Learning in the Age of Disruption

Ryan L Schaaf

Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a New Monthly Series, The Brief History of the Future of Education. If You Missed Part One, You Can Read it Here.


Change: Nothing Stays the Same (Van Halen)

Change of any kind is a hard pill to swallow for the human condition. People love the comfort of the familiar, the reliable, the expected and the routine. In some ways for people, the lack of change becomes the security blanket that maintains a fixed mindset and predictable world. Unfortunately, the world did not get this message!

Change is a normal part of the world of today, and it will only accelerate in the future. The greatest challenge people face in times of accelerated change is that change is sneaky. We all realize something big is happening, but it is hard to put our finger on precisely what has changed and what is changing.


Innovation: A Process Powered by Change

Disruptive Innovation is change that fundamentally transforms the traditional ways of doing things. New innovations or iterations in technology, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, smart materials, mobile commerce, social media, biotechnology, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, robotics and medicine are transforming every facet of the human experience. Derek de Solla Price observed that 80 to 90 percent of the scientists who ever lived are alive today. These scientists are overseeing the expansive advancement of technology and human knowledge. Today, people live in a swirling vortex of revolutionary changes that are creating profound economic shifts, disorienting demographic patterns, and producing profound cultural transformations. Powerful new technologies and disruptive innovations are globalizing just about every aspect of today’s world, and this disruption holds enormous implications for our communities, families, and the future of teaching and learning.


Learning in a Disrupted World

What does the future hold for all our nations, its citizens and its children? In what kind of world will they and we live? What will our children need to be successful in their futures? Before these questions can be answered, we have to identify the influential factors changing the modern workforce.

First, routine cognitive work is disappearing. Routine cognitive work involves doing repetitive mental tasks over and over again. These tasks include the ones found in jobs such as bookkeeping, data entry, call center work, help desk or customer support, as well as computer programming and legal research. Increasingly, these jobs are not only being outsourced and offshored to countries such as India, China and Pakistan, but automated by software, machines, robots and artificial intelligence. If a job or task can be reduced to a mathematical algorithm or automated workflow, then it is easy for businesses to produce robots, microchips and software that will do the job cheaper, faster and often better.

Next, there has been a dramatic shift in the working world that includes far more part-time, freelance, e-lance, contract, contingent employment. In the past three decades, more than half of the new jobs in advanced economies around the world have been of the temporary, part-time or self-employed variety. This shift in work is known as the Gig Economy, and it has sprouted millions of workers that are adaptable, creative, hard-working and agile. Unfortunately, these workers are in constant competition with one another - pitting their skill sets against one another.

This new reality in the modern-day workforce represents change, and it requires the learners of today and tomorrow to learn new skills to be competitive and flourish in their lives.


The Creative Class

How do learners prepare for learning in the age of disruption? They must become creative. Author Richard Florida, in his critically acclaimed book The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited (2014) observed that the need for creative class jobs is increasing drastically. Creative class jobs require skills and experience that cannot be replaced by disruptive technologies; they can only be augmented, amplified or enhanced. These jobs require creativity, divergent thinking, problem-solving, design-thinking, communication, collaboration and information fluency to be successful. These long-life skills will serve workers well for decades to come. The problem is that modern education does not focus on these new skills, or at the very least, does not focus on them enough.

The current educational model was designed for a time when there existed a very different economy, workplace and way of life. It was a world based on three-quarters of the workforce being involved in agriculture, natural resources and manufacturing. The primary skills needed were basic literacy skills such as reading, memorization, following instructions and physical labor skills.

Today, we have to help students prepare for a new world and a very different economy- an economy where three-quarters of the workforce are in service class or creative class jobs. Education must be about more than just developing in students the school skills required to pass the next test, the next course or the next level of education. Education must develop the next-generation skills essential for digital generations to survive and thrive in an unpredictable world. In the next installment of The Brief History of the Future of Education series, we will carefully examine the next generation skills learners must cultivate to flourish in a disrupted world and introduce strategies to prepare the learners of today and tomorrow.



About this post: This post is a part of The Brief History of the Future of Education series. Based on the newly-released book written by Ian Jukes and Ryan L. Schaaf, this series will explore the TTWWADI (That’s The Way We Always Did It) mindset in schools, examine school’s challenges of teaching in the Age of Disruptive Innovation, traverse the new learning attributes of the digital generation, predict what learning will look like 20 years from now, observe the essential next-generation skills schools must cultivate in its learners to prepare them to survive and thrive in the future, and consider the new roles educators must adopt to stay relevant in the profession.


About the Author:

Ryan Schaaf is Associate Professor of Educational Technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University and faculty member in the Digital Age Learning and Educational Technology program at Johns Hopkins University. His passion is working with educators to explore the potential of gaming in the classroom, the characteristics of modern-day learning and learners, and exploring emerging technologies and trends to improve education. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLSchaaf.








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