30 Dec 2019 19:42 IST

Pathway to building talent through digital learning

Digitalisation of education and academia-industry collaborations are helping bridge the skill gap

“We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill, it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking, and logical deduction, without which we cannot have constructive progress.” — Li Ka-shing

Traditional classroom learning has been the primary model for education at institutions across the globe for the longest time. With the emergence of the fifth estate, the global education scenario in recent years has seen a major shift from classroom to online learning. In keeping with the changing times, digitalisation of education and close collaborations between academia and industry in several developed economies are accelerating the requirement for talent that is job-ready.

Quest to bridge the skill-gap

According to data from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, about half the primary school students in India make it to the upper primary levels and beyond. As a result, unemployment hovers around 6-6.5 per cent in the country. India’s growing appetite for quality education has given rise to a strong push to catch up with global academic standards. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently changed the board exam format to shift the focus from rote learning to critical thinking and applications. This will help students graduate with realistic expectations and be more industry-ready.

Simultaneously, companies looking to hire will struggle less, as they will get the kind of skilled workforce suited to specific job portfolios. In our research on employers across the US, the UK and India, we found that at the time of hiring, Indian employers felt that candidates lacked the necessary hard skills (51 per cent employers), soft skills (38 per cent employers) and years of experience (40 per cent employers).

Given this situation, companies increasingly have to invest time and finances to bridge the skill gap to make their resources conform to industry standards. The study discovered that while 49 per cent of Indian employers felt that they needed to retrain employees in new skills required for their current roles, 52 per cent said they needed to invest significantly in training for new roles. In the next ten years, employers anticipate the greatest change will be the need to retrain some employees for current roles and train others for entirely new roles.

Holistic transformation

To taper the gap between demand and supply, the Indian education system is recognising the importance of adopting global trends and factoring in changing industry requirements. Subjects like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics are gaining momentum as electives for senior secondary students, reflecting the high demand for such professionals across sectors. A promising development is the launch of Operation Digital Blackboard and flipped learning by the Centre, that is aimed at encouraging students to take ownership for their learning, get better results, and be more engaged with their coursework.

Students need to be introduced to practical learning modules that keep them up-to-date with industry disruptions, even during higher education. The needle has to move from basic soft skills such as communication, creating presentations, and so on, to more advanced ones that include blockchain, AI and other vocational training.

The higher education system must gradually shift towards blended and collaborative learning. While the former combines both traditional classroom teaching and online modules to ensure higher retention of knowledge, the later guarantees enhanced student engagement using interactive platforms and applications that include fun quizzes and activities.

Re-imagining learning

Revitalising learning cannot happen without adaptive learning. The concept is an acknowledgement of the fact that every learner is unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best way to go. Adaptive learning includes creating a bespoke curriculum for learners after assessing their knowledge level and learning patterns through adaptive tests and AI. Once these are determined, learners are provided with adaptive content that is based on parameters that generate the best responses from the learner. It ensures personalised and inquiry-based learning.

Adaptive learning will not only enable learners to absorb content at their own pace, have access to quality education, even in remote areas, and explore topics that interest them, but it will also allow teachers to provide better instructions rather than focusing on an information overload.

To create industry-ready professionals, not only does the curriculum need to address the latest technical developments, but students should also be acclimatised to the kind of technical environment where they will eventually work. This will require better collaboration between academia and industry. Schools and institutions need to focus on global job market in the next five years, and not just on college placements.

Lifelong learning

In a dynamic work environment powered by technology, skills become obsolete in a matter of few years. To maximise potential, it is important to look towards lifelong learning and reskilling programmes, in sync with the shifting industry realities. Not only will this spell better economic opportunities for individuals, but also ensure a constant stream of talent that is abreast with the business landscape and its future needs.

As the famous American football player Doug Baldwin said: “Change is inevitable, change will always happen, but you have to apply direction to that change, that’s when it is progress.”

(Views are personal.)