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Four essential pillars of future-focused learning

Given the growing levels of complexity to be ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution, a fundamental change in the way humans think and work is non-negotiable. Universities need to lead the charge, starting with a fundamental curriculum shift to match with the key drivers of this revolution, namely technology, innovation-based problem solving, manufacturing-driven thinking, resource management, and the ability to establish new systems and processes.

We believe that preparing tomorrow’s employee to lead in this fast-changing world of work requires learning interventions built on the following four pillars of appropriate skills, the correct attitude to change, awareness of social context, and systems-oriented thinking.
Pillar 1: Skills to leverage dynamic knowledge
The real work of education today is no longer to impart facts; it is to impart methods through which facts are harnessed to serve new ways of working, inventing, and manufacturing and, ultimately, move society forward. The nature of knowledge has changed significantly and the onus is on learning institutions to change how they equip their students to access, process and use that knowledge.

As the disruption experienced by current systems is magnified, linear thinking and traditional approaches will become ineffective. Tertiary institutions need to prioritise knowledge-processing skills as a key learning outcome to produce graduates who immediately apply their skills in the workplace – to whatever role they assume.

Pillar 2: The right attitude towards change
The increasing pace of change means that a willingness to take risks is an essential part of a professional’s career success and a vital cornerstone of that individual’s positive impact on business, industry and community.

The way to encourage young professionals to take risks is to encourage a positive attitude towards change and an understanding of the possible consequences– even if they facilitated that change in the first place.

Universities do not exist to simply churn out employees. They must focus on raising the next generation of CEOs, industry leaders, innovators and visionaries. If our institutions acknowledge this to be a key responsibility, then ensuring their graduates have the attitude required to stand strong on their principles, embrace change, and challenge the status quo and take risks must be central to everything they teach.

Pillar 3: Awareness of the greater social context
Whether operating in the business or political environment, future leaders of tomorrow must be able to anticipate the consequences of their decisions and actions on themselves and others.

For education to fuel constructive progress that is truly beneficial to mankind, it must be accompanied by a heightened sense of social and environmental responsibility. Graduates must be equipped with this new ethical foundation so that they enter the workplace as responsible citizens with the ability and desire to harness a highly connected, rapidly evolving and data-centric global environment to deliver outcomes that enhance the greater good.
Pillar 4: Orientation towards systems and networks thinking
The way we work will shift away from the historical focus on individual actions, specific tasks and defined job functions. Instead, effective employees will understand the interdependence of all things, recognise the need for reciprocity, and embrace the fact that they function in a world of systems and networks.

Understanding this systems nature of the world is vital in order to be able to operate effectively, identify opportunities to leverage information to deliver socially advantageous outcomes. By helping students to understand this new reality, tertiary institutions will massively multiply the value of the learning they provide.

In tandem with a heightened awareness of social context, this systems orientation has the potential to produce high-performing employees, managers and leaders who understand that their work is about more than merely doing a job – it’s about shaping the future.

The simple truth is that the universities of the world are no longer in the business of just producing graduates. They have a social and moral imperative to produce leaders who possess the abilities, understanding, awareness and moral compasses required to make the world better for everyone. Embracing these four pillars and integrating them into higher education curricula are the first steps towards delivering on that higher order responsibility.
This week Monash South Africa is focussing on “What’s Next” for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in partnership with Standard Bank, at a one-of-of a kind confluence of global educators, industry, government bodies and thought leaders. Facilitated by leading international thinker, Peter Cochrane, former CTO at BT, Cochrane is engaging attendees on how to best navigate the rapid disruption brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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