Future of Learning and Work

How will “digital everything” change the ways we learn and work? This task force is more concerned with the broader picture of tomorrow’s workplace than it is any one discipline, but its insights will create a framework that will inform the specific recommendations developed by the discipline-focused groups.

Initial assessment

Rather than assessing the state of current curricula per se, members created a wide-ranging survey in order to gain as broad a perspective as possible on what skills will be especially prized in the future.

This task force is organizing its work around four themes.

Contents of future work

The strongly focused, single-task occupation is on the way out. Integrative roles, filled by professionals who can effectively leverage both technological possibilities and human acumen, will be the prime jobs of tomorrow. For universities to effectively prepare students for this kind of work, they will need to update course content to integrate new and emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence, analytics and blockchain. Those updates must be made in concert with a continued emphasis on critical thinking, interpersonal and communications skills. To ensure students can apply a blend of these skills, guest speakers and active boards of advisors should be enlisted to reinforce course learnings.

Task-specific skills in future work

Generally, there are two main areas of emphasis for this area — the concept of “digital everything” (the skills to use contemporary technologies in a variety of fields and contests) and human skill management and leveraging. Respondents, for instance, listed a diversity of important programming skills — from software tools, to data applications (information processing, data analysis and A.I.), to an understanding and use of data in practical settings. But there’s also a need to understand what can and cannot be realized through these diverse technologies, which means continued curricular emphasis on soft skills.

To date, this juxtaposition has created challenges for business schools — in particular, the speed of digital tools’ evolution, as well as the cost of acquiring new tools and faculty training associated with their adoption. So far, schools are meeting these challenges through experiential opportunities, including cases; the creation of more flexible curricula; and an aim of transferable skills — learning that can be modifiable in the future.

Meta-skills in future work

In surveying the most important skills for the future, critical thinking, communications and creativity still made up the three most popular responses among academics. When it comes to meta-skills, schools consistently felt that most courses include the application of many of these skills in class assignments — such as presentations, group work and exams — but do not specifically teach improvement or assessment of these skills themselves. This is crucial because those “uniquely human” traits are not going to be replaced by intelligent machines — and demand for these skills is already apparent today.

Work acquisition in the future

While traditional employment is still perceived as dominant, most in academia expect this will change — in fact, freelance employment and entrepreneurship already are seen as significant challengers to the status quo. Two-thirds of survey respondents are developing curricula, doing research or offering career development services that take nontraditional employment into account. This has become even more pronounced in the wake of COVID-19.

Task force leader: Milla Wirén

Dr. Wirén is research manager in the Laboratory of Business Disruption Research at the Centre for Collaborative Research in the University of Turku’s School of Economics. Her research interests include digitalization as socio-technological phenomenon, disruption as socio-technological transformation, the distribution of labor in algorithmic and human decision-making, strategy as a process and practice, and philosophy of science. In addition to academic writing, she publishes a blog series at disrupt.utu.fi/blog.