The future of education lies in smart co-learning ecosystems

The future of education lies in smart co-learning ecosystems

We interviewed Wilfried R. Vanhonacker, a world pioneer in teaching methods, about the future of education and the trends it envisions.

Dr. Wilfried R. Vanhonacker, Bankinter Innovation Foundation´s trustee, is a world-renowned scholar, academic entrepreneur, and pedagogical innovator. He has played a key role in establishing leading business schools in China (CEIBS) and Russia (MSM SKOLKOVO) and was the founding director of INSEAD‘s doctoral program in France.

His book Rough Diamonds: Rethinking How We Educate Future Generations has become a world reference for education and academia. With the interview that we reproduce below, we want to know the vision of Dr. Wilfried R. Vanhonacker on what the education of the future will be like:

1.- What does a change in the paradigm of education mean for society? What does this new paradigm consist of?

Ultimately, the revolution that is coming in education will Increase the return on human potential. Our current system is not efficient, and is coming under pressure from a reality that it is not aligned. Smart tech will turn education into a data science and shift the focus from delivery (teaching) to learning; i.e., truly intelligent learning. It will also give students full control over their learning journeys.

With the shelf life of knowledge shrinking and jobs/careers becoming more fragile (becoming obsolete or being restructured radically), the future is about lifelong learning. In the future, the illiterate will be those who cannot learn. The lifelong learning paradigm will replace the current education paradigm. Our current educational model is only interested in efficient (standardized) delivery, and not effective learning; in fact, it has outsourced the learning to the students. Hence, the paradigm shift will entail a fundamental shift from delivery (teaching ) to learning. 

2.- With the pandemic, the formal education model has wobbled, but new ways of teaching are also glimpsed. What are the most promising trends in educational models?

Crises accelerate history. In that sense, the formal education model was already wobbling, but the pandemic made the many cracks in it more visible. Looking at the reality that is emerging (and the pandemic brought closer), It is clear that the model we have become so enslaved is no longer sustainable. Sadly, when the pandemic hit, most educational institutions tried to safe what they could from the past instead of looking into the future. 

Here are 5 trends:

  • a shift from delivery (teaching) to learning (which includes co-learning, unlearning, and relearning);
  • a move away from work-based education: with smart tech advances  that will make most jobs at least in part obsolete, channeling students into ever narrowing career paths needs to be rethought; 
  • lifelong learning as a new paradigm  replacing education as we know it;
  • a move from the current vertical teaching to more horizontal co-learning models, and
  • a decisive shift away from the industrial-factory model we have today to more intelligent and fully-adapted models of education/learning.

3.- You are one of the pioneers in implementing the concept of “learning by doing” in graduate school. What are the advantages of this approach?

For learning to be effective, students have to be engaged. If they are just passive listeners, as is the case in traditional teaching, their minds might not be tuned into the required learning wavelength. The key advantage with “learning-by-doing is that students are actively engaged. Furthermore, as we all know from personal experience, we only start paying attention when we have to actually do something. Reading  a recipe in a cookbook is one thing, but actually preparing the dish is quite a different (and more memorable) learning experience; when we actually have to cook the dish, that is when the  questions come, and that leads to more profound learning. 

4.- In which areas/topics is it most applicable today?

It can be done in all areas. Even if it might not be realistic, like piloting a fighter plane, we can still simulate reality. Flight simulators, on which all pilots are trained, provide learning-by-doing but in a simulated setting. We might see more of this in the future because we need to accelerate learning. Our current approaches are too slow for what the future will demand. We can also gamely simulations to insure more/faster engagement. Gamefied learning is probably the best learning-by-doing method available today. 

5.- Life-long learning seems to be a necessity for all professionals. Who should take the initiative: companies, governments or colleges?

The initiative lies first with parents, and second with each and everyone of us. Lifelong learning is about an intrinsic motivation to keep learning and growing. If it has to be externally enforced – like formal schooling today – it won’t work. As humans, we are all born with a curiosity to explore the world around us and learn about it. Parents need to stimulate that from day one and nurture a learning mindset in their children. Education will (should) leverage that mindset but kids need to have it before starting formal schooling. 

Kids themselves need to put that mindset to work to develop the raw talents each one of them uniquely possesses; i.e., we are alł born rough diamonds and with the right cut, we can all sparkle. 

The role of government should be to hold education to account. The role of companies is to model, enable, support, and reward lifelong learning.

6.- The jobs of the future will require a strong specialist digital/technological component, and interpersonal skills, creativity and versatility. How should we prepare future professionals?

The key job requirement of the future will be the ability and willingness to learn continuously. Work-based education will be secondary as all jobs will become more fragile; just reflect on this: all of us today are doing jobs that intelligent algorithms will be able – at least in part – to do.

The future is one of ambient intelligence; i.e., all of us having access and being able to rely on intelligent/smart devices/assistants. In that future, the key competencies will be:

  1. intuitive intelligence: to supplement the rational intelligence AI will be good at;
  2. inquisitive intelligence: in an environment of change, the key is to know what questions to ask; and
  3. imaginative intelligence: the ability to think beyond data (which AI systems cannot and might never be able to).

7.- Knowing that Spain depends a lot on tourism, what would be your advice for the Spanish educational system?

I suspect that climate change will be far more of a factor in tourism than changes in education. 

For the Spanish educational system, I would suggest to consider:

1.- changes in educational system itself, such as:

  • from efficient delivery to effective learning
  • from teacher-centric to student-centric
  • from standardized delivery to adapted learning.
  • from vertical teaching to horizontal co-learning
  • from passive to active engagement,  and
  • from discrete, disjointed testing to continuous, unobtrusive assessment.

All these can be done if we are willing to embrace what technology is increasingly capable of.

(2) Hold educational institutions accountable for effective learning (i.e., the performance evaluation has to shift from inputs to outputs);

(3) Explore new business models to bring the cost of education down, and

(4) Deregulate. We need more innovation and experimentation. The sector is over-regulated and, because of it, stuck in the past.

8.- How do you envision the future of formal education?

Very different from the industrial-factory model we see today.

I see a future with intelligent co-learning ecosystems.

Dr. Wilfried R. Vanhonacker is finishing his next book, Learning Never Fails, and writing another about a new paradigm for continuous learning. You can follow him on his blog. At Fundación Innovación Bankinter we will continue to report on his progress.

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