How Our Students Will Overcome the Machines
Any university will tell you that its primary mission is to create opportunities for its students to achieve success. But student success looks quite different today than it has in the past – even as recently as a few years ago.
For starters, artificial intelligence and automation are already beginning to reshape labor markets around the world. As machines become increasingly equipped to perform jobs typically done by humans, new types of jobs will require skill sets that are different from those dominating labor markets today. This will reshape some industries more than others, but no field is immune. It’s estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in job types that don’t even exist yet.¹
Somewhat ironically, it’s not technical skills that will best equip our students to thrive in this digital future, but actually those skills considered to be the most human. The blistering pace of technological change we are seeing means that specific technical skills and knowledge have a shelf life. A heavily cited study produced by the World Economic Forum estimates that nearly 50 percent of the subject knowledge acquired in the first year of a four-year technical degree program is already outdated by the time a student graduates.²
The United States’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have noted this shift, suggesting that “although encouraging more young people to pursue a college education and acquire the skills needed for service-oriented jobs or for STEM fields makes sense, these efforts will not be sufficient; strategies for strengthening social and other uniquely human skills and enabling flexibility in the face of changing circumstances will likely be important.”³
As Webby Awards founder Tiffany Schlain notes in a new Pew Research Center report, these skills are precisely “the skills specific to human beings that machines and robots cannot do.”⁴
Overriding any specific talent, skill set, or domain of knowledge in importance for those who will succeed in our future world is a single meta-skill – the ability to learn.
With future workers expected to pursue four or five different careers (not just jobs) over the course of their professional lives, they will need, above all, an aptitude for ongoing retraining and retooling.⁵ The National Academies echo this, highlighting three skills crucial to individual success in the future workforce:⁶
- General adaptability (evidenced by critical thinking and flexibility of learning approach)
- Capacity for lifelong learning
- Social skills
Pew Research Center states explicitly that, moving forward, “the best education programs will teach people how to be lifelong learners.”⁷
Our students don’t need specific knowledge or a checklist of skills. What they need first and foremost is the ability to learn flexibly, adaptably, and continuously. They need to become actively engaged in learning, so that they can develop the skills necessary to adapt and evolve on an ongoing basis. They need to learn to think critically. To process and solve complex problems in a variety of disciplines. To collaborate and work together. To communicate effectively.
Collaboration tools like Cisco Spark, WebEx, and conferencing endpoints can facilitate the types of instruction, teamwork, and research that help students develop the skills they need to succeed today and in the future.
Take a look at the infographic below to see how Cisco Collaboration technologies free students, professors, administrators, and teachers from the constraints of the traditional classroom.
Annunziata, M. and S. Biller, The Future of Work, GE Discussion Paper, General Electric, 2014 quoted in “The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” World Economic Forum, January 2016.
Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, “The Effects of Digitalization on Employment – First Impressions from the IW Human Resources Panel,” IW-Trends 3/2015 (in German) quoted in “The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” World Economic Forum, January 2016, p. 20.
“Information Technology and the U.S. Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here?”, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, National Academies Press (Washington, D.C.), p. 114.
Schlain, Tiffany in “The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training,” Pew Research Center, May 2017, p. 13.
“The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training,” Pew Research Center, May 2017, p. 11.
“Information Technology and the U.S. Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here?”, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, National Academies Press (Washington, D.C.), p. 110.
“The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training,” Pew Research Center, May 2017, p. 4.