How to build lifelong learning skills for the 21st century workplace

by Guest Blogger, 25 June 2021

‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’

This quote, by futurist Alvin Toffler, reflects the pressing need for learning agility in the world of work today.

In 2020, pre-covid, a McKinsey Global Survey on future workforce needs found that nearly 90% of executives and managers were either faced with skills gaps, or expecting skills gaps to develop in the near future. Just one third felt that their organisations were ready to adapt to the inevitable workforce disruptions that tech innovations will bring.

So, how can companies help their workforce to relearn - to become adaptive, agile learners? How can we embed this learning agility in our education system? And how can we equip students with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century?

As part of our SHAPE Education initiative, we aim to answer these questions and more through a series of monthly debates with learning experts considering Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press’ outline principles for the future of education.

This month we were joined by Joysy John, the CEO of 01Founders, and Andrew Geake, a psychologist and managing consultant with talent acquisition specialists SHL. They discussed why we need to reimagine the way that skills development happens in our current education system, and explored the model of peer-to-peer learning.

Watch the full debate on our YouTube Channel.

The future of work and collaborative learning

Remote working, automation and digitisation are all trends that will drive huge changes in the way we work. “Transformation was on the agenda before Covid-19,” Andrew explains. “But, obviously, in the last 18 months, a lot of those transformations have sped up.”

Jobs are already being impacted by digitisation and automation. This means employers’ needs are changing. Principally, they need people on their side who are able to be agile and resilient.

“There’s been a strong focus in terms of people taking ownership for their own personal growth.”

So, what does that mean in terms of how we start to work together and start to learn? Andrew feels that collaborative learning will be key. He mentions learning circles and reverse mentoring as ways to engage a group of people in a cohort-based learning approach. That way, they’re learning from each other, giving one another practical feedback and sharing different perspectives.

Two colleagues looking at the same laptop screen

The importance of 21st century skills

Joysy states that people need to be lifelong learners. “People who are now entering the workforce are going to have multiple careers over their lives”, she says. “So, the important question is, how do we optimise learning when we're living in a digital world?”

Digital pedagogy is one solution.

Joysy defines this as a combination of the ability to use digital technologies and the ability to build the skills that will be crucial to thriving in the future.

“In the news you hear a lot about the digital skills gap,” she says. “There's a huge discrepancy in terms of the demand for these digitally skilled workers in areas such as coding. And it's also an opportunity to retrain the millions of people who have been made redundant as a result of the Covid-19 recession.”

The world today is highly driven by algorithms. Joysy believes we need a diverse range of people shaping those algorithms.

But how can the education system address this issue? For Joysy, it’s important to support the intrinsic motivation that learners have.

“As long as people are excited and motivated to learn, they will find a way to address challenges and be resilient.”

However, technical skills aren’t enough. “People also need to have creativity, critical thinking skills, collaborative abilities and problem solving skills,” says Joysy. “There's a huge need to work with the government, with academia, with businesses and with civil society to ensure that we are giving everyone an opportunity to learn and thrive in the future.”

How can you motivate people to learn?

In the Q&A, a participant asked, “​As a GCSE student in Singapore, how do I motivate my peers to learn and see the value in learning like I do?”

In reply, Andrew emphasises the importance of collaboration. “With a group approach, you're going to be able to share ideas. You're going to be able to challenge each other and potentially stretch each other.”

Joysy thinks that being aware of different approaches to learning is important. “As long as we are aware that everyone is different and we don’t impose a one-size-fits-all, I think learning will be fun for everyone.”

Learn more

Read about Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press’ outline principles for the future of education, watch our previous SHAPE Live events and watch the full discussion between Joysy and Andrew in our event recording, now available on YouTube.

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