The Future of Hybrid Work and Learning is Here: Are we Ready?

The coming together of COVID-19 and the massive skilling challenges generated by the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution have compelled the world to reimagine their education models quickly. Innovations in EdTech and the accompanying novel pedagogies are raising the quality, equity, effectiveness and resilience of learning. Digital learning and teaching tools are reshaping the educational landscape to meet the new challenges of closing the skills gap and helping upskill and reskill at scale. It is no longer a question of whether EdTech is a viable option, but of “How soon can I get started?” and “how to go about the transformation”.

Key Shifts Reshaping the Future of Education and Skills Development

We as educators must understand and leverage the current shifts that are happening in learning and capacity building to help design more responsive and sustainable learning environments. The five shifts transforming learning today are described next.

Shift 1: Embrace Continuous, Life-Led Learning for All

Technological change is disrupting society and the workplace, requiring continuous upskilling and reskilling. A World Economic Forum report concluded that the shelf life of skills needed to succeed is getting shorter and currently is only about five years. Digital channels of learning and recognition can be used from the school level to the workplace for individuals to plan their dynamic learning pathways for their lifetime. A job skills certificate or a college degree is not a discrete milestone; rather, learning is now viewed as a continuous journey involving periodic skills refreshers to stay professionally relevant and competitive when new job opportunities arise.

These lifelong learning strategies that blend new learning with work experiences are predicted to become the rule. Corporate, academic and training institutions need to rethink how to support this cultural shift in learning. In this context, technology is an enabler for a person to move away from learning in just one phase of one’s life (typically during school and college) to continuously learn about topics that enhance employability and the personal growth necessary to stay competitive in rapidly changing jobs markets. The future belongs to the learner who is learning continuously in order to pivot multiple times throughout their careers.

Shift 2: View Learning Holistically

Holistic learning encompasses formal (such as classroom and digital curricula) and informal learning that occur in the workplace and from peer-to- peer interactions. Technology provides affordances to learn in many ways today. For example, while implementing a project, attending a self-paced e-course or webinar, watching a Ted talk on the mobile, networking at a conference or seeking solutions in peer groups all constitute parts of a rich learning experience. Adults weave together the insights from formal learning with informal and microlearning into a continuous learning journey. Digital access also gives the modern learner (who is often short on time) the flexibility to curate his or her own playlists and engage with peers and experts just-in-time time.

Shift 3: Focus on Cross-Sectoral and Hybrid Skills

With digital transformation taking place in all sectors, jobs are becoming hybrid and require a mix of different skill sets. Job seekers sought after today are those persons who work well in cross-sectoral teams. The ability to integrate diverse pieces of relevant knowledge (from humanities, technology and data science) is also valued along with management and soft skills (such as communication and design thinking) as well as thematic know-how. Examples of new skill combinations include marketing with statistical analysis, data science with visual design, climate change and macro-economics, to name a few.

These hybrid skills are particularly important for SDG-related learning because the overall development impacts sought to be accomplished are often cross-sectoral in nature. For example, an urban planner should have the competencies to be knowledgeable about global climate models, energy efficiency and smart transportation options, while retaining deep technical expertise on spatial planning. Persons who have cross-sectoral knowledge combined with deep technical skills for a specific job (described as a T-Profile1) will be most competitive when it comes to getting jobs, promotions and recognition.

Shift 4: Unbundle With Modular Education and Micro-Credentials

The need to continuously refresh skill sets calls for more unbundled, simpler and modular approaches in the way learning is delivered and recognized. Academic institutions are exploring creative ways to unbundle degrees and create non-linear, flexible career and education pathways. The benefits of modularity are that learners can construct their own customized learning pathways, mixing and matching from Lego-like learning blocks to meet their unique job requirements, interests and career growth prospects. The availability of shorter, compact programs to reskill fast provides flexibility for lifelong learners requiring capacity and competency validation.

As employers shift their focus away from longer degree programs to job-related skills and competencies, micro-credentialing will expand taking the form of certificates, badges, MOOCs and MicroMasters that provide just-in-time skills and recognize, stack, share and accumulate modular credentials throughout one’s life. The value of these newer credentials is that they measure more than just course completions; they also attest to on-the-job skills, contributions to a project or business outcomes.

Shift 5: Build Enduring Capabilities

In a world constantly being reshaped by change and uncertainty, one needs to develop enduring cognitive capability and transversal skills, which help transfer and apply learning to different contexts through some core enabler skills. These include inculcating the mindset of a lifelong learner including curiosity, acquire and maintain a mix of three foundational skillsets (soft, business and technology) to function successfully in a digital economy; Build learning reliance to continuously unlearn and relearn new things or apply existing knowledge in new ways. These cognitive competencies are critical inputs to build enduring capabilities, necessary for resilience, well-being and adaptability in our educational systems.

Written by OEB21’s Advisory Board member Sheila Jagannathan. Sheila is a lifelong learner and Head of the Open Learning Campus at the World Bank in Washington DC. She has published a book on the future of learning in June, 2021: Reimagining Digital Learning for Sustainable Development – Upskilling, Data Analytics, and Educational Technologies Close the Skills Gap.

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