Recently I witnessed a conversation between Ravi Kumar, the President of Infosys, and Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist, which was live-streamed on LinkedIn. The event featured the two thinkers discussing the revolutionary changes that are happening in the fields of education and work.
Transformation in Learning:
The insightful conversation made me nostalgic for a while and even pushed me into recollecting my school days. I was awestruck when I compared the learning environment I had during my childhood with the kind of learning environment my children have now.
During my childhood, we just had a government-run school in our village, where teachers would never go beyond the usual chalk and talk. In that age of information scarcity, teachers and textbooks were the only sources of our knowledge. Our school neither had a library nor did it have a laboratory. And, being students from a remote rural village, we did not even know the computers leave alone the internet. We always felt that our teachers are perfect humans, and therefore their knowledge is infallible. Hence, we rarely mustered up enough courage to ask questions, and as such, blindly accepted whatever the teachers taught. Rot learning was the order of the day.
My two children, who attend a private, English medium school, have a far better learning environment when compared to mine. They have access to computers and smartphones, through which they explore a variety of learning resources, including edutainment content.
In this age of information overload, where any information is just a click away, teachers and universities are fast becoming obsolete. Many enthusiastic students explore the online resources even before entering a classroom. Such students pose too many questions to the teachers, thus acquiring the bad reputation of being disloyal.
Just like other fields, even the field of education is undergoing a revolutionary transformation. Many schools already introduced Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies to empower their students to learn things by experiencing them. Humanity’s learning journey, which started with learning by listening and gradually evolved through learning by seeing and learning by doing, reached a stage where we now learn by experiencing through AR and VR. These immersive learning technologies, which revolutionized education, promote self-learning thus doing away with the need for classroom instruction to a great extent.
Transformation in Workplace:
Digital Transformation is a buzzword among business organizations. They are adopting digital technologies to transform themselves into more effective and competitive entities.
As new technologies are bringing about disruptive changes and their shelf life is shrinking at a faster pace, the concept of learn-unlearn-relearn became popular. During his visit to India in 2007, Scott McNealy, the Co-founder and Chairman of Sun Microsystems, made an interesting observation by stating, “Technology has the shelf life of a banana. By the time you buy it, implement it and train people on it, it’s obsolete”. Therefore, people, to stay contemporary, must engage themselves in lifelong learning. Hence, learnability aka the willingness to learn, has become an important yardstick to measure the quality of human resources.
“Technology has the shelf life of a banana. By the time you buy it, implement it and train people on it, it’s obsolete.”
Though there are fears among the people that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) may take away the jobs, they are, to a great extent, are unfounded. AI will certainly take away millions of traditional jobs but will also create an equal number of, if not more, tech-enabled jobs. Therefore, learn-unlearn-relearn should be the mantra for the job seekers, and the people who are reluctant to do so will become obsolete.
In this knowledge society, education should not only impart knowledge and skills but also motivate the students to be lifelong learners. Gone are the days when people felt that they completed their education after graduating from a college. All the education they received was ‘just in case’ as they were taught a wide variety of subjects just in case they need them. But that situation changed, and people started learning things ‘just-in-time’ as and when they realize that they need a skill.
In view of the fast-changing work environment, organizations are paying more attention to upskilling and reskilling their employees by following the Just-in-Time learning approach to make them future-ready. Online learning platforms such as Udemy and LinkedIn Learning provide need-based, on-demand, and Just-in-Time learning resources to cater to the learning requirements of the people. Many organizations subscribe to these online learning platforms to facilitate modular, stackable learning among their employees. Some organizations such as Infosys are even creating their in-house universities to train their employees.
Against the backdrop of these developments, the two thinkers – Ravi Kumar and Tom Friedman – felt that the educational institutions and the degrees offered by them may become outdated and there will be more emphasis on training people to face the future technological challenges. They also opined that the universities in the west, where education is costly, imposed a lot of burden on students in the form of education debt. Therefore, there is a need to deliver educational content to aspiring learners to promote self-learning. They also pointed to the fact that people who have the right skills, irrespective of the degrees they have, are being employed by many organizations.
Self-learning, however, requires a great deal of curiosity, enthusiasm, and perseverance. Hence, the quest for knowledge, if you have it in you, will prove to be your greatest asset.
Ravi Kumar predicts that organizations will employ a combination of private full-time workers, public freelancers (gig workers), and bots (machines) to get their work done. And, humans, who have hitherto been problem solvers, will give way to machines to graduate themselves to being problem finders.
Conclusion: As we live in an ever-changing world, we can no longer resist change. The Coronavirus pandemic only quickened the pace of this change. Therefore, we all must gear ourselves up for a life-long learning to keep ourselves relevant.