The government’s industrial strategy notes that “within two decades, 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency, yet 23% of adults lack basic digital skills.” 

Jisc has made clear to government that education providers must adopt a comprehensive digital strategy to prepare students for the fourth industrial revolution.

The Education Select Committee recently launched an inquiry into the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The inquiry is examining how best to prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities by looking at the digital elements of the school curriculum. It is also looking at the role of lifelong learning and how best to help people climb the career ladder in the future.

With rapid developments in technology including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), data-driven decision making, virtual/augmented reality and robotics, it is clear that the future workforce of the UK needs to be digitally capable.

10 steps to help people climb the ladder of opportunity:

1. Digital strategy

To harness the potential of technology to drive education innovation or diversify provision, providers need strong digital leadership, staff with the appropriate digital skills, the right infrastructure and enabling strategies and policies in place.

2. Digital capabilities framework

For the next generation to be successful, digital skills are non-negotiable. Teaching staff need the skills to design individual activities and courses that maximise the use of technology to support feedback, collaboration and independent research.

3. Lifelong learning in re-skilling the current workforce 

Lifelong learning skills are key employability capabilities in their own right and lifelong learning will be increasingly important for the general workforce in the coming years, as the fourth industrial revolution continues to disrupt old business models and ways of working. 

4. Learning analytics

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about student progress and how the curriculum is delivered.

Students using digital resources and systems generate data that can be analysed to reveal patterns predicting success, difficulty or failure which enable teachers – and students – to make timely interventions to improve outcomes. Importantly, these metrics can also support a more accurate, data-informed approach to curriculum design.

Our learning analytics service is due to become a full service available to UK universities and colleges from September 2018. 

5. Adaptive learning

AI has a wide range of other potential applications in education – perhaps the most notable being adaptive learning, where the curriculum is modified dynamically in response to the learner's strengths and weaknesses.

6. Delivering authentic learning experiences 

Using technology to provide real-world learning experiences can help learners develop their employability skills. Technologies such as virtual simulations, games, collaboration and social media tools can all be used to develop authentic learning experiences.

8. Digital apprenticeships

The digitisation of apprenticeships will make them more flexible and available to more people who prefer the apprenticeship option.

9. Bring your own device

"Bring your own device" (BYOD) policies are increasingly being adopted by colleges and universities to accommodate student preferences for flexible, anywhere-on-campus learning.

10. The challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for improving social justice and productivity

Many technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution have the potential to transform the management, delivery and assessment of learning and to improve the employability of learners.

They support learners studying at unpredictable times and outside of the classroom, enabling participation by those who would otherwise experience difficulties (eg full-time parents, employees, young carers). They can also help learners with disabilities by making learning opportunities more available and accessible.

Technology such as AI has the potential to both enhance and accelerate the education experience for students, as well as streamlining organisational processes, so it simply cannot be overlooked.

If managed efficiently, students could benefit from exciting and engaging learning environments that are flexible, and outside of the classroom. Furthermore, sector professionals could hand over their administrative tasks, giving them more time to support and work closely with students.

Last year, 22,000 students told us they want staff to be better with digital, not to use more of it, and whilst 81.5% of university students feel that digital skills will be important in their chosen career, only half believe that their courses prepare them well for the digital workplace.

A comprehensive digital strategy would help us to deliver what students need, both equipping them with the right skills for Industry 4.0 and futureproofing the workforce of the UK.

Any such strategy would benefit from technology being designed into the overall pedagogic approach of any course; sharing best practice of what effective use of digital looks like in education. It is therefore important that providers recognise that their staff need to have a prerequisite level of digital capability and ongoing development, in order to carry out their roles effectively.

We know that our members recognise the importance of embedding digital capabilities into recruitment, staff development, appraisal, and reward and recognition practices – and a framework would help to support this.

We further recommend the need for strong digital leadership, the digitisation of apprenticeships, an adoption of learning analytics, and a rise in data-driven decisions.

Jisc has recently carried out work on behalf of the Welsh government to develop a digital learning strategy for further education (FE) and skills in Wales, working closely with providers to create the strategy.

We recommend that this approach is undertaken by the UK government in order that all the UK's education workforce itself is sufficiently digitally capable and aware of the ever-changing requirements of employers and industry.

Paul Feldman, Chief Executive, Jisc

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