The future of learning starts NOW talks (Part 1)

Future of learning Part 1

Have MOOCs revolutionized learning? What is the likely role of virtual reality in schools? Can AI help bring more personal attention to each learner? What competencies do our children need to learn today, in order to ensure their skillset is relevant on the labour market of the future? These are all relevant questions with no universal answer. “The future of learning starts NOW” is a series of talks in which Kim L. Jørgensen, learning expert and Head of Business Development at CanopyLAB, interviews experts across the field of learning.

 

We are kicking off The future of learning starts NOW series with an interview in two parts with co-founder and CEO of CanopyLAB Sahra-Josephine Hjorth (SJH), PhD in ICT and Learning. Alongside Christian S. J. Jensen, SJH runs the world’s first intelligent eLearning platform and software that, based on algorithms, gamification, and artificial intelligence, enables completely personalized and adaptive learning experiences online. The EdTech was founded in August 2015 and has attracted funding from both Copenhagen and Silicon Valley.

 

KLJ: Could you start by filling in our readers on what CanopyLAB does?

SJH: CanopyLAB is the world’s first smart eLearning platform that based on machine learning, gamification, and AI enables completely personal and adaptive learning experiences. So no matter if you take a course on blockchain, sustainability or pretotyping, we are working towards automatically creating a completely individualized experience based on what people already know, and the gaps they have in their knowledge and competences.

CanopyLAB started out as an open learning platform, focusing on youth. And we still run the open learning platform, where we offer courses free of charge for learners around the world. We believe everyone should have access to learning of high quality and we do that by giving learners access to courses offered by leading NGOs and organizations. To mention some examples, we offer a course called “Migration: Contemporary Debates”, which is created by the Danish Immigration Museum. And then there’s a course “Gender and Identity” by the international human rights organization, Humanity in Action.

On the open learning platform, we focus on humanities and social sciences. And there’s a real need for that. What we see is that these topics are lacking in online learning today, partly because it’s difficult to facilitate the interaction that’s necessary to discuss something as sensitive as human rights, and partly because there’s not as much funding for these topics. Instead, most providers focus on STEM, which is short for science, technology, engineering, and math. But that’s not the only thing we should teach. We teach people about human rights, politics, sustainability, entrepreneurship, anti-bullying, and sexual education and health. The latter is a great example of a topic that no one else wants to teach, both because it’s a difficult and sensitive topic and because it’s politically dangerous for some providers who rely on public funding. But we don’t, and we dare to take on this important task. So this coming year, we’ll be working increasingly on being the go-to-place for content related to sexual education.

The second vertical that we’re working with is our white-label solution that we sell to corporate clients, such as Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship, Altinget, and pree.to. What we offer is a customized learning environment, where they can host courses for their employees. What’s special about our software is that it is adaptive and enables everyone to have a completely personalized learning experience. No on else is doing that. And it’s something we see that the companies are asking for. They use it for different purposes. Some for compliance, some for onboarding onboarding, internal and external training, or to strengthen their community and knowledge sharing.

KLJ: According to Forbes, millennials (born between 1977-1997) on average stay in a job for less than three years. That means they’re expected to have 15-20 jobs during their career. I’m a millennial myself and I wonder how to best prepare for such a career?

SJH: My best advice for millennials, and any other generation on the labor market, is to start focusing on their competencies rather than knowledge. Having a background teaching at university, it’s been a subtle but profound paradigm shift for me to implement that teachers should be facilitators of learning rather than teachers of knowledge. For years, we’ve tried stuffing as much knowledge as possible into everyone’s brain, but that’s a huge waste of brainpower. We need to teach kids, millennials, and lifelong learners new competences, such as emotional intelligence, collaboration, problem solving etc. Things we know is needed on the labor market right now and in the future. Things that a computer can’t replace the same way as it can with knowledge.

Particularly in a scandinavian context, there are so many things we are good at, such as creativity, design thinking, empathy, and giving and receiving constructive feedback. We need to help develop digital and analogue methods to become excellent at that.

If there is something particular we need to know about the height of a mountain, the unique sound of a country music star, or the properties of water, we’ve got Google right at our fingertips. I’ve even got my house wired with Google Home. But a search engine or an AI can’t teach us to be a good team player, that’s one of the things we need to learn in conjunction with others.

Working in education, it’s my job to ensure that people who lose their jobs or have outdated qualifications land on their feet and get back on the labor market. It means we have to design digital learning tools that help people transition to a completely different industry, and to performing a different job than the job they were originally trained for.

KLJ: When you talk about prioritizing competences over knowledge, how much is that influenced by the automation of jobs that come with rapid technological advancement?

SJH: Throughout history, people have been scared of change, especially rapid or exponential change. Yes, we see an increasing number of jobs disappear as a result of automation and digitization. Jobs in industries such as production, agriculture, but also auditors and people working in law firms. And yes, that means some people will lose their job, but it also leads to new opportunities and new jobs. Working in education, it’s my job to ensure that people who lose their jobs or have outdated qualifications land on their feet and get back on the labor market. It means we have to design digital learning tools that help people transition to a completely different industry, and to performing a different job than the job they were originally trained for. And to make this transition successfully, they’re relying on transferable skills, such as project management, communication, the ability to problem-solve, collaborate, and think creatively. These skills allow people to change their careers, not the knowledge they have about a specific area.

We need to ask ourselves how we want the future to be and how technology can be used to create such future, rather than let technological developments determine our future.

With the rapid technological advancement, what we call CORE competencies (creativity, originality, responsibility, and empathy) will become increasingly important. Those are the competencies that makes us human, and that we neither can nor should automate. Because they allow us to make the right decisions about our future. We need to ask ourselves how we want the future to be and how technology can be used to create such future, rather than let technological developments determine our future. And when asking ourselves, do we automate everything just because we can, digital ethics will become an important.

I am a strong believer in using digitalization to solve some of the largest problems in the world, but in order to do that, we need to create ecosystems where people who code and people who don’t will meet and exchange perspectives. We need ecosystems where the programmer meets the philosopher to discuss the consequences of warfare technologies and sex robots. Why is coding more important than (digital) ethics? That’s something everyone should learn in school! How about knowledge of exponential technologies? Focusing so narrowly on one skill is dangerous.

KLJ: At this years IBM Watson Summit, CEO at Netcompany André Rogaczewski said that we need to teach more people how to code and focus on what he referred to as the hardcore technology. Could this be a solution to automation?

SJH: I actually don’t agree with André Rogaczewski. There is an increasing number of people who argue that everyone should learn how to code, and to me that’s a misunderstood way of trying to adapt to the increasing role technology plays in our lives. I think everyone should be exposed to and have knowledge of all exponential technologies, but the danger in teaching everyone to code is that that it’s a skill that is next in line to be automated.

I am a strong believer in using digitalization to solve some of the largest problems in the world, but in order to do that, we need to create ecosystems where people who code and people who don’t will meet and exchange perspectives. We need ecosystems where the programmer meets the philosopher to discuss the consequences of warfare technologies and sex robots. Why is coding more important than (digital) ethics? That’s something everyone should learn in school! How about knowledge of exponential technologies? Focusing so narrowly on one skill is dangerous.

In addition, the job of a programmer is going to change significantly as well. It already is. In fact, programming is projected to become the new blue-collar job as supply and demand moves services abroad and drives down prices that currently are artificially high. A development that can help bring other countries out of poverty, but coding won’t continue to be a highly paid job in the Western world.


 

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