Higher Education 4.0: Who is Defining the Future?

On Monday, our masterclass on Higher Education 4.0 in partnership with the new ECIU University began with the aim of raising critical awareness, fostering rich discussion and getting participants from around the globe to think about this overarching big question:

What will Higher Education look like by the year 2030?

To set the scene, we invited participants to watch this brief video produced in 2019 by Jisc. The video was framed by the point that we need to be critical about who is defining the future for us. 

While we cannot predict the future drawing on the video we asked, will the future of universities be shaped in an inclusive way or left to men already in positions of power and responsibility in established institutions in well-developed countries? This question, which the video illustrates is a very real concern, established our intention in the masterclass from the outset to promote debate, contestation, and reshaping of higher education from a wide variety of critical perspectives. 

Future Skills Agenda

Over this first week, our main focus has been on what we have called the future skills agenda set against the backdrop of Industry 4.0. A core challenge facing higher educational institutions is how they respond to major societal developments, including the changing nature of work. We began this discussion by exploring the popular claim that 65% of jobs of the future have yet to be invented? Indeed,  The Institute for the Future (2017) goes even further in a report which says 

“…that around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet” (p.14). 

Our poll result in response to this question showed a spread of opinions across participants. 

Demise of the Ice Traders

To place speculative talk concerning the future of jobs in an historical context, we shared an interesting example on the demise of the ice industry.

Did you know that just over a century ago harvesting and selling ice was a massive industry employing thousands (if not millions) of people?

It involved an extensive supply chain around the world and in the second half of the 19th Century some people got very rich harvesting and selling ice.

But in a matter of only a few short years, the whole industry collapsed with almost everyone losing their jobs. How come? The invention and widespread uptake of mechanical refrigeration removed the reliance on natural ice, although it did take 30+ years and the widespread availability of electricity for the full impact of the invention of the refrigerator to become apparent.

Changing Nature of Knowledge

This line of discussion gets us thinking about the currency of the day. Drawing on the work of our colleague Prof. Ulf-Daniels Ehler (2020) in his recent online book on future skills, we explored how the nature of knowledge is changing. To quote (Ehler, 2020):

Knowledge is no longer being thought of as something that is developed and stored in the minds of students, experts, represented in books, and classified into disciplines. Instead, it becomes more and more apparent that knowledge is now seen more as a fluent, energy-like system of networks and flows. Knowledge is defined – and valued – not for what it is, but for what it can help to do  (p.14).

You can listen to Ulf talking more about how the evolving definition of knowledge and the nature of future skills in this video from a talk given during last year’s EDEN webinar series in Open Education Week.

Traversing the Transversal

An important feature of Week 1 is a focus on transversal skills and competencies (or what some people call soft skills) and we discussed some of the challenges of defining and measuring these skills. The importance of future mindsets rather than narrow skillsets has been a common theme in the discussion posts. However, our example from the opening Jisc video reminds us to be wary of which mindsets are being valued over others and whose voice is missing from efforts to reshape the future. Here we identified the role of indigenous worldview and First Nation perspectives. 

One of the activities for participants was trying to metaphorically map these future skills, with some rich offerings on our Padlet wall, as illustrated below. 

As we come to the end of Week 1, participants are currently responding to a scenario related to the often cited 21st Century skill of “Global Citizenship”. They have been appointed in this scenario to a committee at their institution, and given a simple mission – to come up with a series of criteria for i) defining, ii) operationalising, and iii) assessing this future skill. No easy task! 

Looking Ahead

While throughout the week we have debated the true significance of the changes taking place in response to Industry 4.0, and how we might need to redefine future skills, it is difficult to imagine that higher education will be unaffected by powerful change forces, including the pandemic. 

Next week, we shift our attention to how traditional credentials might become an increasing focus of attention over the next few years as traditional higher education institutions respond to the future skills agenda. We spend most of next week discussing the rise and the rise of micro-credentials and what impact they are likely to have over the next 5-years.

It’s not too late to join this discussion as we seek to raise greater awareness of many competing change drivers and help fellow educators, and other related stakeholders, (re)envision the future of higher education by 2030. We hope to talk with some of you online next week.

Higher Education 4.0: Exploring Big Questions to Shape the Future

What is your vision of Higher Education by the year 2030? What are the big questions we need to be thinking about in shaping the post-pandemic world for Higher Education? What are the major challenges and opportunities facing universities over the next decade? Who will get to shape the future environment and whose voice is missing from efforts to reimagine Higher Education in response to Industry 4.0?

Our new online masterclass starting on March 8th explores these questions and more. In Higher Education 4:0: Certifying Your Future we take a closer look at the future skills agenda, the rise and the rise of the micro-credentialing movement, and how we can harness new pedagogies for new times.

The masterclass offered over 3-weeks through the FutureLearn platform begins by establishing why universities and other educational stakeholders need to engage with the future skills agenda.

We explore the future of work along with the increasing focus on transversal skills, and in doing so attempt to answer a number of key questions: 

  • What are future skills?
  • Why are they important?
  • How can they be measured? 
World Economic Forum, 2020

In Week 2, we look at the new possibilities and challenges micro-credentials offer for certifying the future.

This rapidly evolving approach to accredited learning and continuing professional development has the potential to redefine Higher Education and the traditional credential ecology, which arguably is a legacy of the 20th Century that may no longer be fit for purpose.

We will explore a number of the different micro-credentialing initiatives around the globe profiled in the Micro-Credential Observatory, including a recent ECIU white paper and the European Commission’s groundbreaking work in this area, and in doing so try to answer several key questions:

  • What are micro-credentials? 
  • Why the growing focus on them?
  • Are they just another passing educational fad?
European Commission, 2020

In Week 3, we explore how the future skills agenda and micro-credentialing movement may be able to support new authentic forms of pedagogy that help to develop more active citizens, lifelong learners, and innovative work-ready graduates. More specifically, we discuss the value and transformative potential of new approaches such as Sprints, Hackathons and Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) and how they can be intentionally designed to harness the pedagogical affordances of new digital technologies. We will share a number of case studies, including how CBL is being adopted by the new ECIU University as a “signature pedagogy” to support more impactful and real-life learning; and in doing so endeavour to answer a number of key questions: 

  • What are authentic pedagogies?
  • What do we already know about learning?
  • How will Higher Education 4.0 impact future pedagogy?

We have been told for over a decade that today’s universities and colleges are at risk of preparing a new generation of students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using old fashioned teaching methods, and out of date technologies.

This free online masterclass, supported by and developed under the umbrella of the new ECIU University initiative, gives you the opportunity to debunk, challenge and/or add your own perspective to some of the current debates about the future of Higher Education.

We hope to raise your critical awareness of major change forces influencing the future, and provide useful examples of how different institutions and/or organisations are responding to the new global Higher Education environment. Participants can engage in a number of ways. Some people may wish to work through each topic on their own at their own pace, or alternatively as part of a group of educators from their own institution. Keep in mind that FutureLearn is a social learning platform and so the masterclass is designed to promote your active participation.

Our NIDL team at Dublin City University (DCU) will be facilitating your learning over the 3-weeks but we don’t have all the answers. Accordingly, the masterclass endeavours to be highly interactive throughout each week as we “open the floor” to your contributions.

We hope you can carve out some time in your busy calendar in March to contribute to Higher Education 4.0 as we discuss some of these big issues. You can learn more about the topics we cover and register for the masterclass on the FutureLearn website. We hope to see many of you online!