21st Century learning

21st Century Learning: The effects of IR4.0, globalization, the changing workforce and shorter shelf life of knowledge

21st Century Learning: The effects of IR4.0, globalization, the changing workforce and shorter shelf life of knowledge

21st Century learning

author - Shantini

Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning in the 21st century comprises skills, technologies and insights that leading-edge academicians and organizations are using to create learning systems that are better suited to the emerging challenges. This is done through the practice Instructional Design – systematically designing, developing and delivering instructional products and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion towards an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging and inspiring acquisition of knowledge.

At its inception, Instructional Design was dominated by the views of behavioral psychologists, B.F. Skinner, whose stimulus-response operant conditioning theories gave us the famous drill and practice routine – the idea that knowledge and skill are acquired through repetitive practice. Today, there’s discovery that learning occurs most effectively when courses or programs are carefully designed around the key tasks and skills needed to perform the job.

Recently, there seems to be new buzzwords such as e-learning, byte size learning, gamification, digitized simulations, etc. Having been in the corporate learning and development space for quite some time, I was bewildered with the new buzzwords and decided to immerse myself in recent developments and emerging trends in the learning and development area. Hence, in March 2019, I attended a Learning & Development Conference in Kuala Lumpur with an interesting title Big L&D Summit 2019 – Emerging Trends in Learning & Development: Are You Ready to Up Your Game!

The two-day event was an insightful session with the exchange of knowledge and experiences by various speakers. At the end of the two day conference, I discovered that there is a “new world of work”  emerging in the 21st century disrupting the corporate learning paradigm. It’s turning old instructional, episodic and live training models upside down, as technology, financial, people and competitive pressures drive change to achieve 21stcentury corporate success, growth and sustainability.

During the session, a speaker from Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific shared very interesting insights, talking about the 4th Industrial Revolution (IR4.0):

  1. IR4.0 is leading to Mega Trends and transforming the way businesses operate. Mega Trends are transformative, global forces that define the future world with their far-reaching impact on business, societies, economies, cultures and personal lives, e.g. robots have entered our homes for personal use, mobile financial transactions are now in crypto-currencies, self-driving cars, etc.
  2. IR4.0 is enabling connectivity that allows for the convergence of industries, products & functions. This convergence is likely to drive unconventional players to contest for new markets. For example, cars plus unmanned technology leads to the development of autonomous cars.
  3. Every company will become a technology company, as most companies will use mobile applications, data and analytics, IoT, cyber security, cryptocurrency and blockchain, cloud computing, etc. The banking sector, for example, is moving towards branchless banking and uses more than one technology i.e. mobile applications, cybersecurity, data and analytics and others.

These megatrends, coupled with globalization, the changing workforce, and a shorter shelf life of knowledge, reveals that “one-size-fits-all” content is no longer relevant where instructional design is concerned. Just as businesses are personalizing their products and services for clients and consumers, so should instructional design methods innovate to meet the changing needs for the new business landscape.

Learning and development is expected to play a critical role in enabling to build the future-ready organization. How could learning and development play this role?

Again, from the perspective of the speaker from Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, the first step would be for learning & development to align with the maturity and vision of organizations. As such, instructional design needs to align learning priorities with the changing business landscape.

Secondly, learning & development will need to have an outside-in view with a holistic approach. Outside-in perspectives will enable the identification of new skills, new leadership capabilities and new competencies required based on the changing business environment.

Thirdly, the pace of enablement will be essential for Learning & Development. Learning & development would need to change and be more agile to keep up with the changing pace.

Finally, digital will be a catalyst in enabling learning & development to achieve desired outcomes. Digital learning solutions and platforms could be deployed as per the examples below:

  • Bite-sized learning solutions delivered through a range of accessible technologies.
  • Mobile learning solutions
  • Virtual and live simulations of real-life experiences using online game methodologies.
  • Gamification built into online learning methodologies aligned to demographic styles.
  • Using social media to assess and predict personality types and learning styles.

Implementation of training is expected to see the greatest change in non-classroom delivery, including computer-based, web-based, distance learning, self-study and other blended forms of learning. These delivery methods would allow trainers to reach employees where they work, rather than having them removed from their work environment. Trainers would no longer simply stand in front and lecture groups of learners. Instead they facilitate discussions, role plays, case studies, games, simulations and other innovative ways to get learners to open their minds and practice new skills in ways that can be readily assimilated and applied.

In short, 21st-century learning should recognize the effects of IR4.0, globalization, the changing workforce and the shorter shelf life of knowledge. It needs to address the specific skills needed for the 21st century and focus on individual needs based on the changing business landscape. As the pace of change is accelerating due to IR4.0, 21st century learning should incorporate the use of cutting-edge technology which enables more flexibility in learning.

 I’m imagining that in the future, there would be an instructional design expert system, powered by artificial intelligence. This would enable an instructional designer to feed the design specifications into it and automatically generate learning materials and activities that can be applied immediately.  Employees also may be able to order their own custom training on any subject of their preference, delivered instantly through accessible technology platforms without the intervention of human hands.

Is this going to happen in the 21st century? I think it’s already happening. As with the changes in various business landscapes, learning and development is not spared and would need to innovate to meet the new challenges of IR4.0.


Building L&D Leaders in the Digital Era. Frost & Sullivan

Bottom-Line Training, Donald J. Ford


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