How does Education need to adapt to meet the demands of the Future of Work

by Derek Winter


In the article The Evolution of the Employee, Jacob Morgan (although spruiking his new book) makes the point that work as we know it is dead and that the only way forward is to challenge convention around how we work, how we lead, and how we build our companies. To this end he has an infographic which compares and contrasts the employee of ‘the past’ with the employee of ‘the future’, in essence giving us a picture of what our working environments increasingly look like and will continue to evolve into in the years ahead.

From that premise he observes and highlights 7 key points which leaders need to pay attention to. Reading through these and considering the consequences I couldn’t help considering the parallels with the education sector today and the challenges it faces in the future. In some aspects education today is in fact ahead of the game, however it is clear that it needs to heed the same advice and consider the consequences for how to engage and prepare future generations for their working lives, or perhaps simply their lives ahead.

I’ve summarised my thoughts based on the 7 points Jacob made.

Truly flexible work

Increasingly the work we do and the way we’re organised is more flexible; that is working anytime, anywhere, and being evaluated not by how many hours you sit in a chair but by what you produce. There is no longer a need for most employees to work from an office or to work 9-5. Similarly, with the democratisation of data, the ease of access to information and the increasing stretch and spread of the internet, why do we continue to require our children to sit in a classroom for 6 hours a day and evaluate them predominantly on the output of knowledge? Learning can be done anywhere, anytime. Khan Academy, Coursera, Duolingo and Open University are just a few examples of how this is already happening 

Use any device

There are many schools now issuing laptops and iPads to students for learning purposes and they face the same challenges as companies in how to take advantage of the devices which (particularly older) students increasingly already own can be harnessed and leveraged in the classroom. However it is folly to believe that just putting an iPad into the hands of a student contributes to their learning and development, anymore than putting a laptop into the hands of an employee makes them any more productive or putting a maths textbook in a students bag teaches them maths. The conversation needs to focus more on how to use all the tools available to us to help children learn and help children learn how to learn.

The death of the “ladder” and customised work

Enter at Prep. and chip away up to Grade 12, maximise your ATAR and start all over again at 1st year University until you come out the end with a degree. Buy why such a linear approach? It’s clear that different people learn in different ways and at different rates. One of the issues with the linear approach is that if someone learns to read later than their peers, they inadvertently get labelled as a slow reader and if really unfortunate as a slow learner and without much potential. This label will then stick throughout the school system and become self-fulfilling, ensuring they under achieve. However left to their own devices and not put in the ‘slow’ box, the vast majority of people are capable of reading well and once reading competently learning other subjects becomes easier. Again approaches such as Khan Academy and other that allow student led, self-paced learning help to break some of these barriers down.

It’s also clear that not everyone needs to know Maths or Science to the level covered in the curriculum in the later years of high-school, but we don’t make it easy for people to follow their skills and interests from an early age. It’s still pretty much a one size fits all approach. A social worker doesn’t need to understand Newtons laws of Physics and a mechanical engineer doesn’t need to appreciate Shakespeare.

Sharing is caring

The future of work is encouraging collaboration, encouraging employees to share information and organisations are creating incentives to do this ranging from internal incubators to intrapreneuer programs to open innovation programs. How do we prepare our children for this workforce? The old model was the accumulation of knowledge and protection of our knowledge so that we were the experts and ‘needed’. With knowledge so readily available, the shift is towards teaching our children how to learn and to love learning so that the motivation is less about protective preparation for excelling in exams and gaining a better score than others to working together to encourage development of capabilities and skills.

Anyone can be a leader

The corollary of the breaking down of this hierarchy of knowledge and learning and blurring the boundaries of a linear system of education is that leaders and teachers can emerge from anywhere within the group. Students that grasp one topic faster than another can become teachers and coaches themselves and in other topics the roles can be reverse.

Knowledge vs adaptive learning

Central to a lot of this is that Knowledge is now nothing more than a commodity. To be the world’s smartest person all you need to do is pull out your cell phone where you have access to anything you need to get answers to. So, as already observed, the focus on education should now be developing the ability to learn new things an apply those learnings to new situations and scenarios that come up. If we can install a love of learning and an ability to learn in our children, the future world will be a comfortable place for them to contribute to.

Everyone is a teacher and a student

This point is already made above. The consequence is a shift to being able to point students towards sources of learning and provide them with the skills they need to learn and a system around them that supports that learning journey.

It seems to me that if the future of work is seen to be different to today reality, then so too we need to see education of the future in a different light, and start preparing our children for the working world they are going to inhabit today, rather than expect them to adapt and re-adjust once they enter that working world in the years ahead.