Some are more equal than others: technology, education and inequality

Does technology cause inequality? Perhaps surprisingly, in our age of increased access to information, open platforms and ability to self-educate, there are rumblings that inequality is being driven by technology. Writing recently at the World Economic Forum, Kaushik Basu,Chief Economist at The World Bank argues that ‘the only countries recording high rates of annual GDP growth are emerging economies, including Vietnam (6.5%), India, China, Bangladesh, and Rwanda (around 7%), and Ethiopia (over 9%).’ Basu then goes on to postulate that, despite the growth of labour-saving technology (‘global sales of industrial robots… reached 225,000 in 2014, up 27% year on year),’ we are now seeing ‘disparate performance,’ created by technology. ‘High- and middle-income countries will come under strain, as their workers compete for jobs in the globalized labor market. Their income disparities will tend to rise, as will the frequency and intensity of political conflict.’

This trend is likely to be maintained, Basu believes. ‘As the march of technology continues, these strains will eventually spread to the entire world, exacerbating global inequality – already intolerably high – as workers’ earnings diminish. As this happens, the challenge will be to ensure that all income growth does not end up with those who own the machines and the shares.’

Similarly, Rolf Brynjolfsson has attributed the rise of inequality to technology. ‘There’s globalization, there are institutional changes, cultural changes, but I think most economists would agree that the biggest chunk of it is due to technology,’ he says in Business Insider. ‘And that’s because of what economists call skill-biased technical change — favoring skilled workers versus less-skilled workers.’

Brynjolfsson’s concern is primarily the way robots are squeezing out lower-paid jobs. Despite admitting that productivity has slightly grown in the last decade, ‘central to Brynjolfsson’s argument is the idea that innovation is rapidly accelerating as trends in computing and networking advance at an exponential rate,’ writes Joe Wiesenthal. While the GDP pie is increasing, ‘not everyone is benefiting,’ and Brynjolfsson lays this problem squarely with technology.

‘The biggest factor is that the technology-driven economy greatly favors a small group of successful individuals by amplifying their talent and luck,’ Brynjolfsson observes. These individuals, Brynjolfsson argues, reach stratospheric levels of income because successful ideas can be widely experienced and distributed. We don’t have lots of regional Facebooks, tailored to communities, countries or even continents. We have one Facebook, and the competition doesn’t stand a chance. This ‘Google-isation’ of our commodities is, for Brynjolfsson, an explanation for why very few people are earning huge amounts of money. ‘Why use a search engine that is almost as good as Google?’ as MIT Editor David Rotman puts it.

And for Brynjolfsson, what is the common factor? It’s that these super-fast, super-rich entrepreneurs all make their money via technology. This money does not trickle down to employees; it stays locked in the hands of a new technology elite.

 

Alternative viewpoints

Certainly, inequality is rising globally. And when it comes to higher education, the differences between haves and have-nots are becoming acute. Some 42% of young people now cannot afford to go to university, and 59% of graduates are unemployed. Yet, we would argue that this has not come about because of technology. Correlation is not causation – these unfortunate figures are part of a much wider platform of political infrastructure and global recession. The huge cuts in higher education funding worldwide have increased inequality far more than technology has.

It doesn’t take long to find figures critical of Basu or Brynjolfsson’s stance. Colin Gordon, professor of history at the University of Iowa, says ‘the notion that inequality is generated by rapid technological change and skill shortages is not sustained by the recent American experience. If demand for certain workers or certain skills were reflected in wages, we would expect to see wage gains where that demand was highest and wage stagnation where it was weakest.’ For Gordon, this is not the case. ‘Since 1969 labor’s share of income has fallen most rapidly in those sectors where union presence withered, not where computers displaced labor.’

Gordon point outs that ‘across our last two business cycles, income concentrated not in sectors or regions where skills were most in demand but where speculative bubbles (dot-com, housing, finance) bloomed and burst. During our most recent recession and recovery, the notion of a “skills shortage” was belied by the fact that job openings and available workers were distributed fairly evenly across the economy, and that skilled workers saw no “bidding up” of their wages or increase in their work hours. Indeed, most of the growth in wage inequality across the last generation can be found within occupations, and not in their relative share of the labor market.’

Gordon argues that ‘whatever causal importance we assign to technological change, it is hard to see it as a credible account of the different trajectories of inequality across countries. Technological change is a challenge faced by all national economies, and the secular decline in labor’s share of national income is common to most advanced economies. And yet on key measures of inequality, differences across national settings (and especially the outlying status of the United States) remain profound.’ He concludes that ‘in both 1985 and 2007, the United States leads the pack in both educational attainment and inequality.’

Technology is a tool – and it’s how we choose to use that tool that counts. Blaming technology is a handy technique for political elites; it means they can claim inequality is not politically driven or that political decisions could not reduce it. Globally, real GDP growth has increased from just under 3% (trend) in 1980 to just over 4% (trend) in 2015 (estimated figure; source IMF). Meanwhile, poverty headcount rate has dropped dramatically, from 37.1% in 1990 to 12.7% in 2012.  (Source: World Bank.) So wealth across the world is growing; but it it’s growing at a far greater pace for the very rich than it is for everyone else.

If technology is not to blame, what is? Economist Thomas Piketty argues that the gap between rich and wealth is now far more extreme than could have been imagined just a few decades ago. In the US, the richest 1% of the population now owns over one third of the country’s accumulated wealth. 15% is owned by the top 0.1%. Recessions slow down but do not alter this trend – ‘inequality has only gotten worse since the last recession ended,’ writes David Rotman. ‘The top 1 percent captured 95 percent of income growth from 2009 to 2012, if capital gains are included.’

What are we to make of this? ‘The disparity in the portion of income earned from work—what economists call labor income—is particularly striking,’ says Rotman. Wage inequality in the US is ‘probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world,’ says Piketty. ‘In the aftermath of the recession, much of the recovery went to the very rich,’ says Rotman. ‘Meanwhile those with low levels of education are falling behind.’

For Piketty, much of the problem lies with salaries paid to ‘supermanagers’. Rotman’s article points out that according to Piketty’s figures, ‘about 70 percent of the top 0.1 percent of earners are corporate executives.’ Usually, rising inequality is explained by the race between demand and supply of high skills. ‘I think that this is an important part of the overall explanation,’ Piketty says, ‘but this is not all. In order to explain why rising inequality has been so strong at the very top in the U.S., one needs more than a skill-based explanation.’ The answer is to found in ‘pay-setting institutions and corporate governance,’ and Piketty concludes, ‘above a certain level, it is very hard to find in the data any link between pay and performance.’ Again – the problem is political, not technological.

In the UK and to an extent France the problem is slightly different; ‘accumulated wealth, much of it inherited, is returning to relative levels not seen since before the First World War,’ according to Rotman. ‘Privately held wealth in some European countries is now about 500 to 600 percent of annual national income, a level approaching that of the early 1900s.’

For Piketty, this is ‘a radical departure from how we have thought about progress.’ Inequality is supposed to reduce as countries become more technologically developed. ‘Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ But – this is not happening.

 

Creating connections

It’s at this point that the importance for higher education becomes apparent. ‘Though income growth among the top 1 percent is an important phenomenon,’ writes David Rotman, quoting his colleague David Autor, a MIT economist, ‘the disparity in skills and education among the other 99 percent is “a big deal, a much bigger deal.” The gap between median earnings for people with a high school diploma and those with a college degree was $17,411 for men and $12,887 for women in 1979; by 2012 it had risen to $34,969 and $23,280. Education, Autor says, “is the most powerful thing you can do to affect lifetime earnings.” ’

Rather than driving inequality, technology drives connectivity. From a higher education perspective, it enables people to learn anywhere, reduces access costs, reduces the costs project work and real-time modelling, enables people to stay in touch cost-free and aids collaboration.

So where from here? What we as providers need to do is to find ways of creating greater access to learning, within this changed environment. And technology is the best way to do that – as we’ll see for several reasons.

Providers do have to take some of the rap for the disconnect between what they think makes a fit-for-purpose graduate, compared with what employers think. McKinsey’s recent Education for Employment survey found that 74% of providers think graduates leave university prepared for an entry-level position. But ask employers, and the figure you get is just 35%. Nor are graduates themselves under any illusions, with 38% answering positively to the same question.

With rising inequality in mind, MIT economist Damon Acemoglu argues how essential it is for education to come to the forefront as traditional low-skill jobs become increasingly automated. ‘I think most people are not sufficiently informed about the sort of skills that they will require,’ he says. ‘There isn’t quite enough of an understanding that most U.S. workers who don’t have college degrees are not going to be able to get good-paying manufacturing jobs.’ For Acemoglu, ‘those types of bread-and-butter jobs of previous decades have gone; now those tasks are being performed by robots and computers.’ Instead, there is an ‘explosion’ of demand in the service sector; ‘in middle- and low-skill services, for example, in health care, clerical occupations or customer service.’ Acemoglu’s belief is that ‘for the most part, U.S. workers, especially U.S. males, haven’t really made the transition to performing them.’ And this is where up-skilling – via education – becomes both paramount and urgent. ‘These are jobs that workers with high school or two-year college degrees can perform.’

The importance for HE is also highlighted in a new report published by the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice. Technology, Growth and Inequality by Ivan Rossignol outlines a way for governments to promote the benefits of technology whilst protecting the economic income of citizens. Essentially, the answers are to focus energies on accelerating some areas and containing others:

 

Accelerate

  • Education
  • Skills
  • Healthcare
  • Connectivity and trade
  • Pace of reform

 

Contain 

  • Regulate new sectors
  • Protect trade and investment barriers
  • Protect social benefits

 

This is, let’s keep emphasising, a political framework. It will not happen by goodwill, good intentions and hope – it needs to be driven by governments. Where it’s sadly unlikely to fulfil its potential is that principles such as protecting social benefits and increasing healthcare provision are seen as left-wing principles, and dominant economies tend to be run by neoliberal, right-wing governments. However, we can at least lay these principles on the table, and offer them for consideration.

And what can be done is to improve things as best we can within our resources – which is to focus on giving students of all backgrounds the best chances they can get, and focus efforts on removing price barriers for them wherever possible.

A way to drive this is to emphasise that happiness and welfare are important and fundamental. They are not secondary to economies; they underpin economies. They are hard to measure – and as importance is always skewed to that which can be measured, suffer as a result.

Technology can help economies, prosperity and social wellbeing, but it has to be driven forward by real people. To do this, we need more virtuous entrepreneurs. At ELU, we try to create social capital by actively reducing the skills gap, increasing digital learning wherever possible, using asset-light campuses, focused on competency-based learning and branding EU-wide, to remove associations with elitism. Our ethos is to encourage personal freedoms and create a focus on jobs and empowerment, funnelling students to a job at the end of the process. Judicious and disruptive use of technology is a key part of this.

Consider the Legatum Prosperity Index – which attempts to resolve the ‘hard to measure’ issue by arguing that ‘national success is about more than just wealth.’ Moving beyond GDP and similarly narrow measurements of prosperity, the Index identifies successful countries and regions ‘against a broad set of metrics covering areas such as health, education, opportunity, social capital, personal freedom and more.’ In other words, it uses subjective as well as objective data – ‘both wealth and wellbeing.’ It includes factors such as democratic governance, entrepreneurial opportunity and social cohesion, all of which do not register in terms of GDP.

For example, in the UK, areas with relatively low GDP can have very high life satisfaction and overall prosperity scores – Devon, West & South of Northern Ireland and Dorset, for example – whereas London region Wandsworth emerges as number 1 for GDP per capita, but is way down the life satisfaction index at number 132 (of 170).

If nothing else, such figures demonstrate that living in areas of high GDP has no correlation with personal satisfaction and happiness. Rather than chasing GDP, we should be examining what improves people’s quality of life – and education is a key part of this.

If there is doubt that social wellbeing is important for economic development, consider the model below. Published by the Legatum Institute, it argues that the more social wellbeing flourishes, the more economic prosperity does too. In other words, social wellbeing and personal empowerment is a fundamental part of economic prosperity – not a result of economic prosperity.

 

[See image on page 2 of this link]. Source: Legatum Institute, Prosperity and its Distribution: Measuring Progress Towards a Prosperous World for All.

 

Is university a luxury club?

In today’s knowledge economy with data, knowledge and insights available at the click of a button, the traditional university – brick walls, strict entry criteria, a homogenous culture and self-perpetuating ecosystem – would never have been invented. This is not to say that traditional universities are no longer fit for purpose. But it does say that there is plenty of room for other, non-traditional learning providers to come to the fore, offer something different and enable those students who for financial, geographical, cultural or other reasons are unable to join the traditional university model.

Previous articles have discussed how technology has enabled the rise of blended learning, bootcamps and nanodegrees. Learning and transformation is the important thing, not being part of an elitist club. ELU wants to contribute to the levelling of the playing field for people who have the abilities, talent and potential for university but are excluded (or feel they are excluded) by traditional suppliers.

Consider the German model of ‘dual’ Vocational Education and Training. In essence, this system offers apprenticeships in the workplace combined with a ‘vocational school’, offering classroom-based education. ‘Perhaps the most striking feature of this system, for those unfamiliar with it, is the engagement of businesses (and employers in general) in the conception and implementation of dual apprenticeships,’ says the Bertelsmann Stiftung report Cooperation in action:  the dual vocational training system in Germany. In practice, this means that ‘co-operation between employers, vocational schools, chambers, governmental bodies and labour unions is at the heart.’ The dual system ‘seeks to provide the labour market with the skilled workforce it requires and to equip young apprentices with market-relevant skills for their future professional lives. Given that it is employers who are the ultimate users of skills, it is eminently sensible to involve them in both the conception and the implementation of dual training programmes.’

Recently in the news is Andela, a company that assesses tens of thousands of tech applicants from across Africa and then selects the top 1% of talent. As well as match-making high-achieving individuals with companies, the model is creating social prosperity too – enabling talent that might otherwise not have access to good jobs, to reach large corporates and build a successful career. The company’s innovative model has now been recognised by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who along with Priscilla Chan has shown confidence in Andela’s potential by investing $24 million in it.

There are several ways to define the non-traditional university, for students who want to achieve their potential but feel they won’t be accepted on the classical model.

 

  • Rethink the role of academics – the learning experience is shaped to the ultimate workplace, not the campus.
  • Equality becomes part of the university brand. Many classical models present themselves to the world as exclusive and best-in-class. Whilst the quality of the teaching should be peerless, the university itself should not be advertised as elitist.
  • Help less privileged students – financially, socially and culturally.
  • Be a connection hotspot. University is about learning, incubating talent, and facilitating growth. It is not a static, self-perpetuating ecosystem where responsibilities stop the moment the student graduates.
  • Focus on the freelancer economy. Jobs are no longer for life. Help students thrive in the new flexible contract world.
  • A lifelong learning approach. Continuous professional development is the key to success in this new world. Help students adopt this mentality, rather than sustaining the sense that learning stops when you graduate.
  • Empower students to become entrepreneurs – build that philosophy as part of their armoury.

 

Technology is not going to solve inequality, because that can only be done by political will; regulation and taxation with voter support. In MIT Technology Review, David Rotman writes, ‘Since the 1950s, economics has been dominated by the idea—notably formulated by Simon Kuznets, a Harvard economist and Nobel laureate—that inequality diminishes as countries become more technologically developed and more people are able to take advantage of the resulting opportunities. Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ Quoted in the article, Thomas Piketty states dolefully that the hope that technology will lead to ‘the triumph of human capital over financial capital and real estate, capable managers over fat cat stockholders, and skill over nepotism’ is ‘largely illusory.’

No one would deny that there’s considerable work to be done. But let’s move away from blaming technology for inequality and see where the real perpetuating and widening of inequality lies – with political decision-making that protects the interests of a very small elite. Recent scandals such as the Panama Papers show how such elites are able to drain economic sources whilst avoiding contributing to the host countries where they pay staff as little as they can get away with. If that can be stopped, inequality will reduce as a consequence. Technology, meanwhile, rather than being scapegoated, should be embraced.

 

Sources

Kaushik Basu comments: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/is-technology-making-inequality-worse/

Colin Gordon comments: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-computer-did-it-technology-and-inequality

Daron Acemoglu on inequality: https://minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/interview-with-daron-acemoglu

Stats on tech and inequality:

MIT Technology review quotes (Brynjolfsson, Steve Jurvetson and Thomas Piketty): https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531726/technology-and-inequality/

Further Brynjolfsson quotes: http://www.businessinsider.com/erik-brynjolfsson-2014-1?IR=T

Further Brynjolfsson: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

Legatum Prosperity Index: http://www.li.com/programmes/prosperity-index

Fundación Innovación Bankinter  model: https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/ftf_j2016

Andela: https://andela.com/

Andela financing: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/16/technology/andela-24-million-chan-zuckerberg-foundation/index.html

Dual vocational system in Germany: http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/publications/publication/did/cooperation-in-action-the-dual-vocational-training-system-in-germany/

World Bank and IMF growth figures and Ivan Rossignol material:

https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/documents/20183/85804/Ivan+Rossignol+June+2_Technology+Growth+and+Inequality/8ff7578d-71bd-42bd-b218-2622f90d8aaa

Millennials: why are they different?

The current generation of college graduates have very different expectations and hopes from their predecessors. Those expectations are attached not only to their education provider but also their eventual employer. And yet, both employers and universities often respond to today’s students with out-dated models – treating them in much the same as the generation before them, and expecting the same behaviour and results in return.

 

This is a mistake. To maximise performance from millennials, it’s vital for organisations and universities to speak to them in their language, package experiences for them in ways they relate to and identify with, and create an environment that will resonate with them.

 

So how can prospective employers and education providers do this? Let’s start by looking at some background. They key difference for today’s graduates is their digital native status. Millennials born after 1990 – the ‘Generation Z’ that comprises our current crop of graduates – have enjoyed an unprecedented level of technology as they’ve grown up that sets them apart from their predecessors. Generation Z cannot imagine life without the internet or mobile phones, and they have less willingness to accept social injustice. A 2012 Net Impact survey discovered that 88% of millennials see a positive culture as vital to their career and 86% stated that they needed to find their work interesting. Other research has indicated that more than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that better fits their values, and 90% want to use their talents for the greater good.

 

Writing in Fast Company, Paula Davis-Laack quotes a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) which suggests there are five key principles for getting the most from your millennials’ mindsets. They are:

 

  • Know me. Invest the time to understand the student as a person and what interests them both inside and outside of work.
  • Challenge me. The student wants to have continued opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Connect me. Relationships are important – the student wants to interact and collaborate with a wide network of people.
  • Inspire me. Students want a sense of meaning from their work.
  • Unleash me. Students want to take ‘good risks’ and have autonomy over their time and projects.

 

These five points have been written with a focus on female millennials. But as Davis-Laack goes on persuasively to point out, they chime rather neatly with suggestions from two other experts. She points to ‘centered leadership’, which consists of these five dimensions:

 

  • Meaning
  • Framing (adapting to change and building self-awareness)
  • Energising (tapping into the our natural energy reserves and rhythms)
  • Connecting (interacting and collaborating with a wide network of people)
  • Engaging (taking good risks and using your voice).

 

And these five are not too far away from the PERMA model of well-being, developed by Martin Seligman:

 

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

 

Davis-Laack’s point then, is that meeting the needs and expectations of millennials is not as complex or as alien for older generations to understand as might have been supposed. All these models chime with each other – and an underlying principle of all three is emotional resonance. The above lists are not about targets, or climbing pyramid hierarchies. They are about personal development and learning outcomes.

 

If we were to examine these lists more closely from a management point of view, we might want to see more emphasis on skills-based learning and a focus on aptitude. If we add these points the mix, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in how to respond to millennials – and how to get them to respond to you.

 

A different mindset

Millennials have little interest in a job for life (a sea-change from the baby boomer generation’s worldview); have high ethical and responsible concerns when choosing the company they want to work for; and want their work environments to be attractive, comfortable and stimulating. Perhaps with this last point in mind, millennials are most attracted by tech companies, with Google, Apple and Facebook very clear winners when millennials are asked which companies they would like to work for.

 

In aggregated research from the Brookings Institution, Goldman Sachs and Nielsen, published in GSV Tomorrow, Google gained 19.7% of the ‘where do you want to work’ vote, Apple achieved 12.7% and Facebook 8.9%. In other words, over 40% of millennials want to work for a leading tech company. It’s not until you get to the fourth-rated choice, the State Department, that a non-tech organisation appears, with 7.9%.

 

According to figures quoted in Forbes Magazine, 62% of millennials believe they can make a difference in their local communities and some 40% even believe they can literally change the world. Millennials are not willing to play the game and climb the corporate ladder as past generations. They are doers, and they expect companies to change in line with them. If they don’t, they are not afraid to jump ship and take risks.

 

Erika Janovich, Marketing Co-ordinator for the StressCrete Group, spent time working with millennials when she went back to college as a mature student. Writing in The Evolllution, Janovich presents five conclusions about the values that millennials place highest faith in.

 

  • Confidence in your convictions
  • Technologically savvy
  • Engagement is important in learning
  • You can be a ‘me first’ team player
  • Flexibility is the new secure

 

Let’s consider these in turn. ‘They spoke back to teachers without any concerns for retribution,’ Janovich says, contrasting this with her own upbringing where ‘I had to express [my opinions] in a way that was still respectful of my elders. There were times I admired their sheer guts for speaking their minds and fighting for what they wanted.’

 

Perhaps the key distinction of the millennial generation, ‘their knowledge of technology was incredible. Any time I ran into technological issues, all I had to do was ask any of my younger classmates. They were happy to share their knowledge, and often looked at me with confusion wondering how I survived my teens without a computer.’

 

Time and again, engagement emerges as a vital quality to get the best out of millennials. ‘I’ll never forget the term coined by one of the baby boomer professors: “Educainment”.’ Students needed to be continuously entertained and stimulated in class. ‘If not, they’d find what they needed on their laptops or phones. Teachers fought to make the information more exciting and attempted to relate the lessons to students’ lives.’

 

Millennials are less willing to suppress their emotions in the workplace. ‘They were more “touchy feely” than my generation… My classmates wanted to be the best, but not at the expense of others,’ Janovich says.

 

An interesting job, a sense that they are doing something good for wider society and a stimulating place to work are the values millennials place most emphasis on. Janovich’s assessment is that ‘they wanted flexible working hours, a fun work environment and an enlightening experience. When they were done with the experience, they would move on to a new one… they made me see that work-life balance should be a major consideration.’

 

Breaking the myths

And yet, not all millennials meet the stereotypes. Research by KPMG (itself a company with nearly 60% of its workforce composed of millennials) in association with Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College Center for Work & Family, garnered evidence that bucks some of these trends. Interviewing 1,100 millennials, Harrington found that ‘60% said they plan to stay in their jobs to advance, versus 25% who want to get ahead by moving from employer to employer.’ Harrington agrees that there is no ‘job for life’ – ‘fewer organizations offer lifetime job arrangements… and the world has moved away from the idea of long-term job security. But… at a rate of two to one, millennials prefer to stay, and that was surprising.’

 

Harrington’s figures also agree that millennials feel strongly about work-life balance. ‘The majority felt that their lives outside of work were much more important to their sense of identity than their careers. Few – approximately 20% – were willing to pursue these goals at the expense of their personal lives.’

 

The KPMG/Harrington research did not find, as expected, that socially conscious attitudes figure highly in millennials’ set of values. ‘ “How much I am helping others” and “contribution to society” were among the lowest ranked items in importance of career success measures for the millennials surveyed,’ writes Stephanie Vozza, quoting the survey in Fast Company.

 

And although the millennials were as comfortable with technology as expected, this doesn’t make them people-averse. ‘When we asked how they found their most recent position, instead of saying “social media” like we expected, the number one answer was that they were referred by a friend, relative, or another connection,’ Harrington is quoted as saying. ‘They are using the tried-and-true method of networking.’

 

There are lessons here for both millennials themselves and for the companies recruiting them. One of the consequences of growing older is that you know your own mind more – or, to put it less kindly, you become more set in your ways. One of the joys of youth is that you are still open to new ideas, your opinions are still forming and your view of the world is not set in stone. A fallout from this, when interviewing millennials about what they expect from university and work, is that their opinions are still in a state of flux. That makes it harder for people writing about millennials to come to hard and fast conclusions about them.

 

Looking to the future

What, then, do learning institutions need to do differently? The first lesson is to understand the millennial mindset, and this primarily involves understanding the principle of co-opting. Millennials are not materialistic, and they share rather than accumulate. UK newspaper The Guardian recently reported that average material consumption fell from 15 tonnes in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013; a huge reduction. In the same article, climate change author Chris Goodall, added that people now spend more on services than physical goods.’ Millennials are less interested in possessing; rather than store thousands of emails, they use Snapchat and delete instantly. Instead of hoarding photos, books, CDs and DVDs like their predecessors, everything is accessed online and there is little sense of possession in the traditional sense of the word.

 

This change has caused a psyche shift as well. They co-create businesses together. They buy houses together. This co-operative shift makes the education dynamic suddenly very different. Classes where students team up are more likely to generate innovative thinking than individual study. Problem-solving can be done more quickly in groups rather than separately. So the insight is, enable students to work together more. Enable them to spark ideas off each other, to come to new conclusions and reach new insights. Let them learn together and the results can be surprisingly effective.

 

Embracing the technology, rather than resisting it, is also essential. Philippe Caignon, a 3M National Teaching Fellow, argues that digital learning can innovate and enrich teaching, and is an addition rather than a replacement for classical teaching methods. ‘Digital learning is the means through which professors can enhance their teaching strategies and adapt their pedagogy to the ever-changing needs of their students,’ he says. Quoted alongside Caignon in How to teach millennials? Embrace technology by Sara DuBreuil is Dr. Nancy Acemian, a professor in the Department of Computer Software and Engineering Department at Concordia University. ‘It is a win-win situation,’ she says. ‘Profs have more fun in class, students have more fun and are more engaged with the course content, which is the first step in learning.’

 

What we can be sure of is that if you respond to millennials in the language they understand – enable them to work with the technology they are familiar with, and treat them responsibly, they will enhance the organisation and hopefully won’t jump ship at the first opportunity. Millennials will make up 75% of the working population by 2025. It’s their world now, and it’s the older generation who need to adapt to them; not the other way round.

 

Sources

 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/deniserestauri/2015/08/30/millennial-handbook-lesson-3-only-i-can-create-this-opportunity-for-myself/#d60164350117

 

http://gsvtomorrow.com/market-commentary/the-tattoo-generation/

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3056674/the-future-of-work/no-millennials-dont-need-special-treatment-to-thrive-at-work

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3054158/the-future-of-work/8-myths-about-millennials-at-work-that-need-to-die

 

http://evolllution.com/opinions/lessons-millennials-adult-students-reflection/

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3046989/what-millennial-employees-really-want

 

http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/main/stories/2015/01/21/2015-winter-teaching-and-learning-festival-to-teach-millennials-embrace-technology.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/29/uk-consumes-far-less-ons-crops-energy-metals-average-material-consumption

 

http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=1047

 

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/may-june-11/teaching-the-millennials.html

 

 

 

The opportunities for virtual reality

ELU 1

 

Does virtual reality have a place in the classroom, or is it a distraction – a gimmick to lure students with exciting technology, rather than traditional learning?

The answers might surprise you. But first, let’s consider some background context about virtual reality (VR). Essentially, VR consists of computer-generated images that appear on a headset. As well as sound and images, it can create sensory experiences too – with hand controllers in place, wearers can touch digital objects, move them around and influence their digital environment.

 

Whilst the obvious audience for VR is gaming and immersive entertainment, the opportunities for business are huge too. Writing in TechCrunch, Sean Jacobsohn outlines the likely first beneficiaries for VR technology – among them medicine, manufacturing, engineering, real estate and, most usefully for our purposes, education.

 

Transformative results in several fields are already being experienced. ‘Just last month,’ Jacobsohn writes, ‘a group of surgeons in Miami was able to perform open heart surgery on a four-month-old baby thanks to VR imaging software and a Google Cardboard Viewer.’ In factories, VR is being used ‘to optimize product engineering, design, manufacturing and operations,’ with Ford using it to ‘design new vehicles, develop autonomous vehicle technologies and collaborate with teammates across the globe.’ And in real estate, ‘brokers and developers are using virtual reality tours to speed up leasing and sales.’

 

The uses of VR in education

In the classroom, there are several key benefits that VR can bring. The first is how it enhances learning by creating immersive experiences. ‘Much of this early foray into VR­-based learning has centered on the hard sciences — biology, anatomy, geology and astronomy — as the curricular focus and learning opportunities are notably enriched through interaction with dimensional objects, animals and environments,’ Elizabeth Reede, co-founder of WoofbertVR, explains. And ‘in other areas of education, many classes have used VR tools to collaboratively construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings.’

 

It’s well-known that we learn more effectively if we experience things visually. So VR is not a gimmick; rather, it is an enhancing tool that can benefit education in almost limitless ways. ‘This global distribution of VR content and access will undoubtedly influence a pedagogical shift as these new technologies allow a literature teacher in Chicago to “take” her students to Verona to look at the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or a teacher in the Bronx to “bring” her Ancient Civilizations class to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza,’ as Reede evocatively puts it.

 

Second is the way VR can teach students to work collaboratively. Writing in Singularity Hub, Jason Ganz takes this idea a step further. ‘The idea of VR education truly becomes useful when you combine VR with another disruptive technology – project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a teaching methodology which focuses students on large, long-term projects to solve real world problems.’ Ganz offers the example of tasking students with designing a sustainable building. They are graded on architectural design prowess and engineering feasibility as well as the sustainability element of the project.

 

What VR can do, that a classically taught project can’t do, is that it’s able to calculate, for example, the energy usage of the building. Learning by trial and error becomes enjoyable, rather than laborious, because you can keep re-working the building until it is right. That way, the student learns things that he or she wouldn’t otherwise learn. You can discover innovations by experimenting. You get to understand how the mechanics of being on site work, without having to leave the classroom. In effect, you’re getting a work placement experience, without having to leave the lecture hall.

 

VR could thus address the problem of students not being ‘adequately prepared for the jobs that exist in the modern, information economy,’ Ganz says. In his view, with classical education ‘students are being prepared for a world that doesn’t exist any more.’ Instead, by creating a culture of education that allows students ‘to work together to foster innovation, we will actively be creating citizens who are prepared for the challenges of the modern world.’

 

Consider how some universities are already using VR in this way. Writing in EdTech, Dave Doucette points to Virginia Tech, which is now using VR to ‘help researchers visualize Big Data in new and innovative ways.’ The modelling capabilities of VR have been exploited by ‘a team from the institution’s geography department [which] combined atmospheric and ground data to recreate the sights and sounds of the EF-5 tornado that ravaged Oklahoma in May 2013.’ And at the University of Maryland, similar data analysis and manipulation has been performed ‘inside the Augmentarium, a space on the main campus at College Park that combines projection displays, augmented reality visors and more.’ Here, the intention is to help generate new insights into astronomy, biology and atmospheric and oceanic studies.

 

Not only can VR enhance the classroom experience, lead to innovation and give students real-world experiences, it can significantly improve learning at a distance. Currently, it’s often assumed that whilst distance learning can be an excellent adjunct to classroom-based education, students will always learn better when they are in a room with a lecturer. With VR, that distinction between being in a classroom versus being in your home office becomes more blurred. As Peter Diamindis puts it in Singularity Hub, ‘Why go to conferences, school, or travel for business if you can have richer, deeper experiences from the comfort of your living room?’

 

Optimising the possibilities

What about the future? And what do business schools need to do differently, once they have looked at investing in HR?

 

Getting students to work collaboratively leads to a probable eventual outcome – social VR. We need ‘collaborative virtual reality communities which connect people from around the world and allow them to work together on real world problems,’ says Jason Ganz. ‘Social virtual reality is going to be an absolute game changer for collaboration,’ he says, arguing that it will make students feel like they are actually in the room with another person. ‘Very soon,’ Ganz believes, ‘we’ll start to see virtual reality seminars, meetup groups and hackerspaces.’

 

Quoted in The Near Future of VR and AR: What You Need to Know on Singularity Hub, Philip Rosedale, CEO of High Fidelity outlines several changes that he believes will influence take-up of VR over the next three years or so. Briefly, they are:

 

  • Screen resolution will match visual brain input. ‘There will be a moment when we can’t tell the difference between reality and virtual/augmented reality (at least with our eyes),’ Rosedale says.
  • Eye tracking will add presence and control. ‘Once you put screens next to somebody’s face, you can also watch their eyes moving.’ This means that in a VR meeting, ‘you’ll be able to make eye contact with people. It also means you can control your computer. You’ll be able to use your eye as a mouse.’
  • Face-tracking creates real appearances, not just avatars. Hardware near a face can measure and track that face. ‘This means we’ll be able to animate you at a distance, talking to somebody else with a perfect representation of your facial movements.’ Your avatar in the meeting will ‘move and express itself emotionally like you do.’
  • More benefits for distance learning. ‘If you can buy your kid a $600 virtual reality headset, and they can study five times as fast as anybody else, and they don’t have to be in a particular neighborhood or near a school to do it, they are just going to adopt these things. They are that much better.’
  • Screens will become obsolete. Future devices ‘will allow you to view a virtual TV anywhere, on any wall, or a mobile phone screen on the palm of your hand, or the air in front of you,’ which means that there will be no need to carry ‘clunky glass devices in your pockets’ or even have a TV on the wall any longer.

     

    None of the above are sci-fi possibilities or future dreams. They are all within reach; the technology is there, and the advances are in all cases happening already in prototype or not far away. Sums in excess of $5 billion have been invested in both VR and AR (augmented reality – which we’ll look at in another article) over the past two years by every major technology company, including Google, Microsoft, HTC and Samsung. It’s not a fad or a gimmick – it’s here to stay, and it’s worthwhile for universities to develop a strategy now about when, and to what extent, they will invest in the technology.

Sources

Why we need a new education model

Higher education is in crisis. Companies aren’t getting the employees they expect, and are discovering that graduates aren’t fully prepared for roles once they are in place. At the same time, students have different expectations of what they want from their learning providers. Generation Z are no longer passive learners. A combination of seeing themselves as customers, alongside an expectation of personalisation and instant feedback from their experiences as digital natives, creates a very different landscape for education providers.

 

Compounding this is a crisis in funding. Student fees are multiplying, and for many higher education students, fees are reaching a tipping point – the debt can become higher than their projected income expectations, making them question going to university at all. Those from less well-off households are hit particularly hard as a result. The global recession has fractured higher education, as described by David E. Shi, a former president of Furman University in South Carolina. This has led a situation ‘fragmented between haves and have-nots,’ he says in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

This perfect storm of company discontent, student expectations and financial considerations makes it pressing that traditional models evolve. The rise of MOOCs, boot camps and distance learning is quietly, but pervasively, pressing on the prestige and ubiquity of traditional universities. Things are changing, and with employers less focused on traditional degrees and more interested in what potential employees can bring to the business, this shift away from traditional pedagogical approaches is only going to continue.

 

A powerful way forward is to offer hybrid models – revolutionising the classroom-only model and augmenting it with online modules, in-work internships and guest lecturing from business leaders, directors and managers, as well as academics. A hybrid model can be visualised in the following way – a rich balance of the best of classical models, but incorporating disruptive innovation and advances in technology too.

 

Hybrid models can offer advantages for students over traditional universities in five key ways, as this article will explore.

 

Bridging the gaps

First is the ability to better match graduates with employers. Hybrids have the potential to be the bridge between the academic and the corporate worlds. By having options that include – for example – formal working relationships with corporate affiliates, in-work placements and a focus on guest lectures from business leaders, directors and managers, hybrid models give the graduate a better understanding of the workplace and can identify where they need to fill gaps in experience, in addition to their academic training.

 

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, says that ‘what we’ve been historically good at for a very long time is telling the world exactly how long someone has sat at a desk. But we’ve been much less precise in saying what people have actually learned.’ LeBlanc asserts that in the past, a college degree was ‘a proxy for certain things: the ability to think critically, the ability to write well, the ability to present well.’ Today, however, LeBlanc argues that ‘when I meet with employers, I will sometimes ask them, “Have you hired someone with a college degree who doesn’t write well? Have you hired somebody with a college degree that you wouldn’t put in front of a group of customers to make a presentation, who can’t understand a balance sheet?” And it’s like touching a nerve.’

 

Ryan Craig, Managing Director at University Ventures and a former McKinsey consultant, takes up this point. ‘The national skills gap is well documented in the mainstream media and a top priority for policymakers and CEOs alike.’ And yet, ‘our system of higher education produces only one STEM graduate for every 2.5 job openings.’ The numbers are even worse for women, ‘who earn just 18% of computer science degrees.’ And although there are in excess of five million STEM job postings annually, ‘fewer engineering degrees are awarded today than in the early 1980s.’

 

For Craig, too many students graduate without the right skills to match what employers want. His argument is that ‘talented students from many institutions need to be trained for and matched to many employers.’ This is a role that coding bootcamps and staffing companies like eIntern can fulfil. They will ‘come to campus and provide a clear pathway to a career’ and will also ‘provide valuable no-risk training to specifically prepare students for the high-risk problems employers are trying to solve.’

 

There will always be a time-lag between what can be taught on courses, and what companies need and want their new employees to be able to do – especially in, but not limited to, the tech field. Teachers can only teach what they know, and syllabuses have to be agreed and approved well in advance of students being taught. Yet this only proves the need for some kind of shift in education, towards courses that are more closely aligned with, and actively influenced by, real-time organisations. In response, Southern New Hampshire has developed ‘College for America’ to address some of these gaps between what universities are offering and what businesses want to see. That’s why I think it has had such a great response from large-scale employers,’ Paul LeBlanc says. Namechecking other early starters in this area – Excelsior College, Western Governors University, Charter Oak State College in Connecticut for example –he argues that College for America is ‘the first that has been fully untethered from the traditional course.’

 

Matching capabilities to work

The second element is that hybrid programmes lend themselves better to a competency-based approach. In Education Dive Keith Button writes, ‘advocates say competency-based education puts the focus on students’ capabilities rather than how many hours per week they spend in the classroom.’ In the US, at least 200 institutions have competency-based education programmes – and yet ‘the U.S. Department of Education has been slow to process the applications of colleges and universities seeking approval to receive federal financial aid’ for these programmes. This is an issue that is being addressed, but by no means resolved – perhaps because of the prestige factor associated with traditional university models. Button continues, ‘the benefit for employers,’ [advocates] say, ‘is that prospective employees can be judged more easily, based on their demonstrated competencies rather than guessing how their grades will translate to real-world work.’ LeBlanc adds, ‘You’re going to see more competency-based programs coming and I think they’re game changers.’

 

It is true to say that employers are changing their approach to what they expect from their graduates, and it’s even possible to question whether traditional university models are still fit for purpose. Witness Penguin Books, the global publishing empire run by Pearson, which recently announced it was lifting its requirement for employees to have a traditional degree. A self-aware and ambitious student can recognise that the tide is changing in the corporate world, and increasingly choose the university course that best suits them; rather than feeling that the name of the university is the most important thing.

 

Rethinking the campus

Third is customisation. Students get a more personalised experience, and this has notable positive effects on achievement. The ‘hands-on’ element of hybrid models is analogous to an apprenticeship model – internships or similar work experience inside real-life organisations give students a much better grasp of what employers expect. ‘Many of today’s rewarding and well-paying jobs do not require a university degree, but do require some form of post-secondary training,’ says Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. Arguing that ‘vocational education is smarter than you think,’ Wyman says that ‘the focus on college preparation often fails to make one important connection: the connection between school to the world of work.’ Wyman here is talking about work that does not require an academic qualification, yet benefits from in-work experience and along the way gives workers the social skills they need to thrive in a work environment. But the principle can be applied squarely to hybrid models at universities. If we want our students to succeed in the workplace, they need to know how that workplace operates – it is not simply a case of transferring academic knowledge, but adapting it.

 

The fourth key advantage is an enhanced experience. Hybrid models can stimulate students’ learning by being modular: one-on-one sessions one day, maths on another, visiting lectures on a third. The approach might be a linear stream, rather than a series of courses. Or consider TEx, an initiative by Texas University. The ‘Total Education Experience’ enables students to learn ‘through simulations, team-based projects and clinical experiences.’ Ensuring that the content can be delivered by mobile phone – ‘to meet students where they are, with the technology that they are used to,’ according to Marni Baker Stein, chief innovation officer of the Institute of Transformational Learning, ‘a student’s path through a course is automatically personalized to his or her needs and learning style.’

 

TEx is the kind of innovation that makes the delivery of hybrid models a reality. ‘Beyond fully online courses, TEx is designed to support a wide range of innovative teaching methods in classrooms, laboratories and in the field that ultimately will provide richer and more accessible content for students while preserving the quality of a UT degree.’ In other words, personalisation enabled by technology – a compelling proposition for today’s graduates.

 

Thinking too far outside the box?

It’s not too much of a leap from seeing the benefits of hybrid models to ask – do we need universities at all? Campus models are based on the principle of scarcity, as Peter Smith explores in his book Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning. In an age where reams of information are available at our fingertips online – ‘abundant information,’ as Smith defines it – is there a need for students to attend classes at all? ‘Abundant information – in its many, divergent forms and uses,’ Smith writes recently in Educause Review, creates ‘a new ecology’ that consists of ‘three big changes, unleashed by technology and the global economy, which affect education. They eliminate scarcity as we have experienced it.’ Two of those changes are ‘unlimited content and unlimited access.’

 

The rise of MOOCs bears witness to this shift in thinking. Many – but by no means all – of the courses described as competency-based are purely online offerings. But here it’s time to sound some warning notes. Yes, MOOCs can offer outstanding learning opportunities for those unable to attend university courses – whether for reasons of finance, location, disability, family circumstance or other reasons. But the evidence consistently indicates that without an element of classroom-based learning, students will not reach their full potential. We could make a similar point about coding bootcamps. They work best as a top-up; not a replacement.

 

Perhaps the most obvious argument against Smith’s ‘abundant information’ model is that someone needs to curate that information, make sense of it and teach it – in ways that are absolutely no more or less central to student success than they were before the internet developed. Yes, students can access huge amounts of information and universities no longer have the monopoly on scarcity. In fact, there’s no such thing as scarcity any more. The problem now is that there is too much information, and the academic institution’s role is that of shaper and guider.

 

Institutions that can offer a mixed portfolio of lecture, seminar, online add-ons and in-work placements are best placed to meet the needs of both students and companies – needs which fluctuate depending on the individual student and individual organisation. For tech companies in particular, there is the added complication that there will inevitably be a time-lag between what is taught on a university course, and what businesses need their graduates to know when they start work – simply because of how quickly technology changes.

 

Make sure the student gets the job

The answer to the deliberately provocative question ‘do we still need universities’ is to challenge the disconnect between the university experience and the job offer at the end of the process. Ryan Craig quotes Mike Fishbein, a marketing guru who has discussed what such ‘full-stack’ education companies might look like. ‘Fishbein’s view is that the goal for the end-user is not a quality educational experience, but rather a job: “Jobs are the top of the education stack.” According to Fishbein, “a full-stack education company might not look like a school at all. It could look like an employer, a lender, a school, and/or a recruiter all rolled into one” – because the point is to provide all services required to get the student a (better) job.’

 

In other words, for Craig, ‘if you’re going to go to the trouble of creating a product to improve higher education, and if you’re going to devote your life to a company to advance that product, you might as well make sure the student gets a job at the end of the day.’ Otherwise, the experience of university is all the student is finally being rewarded with – and in an age of increasing fees and commoditisation, that’s where many universities are, it could be argued, heading in the wrong direction, exposing themselves to attack from vocational courses and MOOCs as a result.

 

For Craig, writing in a separate article in Forbes, the key is to link performance to the job offer. ‘Expect to see some colleges offer a performance-based value proposition: pay tuition only once you achieve the desired outcome. For most students, that means a job – either a new job or a promotion, but definitely higher remuneration than the status quo.’ This kind of performance-based college will be, for Craig, ‘a full-stack higher education enterprise, in that it will take a strong interest in what you study, and in making sure you get the job.’

 

On the money

There’s one more key benefit that hybrid models bring. As fees rise, higher education ‘is increasingly being commodified, and its access restricted’ writes Ethan Miller in the Huffington Post. Many students begin to feel priced out of the market, and higher fees can in some cases prevent highly able and gifted students from participating in the higher education that they deserve. Miller quotes stark figures – ‘in the last ten years, tuition and fees increased 66 percent beyond inflation at public four-year institutions and 26 percent beyond inflation at private not-for-profit institutions’ (figures based on US institutions). ‘Nationwide, total student debt has surpassed one trillion dollars and the average student with debt owes about $26,600.’

 

Hybrid models can disrupt these ballooning figures, as they can be more economically viable by running on a lower cost base than traditional, exclusively campus models. The model at College for America envisages education as an ‘on-ramp’ – ‘to more stable work, an on-ramp to further study.’ Identifying that one of the key barriers for their target audience is cost, LeBlanc aims to make it ‘ultra-affordable, which is why our program is out in the market at $2,500 a year.’ College for America focuses on working adults, who according to LeBlanc are ‘the majority of today’s college students’ but who are ‘often least well-served by the traditional higher ed industry.’

 

Students have changing expectations from their learning providers – and businesses want changes too. Traditional universities need to wake up to this change – and there are key opportunities for hybrid models to steal a march in the new competitive age by giving learners, and organisations, offerings that are more attuned to their needs.

 

Hybrid models – the key benefits

 

  • Better match graduates with employers
  • Competency-based approach
  • Customisation
  • Enhanced experience
  • Ensure there is a job at the end of the process
  • Economically viable

 

Sources

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/18/penguin-ditches-the-need-for-job-seekers-to-have-university-degrees

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/04/03/a-new-generation-of-engineering-schools/#484764ed2923

http://evolllution.com/opinions/how-we-got-here-is-not-what-will-get-us-there/http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304561004579135253438812772

http://evolllution.com/opinions/meeting-students-are-critical-success-developmental-hybrid-programming/

http://chronicle.com/article/A-Crisis-of-Confidence/127530/https://www.technologyreview.com/s/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ethan-miller/the-crisis-in-higher-educ_b_2727653.html

http://www.utsystem.edu/news/2014/11/03/university-texas-system-makes-bold-move-competency-based-education

http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/11/the-coming-era-of-personalized-learning-paths

http://www.educationdive.com/news/7-competency-based-higher-ed-programs-to-keep-an-eye-on/328382/

http://www.educationdive.com/news/will-the-internet-remove-traditional-higher-eds-prestige-factor/413466/

http://chronicle.com/article/MIT-Dean-Takes-Leave-to-Start/235121

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/vocational-education-smarter-than-you-think-nicholas-wyman

http://evolllution.com/opinions/audio-revolutionizing-competency-based-education/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2016/01/07/revolution-on-campus-no-risk-pathways-to-high-value-careers/2/#255e91e220e9

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/06/10/performance-based-college/#311aa816567a

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/05/26/the-full-stack-higher-education-company/#5c6af7be459d