Erik P.M. Vermeulen

@erikpmvermeulen

2019: The Year of Education

December 28th 2018

The digital revolution is at a tipping point. It’s time to rethink why, what, and how we teach.

Reinventing education is a challenging but urgent task. We are witnessing an exponential growth of technology. Artificial intelligence, sensors, data-analytics, and blockchain (to name a few) are amplifying and accelerating each other. This will lead to new applications across all areas of the economy and society in 2019.

In a digital age, any new approach to education needs to adopt a more “skills-based” focus that aims to build creativity. After all, we (and in particular the next generation) must be prepared to live and work more closely with intelligent, networked machines. The main focus of education shouldn’t be on the transfer of knowledge of standardized processes and procedures (these will certainly be automated) but on cultivating innovative and creative skills that cannot easily be replicated by machines.

In a world of smart technologies, a premium will be put on the most human of qualities; our capacity for unique and highly personalized forms of self-expression. And all education needs to be re-organized around this goal.

I have written about this issue before, but I want to make it more concrete for 2019. Think about it as my New Year’s resolution.

We need to get more serious about teaching the skills relevant for a digital age.

I’ve already made significant changes to my courses, focusing more on developing student creativity. But next year, I want to go even further by introducing three “new” components: (1) “multidisciplinary collaboration,” (2) “visionary thinking,” and (3) “EdTech.”

#Multidisciplinary Collaboration

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century was the starting point for the process-oriented and proceduralized society we know today. Standardized product development, manufacturing and supply chain processes created efficiencies and led to economic growth and social welfare. Specialization became important. Of course, people still had to work in teams, but each discipline had its responsibilities, and team members relied on each other to bring a unique expertise to the table.

Teamwork and collaboration are also crucial to the development of digital technologies and their applications. However, the transition from products to services and the shift in business models from “pipes” (where products are being continually pushed out to consumers) to “platforms” (where stakeholders are creating services/value together) entails that co-creation has become much more important. This means that “multidisciplinary teams” work more closely together. This means that everyone needs to operate beyond their specialty.

This has had an enormous impact on team dynamics. Team members need a different skillset in the so-called platform economy. To co-create, it is vital that the members speak each other’s’ language, or at least understand one another. A more open and curious mindset has become a pre-requisite to the success of all teams.

Multidisciplinary collaboration must be taught. It needs to become a mandatory part of every curriculum at any level or age. Of course, we still need specialists, but more than ever they have to be open-minded, be able to listen and master the skills to collaborate and communicate effectively.

#Visionary Thinking

There are plenty of examples of technological disruption. But after watching this Coldfusion video on YouTube, it became clear that companies are not being disrupted by the technologies themselves. Instead, they suffer from a lack of “vision.”

When confronted with new technological developments/new technologies (even when they are offered to them), CEOs and other executives point to a long list of inefficiencies concerning the usability, reliability, and adaptability of the new technologies. The telephone was just a “toy.” Television was “boring” (compared to the cinema experience). The energy use of computers was off the charts, preventing it from becoming a mainstream product. Modern smartphones didn’t have a “real keyboard” (and were thus not suitable for business people).

In each case, the executives didn’t see the potential of new technologies to disrupt established markets and to become commercially attractive. In each case, there was a failure of vision.

Of course, it is too simple to say that we need more visionaries. History shows that these visionaries (who were in the Apple Think Different campaign more than twenty years ago referred to as “the rebels, the troublemakers, the crazy ones, or the geniuses”) are hard to find.

This doesn’t mean that we should not pay more attention to the creation of new and fresh perspectives in our educational programs. Again, we are at a tipping point. Technological disruption has become “normalized” and a routine part of everyday work and life. The consequences of the technological revolution go much further than the disruption of a company. Ignoring the speed and magnitude of the disruptive potential of digital technologies could be “catastrophic.”

It is, therefore, necessary to teach students the capacity to develop constantly a fresh and new perspective and to revisit the wisdom of the often long-held assumptions, theories, and business models. That is not to say that these models are always wrong, but the capacity for critical thinking helps the students to maintain an open and fresh view of the world.

With the developments in artificial intelligence and decentralized technologies (such as blockchain), maintaining a fresh perspective has become a must-have skill. We need more diversity rather than people that know how to follow and execute processes and procedures.

#EdTech

EdTech (or education technology) has a broad definition. It includes everything from the straightforward use of computers to entire online teaching platforms, mobile learning applications, gamification and augmented and virtual reality solutions. In short, it aims to use digital technologies to disrupt education.

EdTech companies have been around for about a decade now. Companies in this area started to attract attention from angels, venture capitalists and other risk capital investors in 2010. Looking at the investment data, it appears that there is already a decline in interest in EdTech.

Investments in EdTech. Source: Crunchbase

Yet, EdTech companies can be expected to generate more attention in 2019.

But when I discuss developments in EdTech with my colleagues, it appears that they are still far from up to speed with the latest technologies. The EdTech industry is currently dominated by technologists without the necessary educational experience. But I expect that educators will become more involved next year. For sure, their attitude towards EdTech need to change. It creates significant opportunities to deliver the combination of technological, collaborative and vision-based skills that are necessary in a digital age.

What is more important is that EdTech solutions are necessary to develop a learning architecture that helps kickstart the critical cycle of self-learning. And mastering the cycle of self-learning is essential to enable students to learn continually, study and adapt to the new technological developments.

So, What About “How”?

I am currently working on setting up partnerships with “EdTech” companies that integrate “EdTech” solutions and strategies in my program/courses.

Multidisciplinary collaborations will be stimulated by organizing “hackathons” and other assignments.

Teaching “visionary thinking” will be more challenging. One thing is certain. To “produce” thinkers, I need to behave less like a traditional teacher pushing out knowledge to students. I will act more as an influencer and co-creator inspiring students to think and challenge traditional assumptions and models. Grades will largely depend on the way the fresh and new perspectives are explained and supported.

I very much look forward to the in-class experience in 2019.

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