How edtech can equip learners with the right skills for the 4th industrial revolution

In recent times there has been much talk of a ‘4th industrial revolution’, as the lines between physical and digital experiences blur more and more. What exactly is the 4th industrial revolution and what skills can edtech help learners develop?

What is the 4th industrial revolution?

It is the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

How is it changing the world of work?

The increasing intersection between physical and digital technologies is changing the world of work in several key ways. As Schwab says, ‘physical products and services … can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value’. Today’s worker needs to understand how digital and physical components can combine to create faster, more efficient and effective products and hybrid solutions.

How the 4th industrial revolution is changing the world of work: Uber as example

Take the ride-sharing app, Uber, for example. Its founders saw a gap in the market and combined traditional private transportation services with smartphone GPS capabilities. Using a simple user interface, this gave commuters an ‘always-available’ transport alternative to traditional taxi rides that require more planning and are more subject to availability.

Taxi associations have been understandably shaken due to the competitive element. It is extremely difficult for a taxi operator to compete with an app in which users can see the nearest available car as an overlay on a map of their local area. Proximity-based cab-hailing also meant Uber could have greater area coverage at lower costs since drivers don’t have to travel far to find their next passenger.

Today’s businesses – and, by extension, employees - thus have to be adaptable and conscious of the ways combining digital and physical resources can create solutions that surpass competitors’ limitations.

What are the skills needed to thrive in the 4th industrial revolution?

Collaborative and individual innovation are essential skills in the 4th industrial revolution. As technological advances emerge faster, education needs to equip learners to be able to assimilate new concepts and ideas quickly. In the modern workplace, many employees occupy multiple roles that require higher levels of critical thinking.

Alex Gray, writing for the World Economic Forum, predicts that by 2020 ‘the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning.’ In the article, Gray predicts that critical thinking will be the second most important employee skill. The other top 10 essential skills predicted for 2020 are:

  • Complex problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • People management
  • Coordinating with others
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Service orientation
  • Negotiation
  • Cognitive flexibility

How can we use educational technology to teach learners these skills?

Educational technology can introduce learners to environments where problem solving combines digital and physical components. Co-operative elements that are the foundation of multiplayer video games can be introduced to the classroom using gamification. This is where elements of game mechanics (for example ‘unlocking’ content when prerequisite actions are complete) are used in education. The collaborative nature of gamification coordinating with others (one of Gray’s core skills) while also fostering deeper learner engagement.

Innovation in educational technology can provide learners with the materials they need to be literate in the physical sciences as well as the digital world. Much of South Africa’s education system still relies on rote learning. Learners parrot textbooks and are graded for how well they can remember material first and how well they can apply it second.

To truly equip learners to cope with the demands of the 4th industrial revolution, it’s necessary to teach critical thinking that asks learners to develop their understanding of physical as well as digital technologies and how the two increasingly intersect in all spheres of life.


5 elements of a gamified approach to use in education

‘Gamification’ – the process of using elements of interactive game design in other applications – has become popular in education. This is for good reason. There are traits in the gamer personality that can be profitably developed in learners (traits such as perseverance and focus). Here are 5 elements of a gamified approach and how to use them in education:

1. The gamer personality

Video gamers show great drive to improve their skills and ‘master’ games. Mastering learning materials becomes attractive when elements that drive gamers to persevere are used in educational materials.

One element of a gamified approach that helps to recreate this positive element of the gamer personality is ‘unlockable’ content. Learners only gain access to materials in educational apps once they have fulfilled certain requirements and reached a certain level. This fosters the will to continue and succeed.

2. Game mechanics
What are game mechanics? They’re the rules and actions allowed or required for gamers to interact with the game. Game mechanics, for example, include:

  • Taking turns
  • Scoring points
  • Elements of bartering (e.g. auctioning and bidding)
  • Dice-throwing
  • Moving playing pieces over virtual terrain
  • Tile-laying (laying down playing pieces)

Game mechanics are increasingly being used in education to incentivize learning, make lessons fun and convey information in a manner that appeals to tech-savvy millenials. Educational apps use elements of competition (such as competing with friends to score points) to foster learner commitment to mastering materials.

There are numerous advantages to using game mechanics in education. These include:

  • Non-linear goal progression – learners have multiple ways to chart a path to the end of a lesson, thus content feels engaging rather than dull
  • Rewarding effort and not only success (giving learners of all skill levels the incentive to persist)
  • Peer motivation: Learners encourage each other to reach learning goals (in a team-based, gamified learning environment)

3. Gamified engagement approaches

In the world of video games, game designers persuade gamers to return to meet and conquer new objectives by encouraging engagement. Features that can be used to raise engagement in the gamified classroom include:

  • Unlockable rewards
  • Social incentives (such as forming a league and rising through a leader board)
  • Perks and rewards tied to ‘levelling up’ (reaching a higher level of mastery)

You can incorporate these gamified engagement strategies in the classroom, creating social incentives via group work. You can also structure content so that the content with the highest entertainment value is released to learners as they reach specific tiers of progress.

4. Modifiable content

In the gaming industry, large communities have grown around original games, communities that produce their own spin-off content. This culture of ‘modding’ content can be incorporated in the class room as you give learners the opportunity to create their own interactive designs that turn the latest lesson concepts into games.

An example of this approach is the app Kahoot! Users can combine multipole choice questions and add videos, images and diagrams to amplify the engagement of players. You can either design your own challenge or (if you work with older learners) have learners collaborate in creating their own lessons using subjects currently under discussion.

5. Affirming progress-tracking

In traditional educational models, the onus falls on the teacher to track and report on student progress. Yet one of the great features of gamification is that gamers are able to track (and reinforce positive feelings about) their own progress. Goalbook is a collaborative progress-tracking tool. Teachers set students tasks and track their progress, while giving students access to the same resources. This streamlines student monitoring and reporting, while also incentivizing learning for the student.

These five elements of a gamified approach can transform your instructional methods. A gamified approach that encourages learners to collaborate, persevere and take pride in their progress will foster learner commitment which in turn helps to produce better student performance.

How learning analytics is nurturing educational insight and support

Feedback in education is two-way: Learners, through feedback, can revise and improve, but teachers benefit equally from getting feedback on learners’ progress. Learning analytics in educational technology makes it easy to identify and flag issues and provide learners with responsive, adaptive learning opportunities.

What is learning analytics?

Learning analytics refers to the use of data science to capture information about how learners use educational technology. Using learning analytics means collecting data to understand student performance so that educators can make informed, data-driven decisions.

Why has learning analytics becoming important in education?

Educators, like everyone else, are working in an increasingly digital landscape. Learners use digital platforms to acquire and share knowledge, and these present educators with opportunities to gain deep insights into how learners engage with materials. LA has multiple benefits:

  • It helps educators to identify common issues or flag poorly performing learners
  • It enables educators to pinpoint gaps in education that demand remedial assistance
  • It helps educators develop better, personalised student learning experiences including early-warning safety nets that increase student retention (the Learning Analytics Community Exchange lists these amongst other key benefits)
  • It helps eLearning course designers to improve  their courses with the help of data insights, so that future courses can meet learners’ needs better

How learning analytics is being used in EdTech to provide helpful adaptive learning

Many learners (especially in the African context) do not have access to quality after-hours, in-person educational support. Yet growing EdTech initiatives are providing learners with support via mobile devices and digital platforms.

Learners’ in-app actions are being used to predict learners’ foreseeable needs and suggest additional resources or tasks that supplement educational activities. This ‘intelligent design’ means that educational software developers are able to give learners products that adapt to their immediate educational needs.

The benefits of this adaptive use of learning analytics include:

  • Being able to supplement learners’ eLearning experiences and maximize educational support
  • Being able to guide learners’ digital activity without active teacher presence, making self-directed learning more productive

How is learning analytics being used?

Certain kinds of learner data collection has always been used to monitor progress (and reward achievement), such as the grading systems used around the world. Learning analytics today is used to track many more elements such as:

  • The time learners spend completing specific online tasks
  • How learners engage with educational content both in learning management systems and on social media

In 2011, education theorist George Siemens described how analytics empowers educators to make informed changes in education. Educators can understand better ‘how our inputs influence or produce outputs.’ There are several initiatives that are using learning analytics to do just this.

Learning analytics implementation in South Africa

Rob Paddock, the founder of the Cape Town-based eLearning service GetSmarter, describes learning analytics as central to GetSmarter’s teaching model. GetSmarter progressed from a canned approach to a model where learner data is reviewed in real-time to minimize the time lapse between learner input and corrective action.

Most crucially, learning analytics at GetSmarter were used to create a ‘safety net’: Learners who are at higher risk of failing are now contacted and given additional assistance early. This ensures that each learner has the best chance to stay on track and complete the learning platform’s courses.

Studies at The University of Pretoria and universities in the USA have also shown that using learning analytics to track and support underperforming learners and congratulate high achievers has been linked to improvements in overall learner retention.

Although learning analytics in the big data sense is still a relatively new area, prestigious higher learning institutions and socially aware EdTech start-ups alike are harnessing learning analytics successfully to improve learner experience and retention.

Why curation could be the future of publishing

If you’re an educator, the need to create educational content can sometimes take away time from other educational and organisational roles. Curating content, rather than creating it, has become a viable way to produce engaging, stimulating educational materials that present learners with clear information pathways. What exactly do we mean, however, when we talk about ‘curating’ educational content?

Curating is selecting and arranging to add value

In Michael Bhaskar’s Curation: The Book, the author talks about ‘the power of selection in a world of excess.’ In a world where there is so much high-value content freely available online (content that is available for re-licensing), creating new material isn’t always necessary. Digital technology has resulted in information overload, too. There is so much content available that it is harder than ever to digest all the information available for a given topic.

Curation, as Bhaskar points out, has always been a facet of intellectual work, from newspaper publishing to museum and gallery curation. If you think of how displays are curated in a museum, insightful items are arranged to convey a thought-provoking broader understanding of a topic (human history, for example). In a similar way, curating educational content gives you the power to arrange individual, high-quality items into an edifying whole; a whole that gives higher value as the sum of its parts.

Why curate educational content?

Besides giving you the power to arrange existing items of content to form a broader selection that adds value, curating content has additional pros. You can take content that is high in informational value but weak in structure and create better clarity and cohesion, for one.

Curating content also makes readily available educational materials more discoverable. Through content curation, you can introduce learners to valuable educational resources they might never otherwise discover. 

Another perk is simply the time factor: When you curate content instead of creating it, you have more time for other vital pursuits such as lesson planning.

Can I just re-use quality content I find in my own educational materials?

Whether or not you can use content in your curation process depends on what kind of license it is shared under. More and more content is shared under creative commons licenses that allow liberal re-use and even reworking. Open education hubs such as Edutopia provide lists of open source educational resources where you can find everything from free lesson plans and activities to additional web resources that provide teaching supplements.

Curating educational content – what about quality standards?

One concern for some educators is the issue of quality control in curation. When you create content yourself, it’s true that you have a high degree of control over content. If you vet every resource you curate thoroughly to ensure it meets acceptable standards, this shouldn’t be an issue.

As a rule, .edu and .org resources tend to be the most factually reliable and tend to have a more rigorous editorial process than .com resources.

Given the sheer abundance of educational material available online, creating your content from scratch is optional. Curating educational content gives you the added advantages of being able to hand-pick the very best resources and arrange them into a whole that adds value and gives learners an engaging, stimulating experience from start to finish.

How to build on learning analytics gleaned from educational technology

Educational app development and publishing has grown in recent years. Gamified learning (using element of interactive game design in education) has increased. Because of this, educators have ways to gather learner data passively. Educational technology platforms help educators gain insights into individual learners’ strengths and problem areas. Here’s how to build on the valuable information learning analytics yield:

Gather insight into how to make educational content more engaging

Educational technology platforms such as video-based educational modules can measure and report how long each learner spends on a specific module or activity. This means that you can find out which modules learners abandon or skip over fastest and which keep learners glued.

These insights make it possible to learn from particularly engaging lessons and activities and apply their best facets to other interactive elements. It also opens up possibilities for testing which of different lesson formats gets the most learner engagement so you can develop educational content that is more valuable to learners.

Use learning analytics to measure and improve individual learner performance

Another benefit of learning analytics that comes with the embrace of educational technology is that educational platforms can be used to monitor and improve individual learner progress.

Assessment components such as quizzes or applied learning tasks can provide data on the topics that students tend to perform worst in, for example. This in turn can be used to increase lesson focus on key problem areas in a group context but can also be used to provide remedial intervention for learners individually.

The advantage of using learning analytics this way is that educators are notified early when leaners are struggling with lesson content. This makes it possible to intervene and arrange remedial processes before the learner has moved on to topics that build on shaky preceding understanding of content. Read more