and in 2017, school leavers achieved an average grade of 2.0, the equivalent of a straight B – even though 40% of the year had been advised not to continue to abitur, the German equivalent of A-levels, before they joined the school.

Individuals, companies, sectors and government must all place focus on learning and indeed continuous learning, in order to reach the potential 4IR presents. Learning should be within a creative and smart environment that allows workers and students to prove that they are innovators and provide them with the skills they need to adapt as rapidly as the technology does in order to prepare them for the road ahead. To do this, a total transformation of the global education sector is needed, to integrate technology throughout the learning journey empowering the student to work with the technology, and not fight against it.


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