Even before the pandemic, automation and artificial intelligence were changing the skills landscape. According to the 2018 McKinsey Global Institute report, as many as 14 percent of the global workforce would need to change their occupational categories as growing digitalization disrupts the world of work. Now, as COVID-19 speeds the rate of adoption of digital technology by several years, these trends have only accelerated.

In Singapore, the pandemic has annihilated jobs in the worst-hit sectors of F&B and tourism. Yet, other sectors such as infocomm have seen a labor crunch. Reskilling and upskilling are critical for workers in the current climate of uncertainty. But, how do we build educational systems that meet the needs of the adult learner, many of whom do not have time to commit to long stretches of learning?

Learning in the new age needs to happen at the right place, at the right time

Despite more money being pumped into training and development, expenditure into training often fails to bring measurable outcomes. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2016:

  • 75 percent of 1,500 managers surveyed from across 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development (L&D) function;
  • 70 percent of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs;
  • Only 12 percent of employees apply new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs;
  • Only 25 percent of respondents to a McKinsey survey (2016) believe that training measurably improved performance; and,
  • Not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing, and content of the training are flawed.

Especially in an economic climate where workers must reskill fast enough to rapidly move across industries, we need to learn how to train effectively. This training cannot happen in a siloed classroom, divorced from real-world applications — rather, it must be targeted and contextualized. Neither can modern learners dedicate time to long classroom sessions: The modern learner has 1 percent of their typical workweek to focus on training and development — just a scant few minutes every week. (In Singapore, lack of time has been cited as the biggest barrier to learning.)

To learn best, we need learning that is delivered at the right place, at the right time — embedded within the flow of work.

A 2019 Deloitte study outlines briefly what “learning the flow of work” is: Essentially, the content of what they learn must be relevant, personalized, and available to the learners as and when they might need it. For example, delivering learning content when they are preparing to complete a task, or when they are in need of clarification while in the middle of their workflow, targeted exactly at the work they are undertaking.

With this, learners can reinforce their learning with immediate practice, understand what their learning gaps are, and receive immediate feedback.

Micro-credentialing for the future work and learning

To address the needs of adult learners, we need to break out from the traditional models of classroom-based delivery. The standardized delivery of traditional models of employee education often fails to take into consideration employees’ existing skill levels; this, in turn, becomes a drain on their already-limited time, resources, and effort. Furthermore, mid-career workers who are in between jobs may not be able to afford the time and money required to return to formal education systems, making it a challenge to achieve the credentials needed for them to switch career paths.

Alongside embedding learning within work, learning must also be delivered in a way that delivers concrete outcomes — for learners, these are formally recognized credentials that are crucial for employment. To that end, education providers and industries need to work in tandem to build credentialled & competency-based education with a robust skills profiling system.

With a skills-profiling system, learning providers and learners themselves can pinpoint their existing experiences and competencies, allowing them to enter the learning system at the right point and ensuring that the education delivered to them can be tailored to the relevant skill gaps. These skill gaps can then be addressed with micro-credentialled courses, with which they can hone in on the skills that they need to learn and chart their own learning journey, instead of having them rehash what they already know as they would in a standardized curriculum.

Micro-credentialing is also more cost-effective. As capital is less of a barrier, especially when compared to the exorbitant, and in some regions, rising costs of degrees, the accessibility of education to the less-privileged increases. By working with industry partners to set and regulate standards, learning providers can ensure that these stackable micro-credentials are industry-certified, giving learners a clear pathway to their desired outcomes.

As we move forward, the learning model we will see more of in the future is micro-credentialled micro-learning, boosted by advances in mobile technology.

Almost half of the world’s population uses the mobile internet, with an increase of 250 million users between 2019 and 2020. As mobile technology becomes more prominent in our daily lives, the convenience and flexibility they afford should be leveraged for effective on-the-job learning. With portable electronic devices, educators can administer targeted lessons that are honed in on what is immediately relevant to the employee’s role and professional development. This information can be easily accessed on the job or on the go — which means that learners can pick up and review relevant information whenever they need to.

For ACKTEC Technologies, microlearning is the most efficient means of delivery for EdTech [ORIGIN Innovation Awards Q&A]

Rayvan Ho is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ACKTEC Technologies.

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