Of all children entering school this year, 75% will exercise a profession that doesn't exist today. This trend is already noticeable. The good news is that neuroscience discoveries support the idea of learning during our entire lives. But capacities are only one part of the whole picture. How can we establish a genuine culture of lifelong learning? Technologies will help, but companies should also encourage employees to share their experience, knowledge and expertise as part of a comprehensive learning environment incorporating experiential elements, feedback and more formal courses.
Of all children entering school this year, 75% will exercise a profession that doesn’t exist today. This was predicted by Cathy N. Davidson, professor at Duke University, and it allows us to acknowledge the magnitude, speed and complexity of the changes that affect economies where knowledge has become the main raw material. At the origin of these upheavals, the technological revolution, particularly in the field of information and communication, but also the main social and economic developments of an increasingly globalized and interdependent world.
Not only will these children exercie a yet unknown profession, but their professional life will be marked by mobility: they will change profession as many times as required by the economic cycles, the decline of certain sectors and the emergence of other industries. It is the end of single career paths. It is no longer possible to spend one’s life in the same company or organization, gradually climbing the ladder until retirement, like our parents or grandparents.
This trend is already noticeable. In the United States, workers change company every five years on average. Maintaining a good level of employability on the labor market requires frequent updating of knowledge and know-how. In increasingly complex environments, workers and businesses must continually adapt, adjust and renew themselves. Lifelong training is no longer an option: it is a necessity for all.
The results of the survey on “School in 2030,” conducted among 645 international experts prior to the World Summit for Innovation in Education WISE 2014, have validated these transformations of educational structures and methods. 90% of the surveyed experts believe that lifelong education will become the new standard. In order to stay competitive, countries need to pay special attention to continuous training systems. In fact, as explained by Nigel Paine, a recognized expert in training and author of The Learning Challenge: “in a knowledge economy, it should (almost by definition) be very difficult to separate learning from work.”
If education is meant to extend during our entire life, how does this affect initial training? Experts from the WISE community are divided on this issue. Half of them think that fundamental training will last a relatively long period, while 40% believe it will end up being shorter than what we know today. This second option is defended by Anant Agarwal, president of the MOOC edX plateform, who believes that students could go to college for two years to learn the fundamentals, the basic skills and experience campus life. Then, once they start in the professional world, they would continue to learn during all their lifetime with online resources. “We should all keep learning because the world is changing too fast. Learning should be fully integrated into professional life.”
The good news is that neuroscience discoveries support the idea of learning during our entire lives. Contrary to what was thought previously, the brain doesn’t become unchangeable in adulthood but still remains plastic. Thanks to its famous neuroplasticity, the brain never ceases to destroy and create new connections between neurons. This is precisely what makes learning possible at any age. In addition to being a simple possibility, being able to learn new things as often as possible is a necessity. Research proves that keeping an active brain reduces the risk of cognitive decline and the development of diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The ability and the need to become continuous learners are both indisputable. The real challenge is to put into practice this requirement and to implement continuous training seamlessly in professional careers. In his book, Nigel Paine argues that companies need to develop a genuine “culture of lifelong learning. It’s not only about well-being or functional competence of the organization but a crucial step towards excellence and high performance.” The idea is to initiate a virtuous circle whereby better trained employees are more engaged and thus more efficient, more willing to share their knowledge and expertise, which increases even further the company’s success.
To do this, this expert advocates applying the 70:20:10 framework according to which 70% of learning occurs during the course of work itself (experiential learning), 20% in the context of interactions with employees (social learning) and 10% through formal courses (formal learning). In this model, learning is seamlessly embedded in the workplace. Several large companies such as Thomson Reuters, Adidas, Novartis and Microsoft have adopted it (while Google has declined), with a remarkable success, for innovation (70% of time is dedicated to core business projects, 20% to affiliated projects within core business and 10% to the engineers’ own projects). Many of Google’s greatest innovations came out of these 10%...
Establishing a genuine culture of lifelong learning means that all employees are encouraged to share their experience, knowledge and expertise as part of a comprehensive learning environment incorporating both experiential elements, feedback and more formal courses. Such a system can be easily created in the context of the digital revolution, which gives a new impetus to distance learning by greatly expanding the supports (desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, connected watches, etc.) and formats (MOOCs, serious games, etc.). The era of ATAWAD (anytime, anywhere, any device) or mobiquity (term coined by Xavier Dalloz to describe the ability for mobile users to connect to a network without any constraint regarding time, location or device) open up new horizons.
Mobiquity – the contraction of mobility and ubiquity – blurs the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. We tend to be always “on,” continuing professional tasks on our PC or our tablet, and vice versa, carrying out personal tasks during our office hours. The way work is designed, including its geographical location, is profoundly disrupted. In this context, workers are under increasing pressure to maintain, by their own, a good level of employability on the labor market. “We no longer have the right to not know,” in the words of Jean Frayssinhes, an expert in adult education. The ease of access to knowledge requires us “to be informed at all times and about all issues. Otherwise, we run the risk of being completely overwhelmed or becoming obsolete, with predictable consequences for our professional future.” Workers are supposed to take care of their skills and knowledge by themselves.
MOOCs – free, interactive, collaborative and inclusive online courses, with unlimited participants – are particularly suited to this self-learning approach: the offers are increasingly rich and varied and often come from prestigious universities; they are flexible, customizable and relatively short (a few weeks). For all of these reasons, they are easier to combine with full-time jobs; many offer validation certificates (against payment) that can be used to highlight the worker’s efforts or acquired knowledge (disclosed on LinkedIn, the online professional social network). Provided that the training offer is valid in the worker’s sector, anybody can update or expand their knowledge in one or more aspects of their activity.
This new form of e-learning also changes the situation in the event of retaining. So far, a complete change of profession, whether it was wanted (change of life, industry, etc.) or provoked (dismissal, transfer to another position within the same company, etc.) required a fairly heavy, in-class training and the interruption of any professional activity for at least a few months, sometimes even a few years. This is a familiar pattern, with more or less well-developed financing mechanisms in different countries. But if such a reorientation project is started early enough, it can be spread over a period of several months or years, and realized during professional occupation, thanks to the new types of distance learning. Several trainings (paying) have also been launched in this niche, such as the certifying program in Corporate Finance by HEC and First Finance.
However, experts warn us that these self-training programs aren’t fit to everybody. Following field research, Jean Frayssinhes concluded that “all learners don’t have the methodology, autonomy and motivation to follow successfully a complete online course.” His work provides a particularly useful insight in explaining the relatively large number of participants dropping out of a MOOC. “To learn, you need to want to learn, to know how to learn and to be able to learn,” as explained in detail by Maxime Jore, coordinator of digital learning at the Novancia Business School Paris. “Learning readiness is an attitude, an emotional, cognitive, and conative readiness that prompts the act of learning.” In defense of MOOCs, it needs to be said that by putting back trainers in the center of game and by allowing a very strong interaction between participants, MOOCs are much more accessible than older forms of e-learning, where the learner was left alone in front of his screen.
MOOCs are also a great opportunity for firms who wish to offer in-house training. According to Deloitte, these will represent over 10% of all courses in the context of in-house continuous training by 2020. Firms use them both as a training tool to adapt their operators to the economic transformations and also as a tool to communicate with the outside, especially with their customers. In both cases, they can develop a community around their brand. Among the many examples, the French telecom industry leader, Orange, who launched the Solerni platform, offering online courses such as “Le digital, vivons-le ensemble” (“The digital, let’s live it together”). The idea is to do brand learning to “coach clients” who only a use small part of the powerful capabilities of their smartphones, as explained by Thierry Curiale, head of “Open Social Learning” of Orange for the Strategies magazine.
Used as an in-house resource, the MOOC format (and its variations) allows companies to drastically reduce their training costs for their employees – because a speaker is no longer needed for only twenty people gathered in a room but for hundreds, or even thousands, of potential listeners from all around the world – while increasing the uniformity of training delivered and thus the corporate culture and the collaboration between operators. According to Jean-Marc Tassetto, former CEO of Google France and founder of Coorpacademy (startup specializing in corporate MOOCs aka COOCs), companies can reduce their training costs by ten.
Other forms of digital learning, such as serious games or SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) are also gaining ground among companies. Although generally more expensive than MOOCs, serious games also offer great advantages in terms of interactivity, customization (very important) and team collaboration. SPOCs are like MOOCs, but in smaller groups. They cover more specialized topics or achieve more interaction between limited numbers of participants. Thus, companies will “increasingly use the MOOC format to cover basic fundamental skills while classroom training will be increasingly reserved for situational simulations and highly technical specializations,” as recently reported to the Tribune website by Eric Chardoillet, founder of First Finance, a financial training specialist.
In an increasingly competitive and globalized labor market, all these tools open up new perspectives in terms of talent identification and recruitment. As emphasized by Gilles Babinet, head of digital economy issues for France at the European Commission and author of L’Ère numérique, un nouvel âge de l’humanité (The Digital Era, A New Age of Humanity), “having a precise knowledge of other people’s skills would significantly enhance the balance between supply and demand on the labor market.”
The data collected (learning analytics) on online learners may also prove useful for teachers, who could use them to understand the most appropriate ways of learning for each student. Businesses could also use them as a way to precisely identify the different skills and professional qualities they are looking for in their future employees. That’s why some large MOOC platforms in the US are targeting the corporate world to sell the data of their students and thus, provide them with a global pool of candidates.
Despite the obvious advantages of such a system in terms of efficiency in matching supply and demand on the labor market, it also has drawbacks. Principally, the monetization of personal data. At a time when each and every one of our clicks leaves marketable traces and when whistleblowers have unveiled extensive monitoring programs in several countries, it has become a very sensitive issue. Some MOOC providers, such as the British platform FutureLearn, proclaim loudly that they will never sell the personal data of their students. “This is an extremely sensitive issue and we want our students to trust us,” claimed Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn in an interview with The Guardian. The debate has only just begun.