The notion that the pandemic shifted the needle when it comes to applying technology to learning is overblown. Yes, we adapted, but did we really innovate? In many cases, we took the static, traditional learning process and shoehorned it into an online format. Technological advances progress at breakneck speed, and yet learning is an area that is not even close to making the most of what technology has to offer. Why is it, when we have the world’s most powerful knowledge resource (the internet) at our fingertips, that we continue to apply 200-year old ideas to how we learn?
The headlines are dominated by commentary on what the next generation of the internet means, often referred to as Web 3.0 or the metaverse. The technology which enables this new online era, will allow us to achieve things never possible before when it comes to learning: one of them being the establishment of atomic ‘units of learning’.
Degrees are becoming increasingly redundant, viewed as only broad indicators of knowledge rather than building realskills. To add to this, in technical fields in particular, degrees have an increasingly short shelf life, as key concepts or learnings that may have been taught during a three or four year course become outdated by the time the learner graduates. This results in new entrants to the workforce being ill-prepared for the tasks in hand.
Granular skill records are already taking primacy over degrees in some industries - in software engineering for example. Reputation points and ‘badges’ on the likes of Stack Overflow can be of more value in a job hunt than a formal computer science degree, especially if they can demonstrate skills that will be relevant to the job they are applying for. In place of degrees, which provide no detail on the skillset of an individual, granular skill records, however, can represent an iterative representation of an individual’s abilities in very specific detail. And the nature of the metaverse (being fully electronic) means it could include much more granular information like the number of questions asked or answered, the number of notes taken and the number of hours spent learning in niche areas of study - which could only be inferred by a traditional qualification.
In further signs that traditional degrees are failing to keep pace with the times, companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have launched programmes which certify vocational competence, with the aim of preparing job seekers for high level positions both within and outside of their companies. Google’s programme, which launched just last month, focuses on teaching data analytics, IT project management and UX design and is a viable and cheaper alternative to a college degree. It's no secret that these programmes have been created because the existing barriers to entry, like needing a degree in a particular subject, from a respected institution, exclude would-be talent from these jobs. Many have the deck stacked against them in accessing top degrees, and there are huge numbers of people with the right skill set, innate talent and drive to thrive in these environments who have been prevented from doing so - due to not having the right ‘stamp’ on their CV.
High-quality education, and learning more generally, has always been exclusive, particularly in the US and UK. The financial barriers to learning are coming down, and we must make the most of the way in which technology can facilitate a greater equity of experience when it comes to accessing education. Web 3.0 and the metaverse can play a major role in this.
For instance, having to travel somewhere to learn is no longer necessary - this practice of physically attending stems from the scarcity of books - a problem which the internet solved a long time ago. With the right tools, we can create ‘in-person’ learning experiences that go way beyond what could be achieved in a lecture theatre or classroom. For example, why read about the Pyramids of Giza, when you could visit them in a virtual world and engage with a digitised (or even real) expert, who could bring the learning to life and provide real-time answers to questions?
Aside from the obvious benefits of sensory and multi-modal learning made possible within the metaverse, one of the greatest benefits will be how learners can have a truly individualised experience. We all have different interests and various prior levels of knowledge - Web 3.0 learning will allow us to break from the static, one-size-fits-all approach which has excluded many from learning, enabling individuals to learn in a way that is directly optimised to them.
This applies well beyond traditional learning settings like universities and schools. In an ever changing world, with an accelerated pace of automation at work, we will all need to make learning a part of our daily lives, much like fitness, in order to stay relevant and develop new skills. What Web 3.0 and the metaverse will provide is even greater freedom to fit learning around the rest of our lives, and not the other way around, as is the case with current institutions.
The possibilities are boundless when we consider the potential of combining learning and Web 3.0. It's not just that we can use these technologies to transform the learning process, it's that we should. The internet has always been a democratising force, getting information to the hardest to reach places. We can reframe the narrative around learning away from prestigious institutions, strict time frames and rigid curriculums, towards creating a culture around learning where the only barrier to doing so is the individual’s desire and willingness to learn.
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