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A new approach linking tech and employers allows education to continue well beyond the classroom

Robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of technology continue to disrupt or replace human talent in the workplace. However, a panel of educational influencers from the US and the mainland, speaking at a recent RISE Community EdTech “The Future of Higher Education” event, organised by UnLearn and hosted by Polytechnic University (PolyU), said technology used as an education tool (EdTech) can help individuals pick up new skills, and stay in demand in the job market.

“We can expect technologies such as AI to continue to increase the pace innovation expands in the workplace, so it is vital for people to upgrade their knowledge and skills to prevent them from falling behind,” noted David Blake, CEO and co-founder of Degreed, a firm that allows individuals and companies to register and validate different types of learning experience beyond a traditional academic background.

While a college degree is still a prerequisite in many jobs, Blake believes that, in the increasingly technology-driven knowledge economy, self-directed formal and informal learning experience can be recorded and measured and add value to a career.

“Instead of relying on a degree, people are able to strengthen their employability by gaining credit for their learning from a wide range of sources,” says Blake. Degreed has a system of calculating the value of courses, which are then displayed on the individual’s profile through the firm’s platform.

Blake also explained that creating a digital lifelong learning transcript opens up new opportunities for individuals and employers, a process he describes as ‘jailbreaking’ the degree. “No one can guarantee their job will be protected from the impact of technology, but an accredited skills learning profile provides a portable solution for those who take ownership of their learning,” said Blake.

As technology rapidly encroaches upon the workplace, Dennis Yang, former CEO at Udemy, the world’s largest learning marketplace, says employees, to remain in demand, need to take active responsibility to upscale existing talents and learn new skills. “Through EdTech, there are no limits to what people can learn,” Yang said. “Instead of being obsessed with picking the ‘right’ college or degree programme, people of all ages can explore options at any stage of their career,” he added.

Yang also stressed the importance of strengthening both technical and soft skills. “Things are not going to go too well if you have the technical skills but are unable to communicate ideals and interact with others as a team-player,” he said.

Meanwhile, Antony Chen, vice-president at Shanghai-based iTutorGroup, the world’s largest online real-time interactive English-language training platform, outlined how EdTech platforms allow individuals to tailor their learning needs to their specific requirements. For example, Chen explained how people use the platform to boost communication skills ahead of a presentation and negotiating skills for sales and marketing.

“It is possible to individualise the content, the pace, and even select the most appropriate tutor to ensure the unique learning needs of each student are met,” said Chen, who explained how iTutorGroup leverages big data analytics and advanced algorithms to match students with best-fit tutors and co-learners.

Quoting the World Economic Forum “Essential Skills for the 21st Century” report, EdTech panel moderator Vince Chan said that, today’s employees should  be equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset, display a level of financial literacy and demonstrate social and cultural awareness. However, Chan, the founder of UnLearn, a Hong Kong-based innovation platform that drives learning technology and talent development ventures, believes the existing ecosystem of traditional learning has become siloed.

“Talent developers such as schools and educators and users of talent, employers and recruiters, seldom, if ever, talk to each other,” said Chan, who noted that the disconnect can lead to employers complaining that students graduating from educational institutions are not ready for the workplace. Chan believes EdTech, supplemented by materials designed and provided by employers, can help to narrow the skills and knowledge gap. “When employers are involved in the learning process, the user experience and the outcome are usually more desirable for employees and employers,” noted Chan.

Speaking at the EdTech event, Eric Tsui, professor at PolyU’s department of industrial and systems engineering, gave insights into how PolyU has integrated e-learning and knowledge sharing with some of its traditional programmes so that students and professors become co-learners. “Through the use of public domain tools such as cloud technology we can share knowledge and information in a way we are, at different times, leaders, followers, decision makers, influencers and sometimes naive learners,” said Tsui, who is also associate director of PolyU’s knowledge management and innovation research centre.


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Learning curve.