Published on 2018/03/30

Beyond Vocational: Adult Education Confronts the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The EvoLLLution | Beyond Vocational: Adult Education Confronts the Fourth Industrial Revolution
As technology advances, the needs of the labor market and employers change as well. And while traditional-age students are enrolled in programs that help them adapt to these changes, adults are unfortunately being left behind.
Advanced applications for big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence can take us to new heights, or plunge us into a dystopian future where robots absorb jobs, unemployment soars and precious few humans are qualified to guide the machines ethically.

Of course, they’ll create some new jobs, but the projections of how much of our economy automation will consume are daunting:

  • International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts indicate that revenues from AI will expand from the current $8 billion to more than $47 billion by 2020.
  • The World Economic Forum projects that 5 million jobs will be lost to advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics, 3D printing, biotechnology and more new technological advances

In the PEW Research Center’s Report The Future of Jobs and Training, PEW asserts that higher education will have a big say in which path we go down, addressing both symptoms and causes: “Changes in educational and learning environments are necessary to help people stay employable in the labor force of the future.”

It’s tempting to focus this discussion on traditional, 18- to 22-year-old undergraduates—digital natives whom schools can address through their core programs.

Overlooked are adult learners, who could become the fourth industrial revolution’s first generation of leaders—or a lost generation.

Themes to Build Upon

In the white paper, we’ll discuss several concepts variously put into practice that adult education programs can weave into their offerings to help prepare their students to grow into the kinds of lifelong learners who matriculate into sustainable, fulfilling careers:

  • From STEM to STEAM: Infusing arts and design into STEM curricula to produce curious, imaginative, entrepreneurial graduates who can not only work alongside today’s machines, but also identify the problems and use cases that will drive subsequent technology waves.
  • The Power of Systems Thinking: Through experiential or project-based learning, helping students develop an understanding of the interdependent structures of dynamic systems.
  • Humanics and the Robot-Proofing of Education: Mastery of new literacies such as technology, technology’s impact and what makes humans unique from machines.
  • Bringing Agile Methodologies to the Academy: Modularized content in an easily accessible format for just-in-time learning. Examples includes the necessary skills assessment for stackable badges and micro-credentials.

A Moral Imperative

The moral imperative here is unavoidable. We simply cannot expect adults to disrupt their professional and personal lives by returning to college, to take on debt in exchange for a credential that AI and machine learning can obviate 5 to 10 years later.

In both the blue-collar and white-collar realms, advanced automation is already displacing workers at alarming scale, many of whom may form the next cohort of adult learners:

  • An insurance company in Japan recently replaced 34 claims agents with IBM Watson Explorer.
  • CNBC recently reported that “Telefónica’s O2 business has automated 15 core business processes such as credit checks and order processing using “software robots” developed by Blue Prism, a U.K.-based automation firm. The robots perform the equivalent workload of nearly 100 full-time employees.”
  • Fortune reports that “An estimated 5 million U.S. factory jobs have evaporated since 2000 and most of those (88 percent) were lost to increased productivity due to automation, according to a study by Ball State University.”
  • Real estate and the title industries are among those in blockchain’s crosshairs, with Goldman Sachs estimating that blockchain could reduce the average title premium by about 30 percent by driving at least $2 billion in cost savings for title insurers due to reductions in headcount and insurance claim losses.

From Vocational to Holistic

While still addressing immediate vocational needs, non-traditional programs must also infuse in their curricula the skills that will continue to distinguish humans from robots: judgment, creative problem solving, systems thinking, cultural agility, ethics and communications.

In the white paper “Adult Learners in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Pioneers or a Lost Generation?” we tackle many of the challenges ahead for adult and offer examples of possible long-term solutions.

As Daniel Araya and Creig Lamb point out in the Brookings Institute blog: “For many policymakers, a natural response to this shift has been to focus on more and improved training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. What is often less appreciated, however, is the role liberal arts will play in this Fourth Industrial Revolution. … Growing calls to bridge AI with human ingenuity suggest that our education systems will need to focus on teaching skills that will augment and complement AI to meet the impact of machine automation.”

We’re in the midst of an industrial revolution marked by unprecedented scope and velocity. There is good news and bad news in this. The bad news is colleges and universities face an imminent moral imperative to deal with a weighty, complex, rapidly evolving issue. The good news is many of the skills higher education will need to deliver have been at hand for centuries: collaboration, creativity, systems thinking, strong communication and strategic problem solving.

To learn more about the challenges facing adults in the labor market of the near-future, and how they can be overcome, download this white paper.

Print Friendly
New call-to-action