According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), universal primary and secondary education worldwide will need to recruit 69 million teachers by 2030. Can technology help fulfil this mammoth task by taking on the teacher’s role? Certainly not. Nevertheless, technology is changing how society works, lives and learns and will also leave its mark on education. Teachers may evolve into coaches, who accompany the learning process rather than fill children’s minds with knowledge; at the same time, educational technology (EdTech) tackles issues in learning from K12 to lifelong education. EdTech encompasses gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality, and is set to change the role of teachers and the learning approach for children and adults alike.

A $10 trillion market

HolonIQ, a company specialised in edtech data, foresees that “Global education and training expenditure is set to reach at least $10 trillion by 2030 as population growth in developing markets fuels a massive expansion and technology drives unprecedented reskilling and upskilling in developed economies.” Indeed, a 2018 Adecco/BCG study states that “workers are extremely concerned about the profound impact of technological changes in their jobs (and whether they will even have a job in the future), with two-thirds of respondents seeing their job changing significantly at least every five years because of technological advances.” In the report recommendations, technology plays a crucial role: “Increase willingness to learn through engaging formats: Applications, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality are means of attracting the attention of training participants.” What technology can do is to move learning from textbooks and blackboards to more exciting and interactive formats that appeal to both children and adults. More importantly, for working adults and homebound individuals, it also provides more flexibility: of time, place and topic.

Evolving technologies require evolving learning habits

2006 saw the emergence of wide-ranging open online courses (MOOCs) that lay the foundation for an exponential expansion of online learning. Moving from a simple set of online lectures, institutions went on to create interactive courses with user forums, quizzes and rapid feedback loops linked to the MOOCs. Today, the number of MOOC learners worldwide exceeds 100 million. In parallel, the EdTech sector has grown, too. In Lausanne, EdTech Collider, launched two years ago, now hosts some 80 EdTech companies, each addressing a particular market from kindergarten to lifelong learning. The startup accelerator based in Zurich, Kickstart Accelerator, has a dedicated EdTech focus area. digitalswitzerland and the FSEA/SVEB co-organised an event at the Paul Klee Museum in Bern last year, to showcase technologies used in lifelong learning, especially for non digital natives who need to adapt to new technologies. digitalswitzerland’s offers courses for all walks of life to encourage continued adult education.

I know I know nothing

In 2004, Peter Jarvis wrote in his textbook on adult learning that “Now we take it for granted that adults should continue to be educated throughout their lifetime.” But do we really? According to the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, “The share of working time devoted to continuing vocational training is lowest in the extractive industries (0.3%), hotels and restaurants (0.3%) and water production and distribution (0.4%). The field of “Specialised, scientific and technical activities” is the one where the proportion of working time devoted to continuing training is the highest (1.6%).” Less than 2% of working time is devoted to lifelong learning. That is clearly not enough.

Socrates’ statement “I know that I know nothing” is perhaps a good starting point. Ponder also Einstein’s “the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know”, which should encourage us all to keep learning, lifelong. Learning can be hard work but it can also be fun. It can be challenging but it can also broaden our perspective. We need to change our mindset to stay alert, be curious and remain employable. University degrees are no longer enough; they are building blocks of a longer journey.