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The evolving role of education

In this video, Dr Chie Adachi speaks with Alfred Deakin Professor Beverley Oliver about the future of postsecondary education in the 21st century.
CHIE ADACHI: What does, then, learning look like in the 21st century and for learners?
BEVERLY OLIVER: I often think about this as we go about our daily lives, Chie. And I noticed in the last probably five to seven years since I’ve been living in Melbourne and catching trams. When I first started catching trams, I saw people reading a lot of books and newspapers. And now, I see people with headphones and devices. And I know some of them are accessing entertainment– perfectly fine. But I know lots of them also are reading, learning, they may be reading The Economist, they may be reading someone’s work. So I think people are learning more and more. It’s about how to make sure that we get people to explain what it is they’ve learned and how they can apply it.
So the predictable answer I’m going to give you is that we need to test people’s knowledge less and ask them to provide the evidence that they can perform a range of interrelated, high-order skills.
CHIE ADACHI: Going back to your research area as well around graduate employability, authentic learning, and an assessment in life-long learning. And if you could share your view on life-long, life-wide learning. And why might this notion be important for digital learners?
BEVERLY OLIVER: It’s going to be important for digital learners. Because in the digital economy, everyone will be a digital learner. And I don’t mean there won’t be any physical learning, but we will be operating in a digital economy, and it will bring changes to everything. And that means education as well. We know that also in the digital economy, we will need to return to learn to earn. We will learn on the go all the time. I guess it’s about when we want to assess someone and give them a credential of some kind. That’s the core part of the business we’re in. But also, we’re educating people to be able to educate themselves.
Because all of us who live in that economy are not going to be able to come back and get another credential for another fee as in when it suits somebody. We’d all learn on the fly now. So I think the life-wide and the life-long is really coming as a reality. It hasn’t really been up until now, because people have gone through a secondary school education generally. Sometime early in their life, usually they go through that bachelor degree. Many never continue. And then at some time the differentiated ones would come and do a master’s. And really, really amazing different people would do PhDs. That just isn’t going to work anymore.
And I don’t know how many people will need or want a PhD in future. I don’t know. But I do believe the post-secondary system will have to be fundamentally rethought to accommodate this return, and churn, and learn idea. And it’s going to have to be a lot more accessible.

Does formal education provide all that’s needed for us to survive and thrive in a world full of complex problems?

According to a recent World Economic Forum report, we are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era characterised by dramatic changes in the world of work and the skills required to thrive both in the jobs of today and into the future.

Is education for qualifications or skills?

Over recent years, this new era has challenged and shifted traditional understandings about the role of formal education in providing job-ready skills as well as qualifications.

Besides the disciplinary-specific knowledge people require to become who they want to be in the world (e.g. educators, optometrists, artists, accountants, programmers), more tacit knowledge and transferable skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and emotional intelligence are now also recognised as enablers for successful lives and careers.

For example, in a hugely popular TEDtalk, Sir Ken Robinson (2006) articulated the importance of creative thinking (which can be easily silenced in formal education) as distinct from academic capabilities and qualifications.

How do we prepare learners for job readiness?

According to one recent study, out of 600 human resource leaders interviewed, 52 per cent of employers believe there is a skills gap and 47 per cent blamed higher education for this.

Another report argues that a lack of job readiness is also a concern for science graduates. In contrast to other professional disciplines, such as education and optometry, these graduates are more likely to have completed generalist degrees not directly linked to specific jobs.

In response, there’s growing recognition that learning is a life-long activity that occurs both inside and outside of formal educational settings. So how do we, as both educators and digital learning practitioners, respond to this?

Your task

Watch the video where Chie interviews Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver about the future of education and reflect on the statement: ‘We all learn on the fly now, so life-wide, life-long [learning] is really coming as a reality’.

What is your view about the role of formal and informal (eg ‘learning on the fly’) education in the digital age?

Discuss your thoughts with other learners in the comments.

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