By Sheena O’Hare
With everyone’s lives already so fused to the online world, it is not surprising to learn that 44 percent of 5.1 million current Australian jobs are at risk from digital technologies in the next 20 years (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2015).
The education sector is under enormous pressure to advance in step with technology to ensure that students are equipped with the right skills to thrive in this technology-driven environment.
A recent report released by the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association revealed the impact external factors such as digital disruption will have on universities in the next 10–20 years. One key finding was the clear disconnect being felt by students between what is being taught at universities and what is going to be useful in the workforce.
Online universities, such as Swinburne Online, are working hard to bridge this gap by placing an intense focus on teaching workplace skills alongside the academic content of their degree courses.
Driven by Demand
Students are increasingly demanding authentic learning opportunities where they have real-world experiences and problem-solving scenarios. Due to work commitments, the desire to travel or family responsibilities, many students do not want a rigid timetable or the expectation of physical attendance. They still want access to quality teaching and the ability to make connections with others, but this is now expected to be on their terms and time frames. With so many processes in everyone’s day-to-day lives now taking place online, when students face outdated administrative barriers that threaten to slow down or block their access to education, they become frustrated. Online education works hard to remove these administrative barriers so that students only have to worry about achieving their goals. The ability to study anywhere at any time without commuting, struggling with administrative processes or spending a fortune on study materials is, not surprisingly, becoming more appealing to the modern student.
Advantages of Digital Literacy
Today’s world is a digital world, one in which it is difficult to function without basic technological skills. Children spend a large amount of their time on computers or tablets both at school and at home and these days anyone under 30 struggles to remember a time without computers, mobiles and 24/7 connectivity.
Digital literacy allows people to interact with the world around them. It facilitates 24/7 interaction and communication with friends, family and work even after they have left the school ground or office for the day. Online education provides a range of opportunities for students to make sense of the wealth of information that is available while also, almost subconsciously, learning to use technology effectively and appropriately. Students are able to engage with multimedia to read and interpret text in ways that allow them to construct their own meaning. They are encouraged to work with their peers to interact, discuss and share in order to build on their knowledge. They are encouraged to come to an understanding that all people are constructors of meaning and they do that much better and more successfully when they work together.
The majority of today’s students are digital natives and as a result most of them can easily use the Internet to find resources, videos, podcasts and presentations on any subject matter. However, what they do need help with is in differentiating the valid online resources and discovering how to best make use of the information.
The rapid pace of technological change is felt by everyone. Every couple of years, phones and computers outdate, and most people are reluctant to get left behind using an old operating system. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, highlighting the characteristics of the newest generation of workers, revealed that 41 percent of those surveyed said that they would rather communicate electronically than face-to-face or over the phone. This millennial generation expects that the technology they use on a daily basis to enhance their personal lives is mirrored in both an educational and workplace context. Their affinity with the digital world, having grown up with smartphones, broadband and social networking, has resulted in a demand and expectation of instant access to information. In order to stay relevant and useful to this iGeneration, universities need to consider planning for resources that are needed in the dynamic demands of higher education.
Studying online, however, certainly does not mean studying alone. Students still need constant support, the ability to collaborate with peers and regular feedback. Swinburne Online students have access to support from liaison officers and learning advisors every day of the week. Collaborative learning is an important part of the curriculum, with students teaming up with online discussion boards and social networking platforms.
The Global Office
The traditional post-school trajectory of people studying in their 20s and working in the same career until retiring in their 60s is largely outdated. The Foundation for Young Australians predicts that today’s young people will hold as many as 17 different jobs, in five different careers, over the course of their working lives. A larger number of students and graduates are keen to study and/or work overseas and, in response, the workplace itself is evolving to cater to a progressively mobile population. In this increasingly globalised world, online learning can help prepare students to excel in today’s virtual office. While it can take time for students to adapt to a more independent learning style, fitting study hours around work, family or travel, the likelihood is that this ability to self-motivate will pay dividends well into their working careers.
Teaching the Teachers
It is predicted that by 2030, over 5 million jobs will disappear due to technological advances (CEDA, 2015). On the flipside, many new jobs will be created. The students of today must acquire skills needed for the future, and teachers are a crucial part of navigating this new kind of industrial revolution.
In working with primary education students, it is evident that the skills they develop will allow them to motivate children in their learning through technology, cater for a range of learning styles and enable their school students to be creative and reflective. If teachers are not confident in the use of technology, they will not use it in their classrooms. These are the skills that principals are looking for in their teaching staff. Acquiring these skills is not only crucial for the career prospects of teachers, it is also crucial for the students they will be teaching, for the jobs they will be doing that do not yet even exist.
While all sectors are under immense pressure to keep up with technological advancements, the education sector simply must stay ahead of the curve. After all, educators are the ones teaching the future teachers and educating a future workforce that will look very different from the workforce today.
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Sheena O’Hare is responsible for delivering Swinburne Online’s range of Education degrees. She has been teaching and researching in the education profession for over 30 years in Scotland and different states of Australia. She obtained her PhD investigating the online interaction of teachers and students within a pre-service teacher program.