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Back to the blogWorking and learning environments

Portrait of Bettina Maier
Bettina Maier


The Working and Learning Worlds of the Future – Part 1

Digital transformation is happening not only in the economy but in politics, society and education as well. With advances being made in the field of artificial intelligence and with the 4th industrial revolution underway, a completely different understanding of the way we work and learn is developing.

In the future, everything will be networked with everything; new business models, products and services are therefore required. This change is non-linear – and for a simple reason, too: in a networked system, the possible connections increase exponentially in accordance with the number of nodes. The transparency usually provided by cause and effect is lost in the complexity. Changing a node or connection can trigger a network reaction.

What impact does the growing complexity of new networks have on the way we work and learn?

Network-based work

Networking among specialized areas and companies continues to increase as the networking of products and services continues. Traditional corporate structures and management models are no longer effective. New interfaces are created through the networking of specialized areas; these interfaces make it possible to act more flexibly and in a more goal-oriented manner. In the foreseeable future, this primarily will not be a question of systemic-technical interfaces, but a question of communicative interfaces in interdisciplinary exchange. Therefore, more questions are posed than only that of the development and use of intelligent software and smart technology; the focus is rather on corporate culture and the role of the employee in a changing work environment. When dealing with complex structures and networks, companies’ human resources departments can look back on many years of experience. Companies can build upon these experiences in order to meet the challenges of digital transformation.

Interdisciplinary teams

We are moving from an “economy of scale” to an “economy of choice.” Products are manufactured according to individual needs. Mass customization brings to the market a wide range of products tailored to different environments. For the customer, this means individualization, whereas for the entrepreneur it means flexibility in production and a higher complexity in regard to technology, operation and the maintenance of machines or robots. If problems arise in this environment, interdisciplinary solutions are required – and thus experts who can meet on short notice and who are able to work together under time constraints as a team. Interdisciplinary training and modular specializations are therefore becoming increasingly important for companies.

New fields of work

According to Gartner Inc., one-third of today’s jobs will be replaced by smart machines by 2025 (gartner.com). Innovative services and products in other areas create completely new fields of work for which specialized personnel are needed. What are the socioeconomic challenges facing us with this scenario? In terms of efficiency, humans lag behind the physical and technical possibilities of intelligent machines and robots. However, humans – at least for the foreseeable future – will be the only ones who can promptly help with technical possibilities. The key to the new fields of work is the human ability to link analytics and creativity.

Why are we working and learning?

What values and models strengthen a company? Which competencies give employees safety and the freedom to be creative? In the coming generation, factors such as curiosity, interest, personal responsibility, the importance of the scope of duties, enthusiasm and challenges will play an important role; these will increasingly replace traditional work incentives such as pay, status and prestige. Working and learning in collaborative teams, openness to change, and the ability to develop solutions and methods are key competencies that are crucial for effective corporate culture. Technical affinity, networked thinking and the agile combination of different competencies lead to new business models, products and services that can be decentralized within the company.

In many companies, the foundation for this has already been laid through the implementation of restructuring efforts and a constructive approach to mistakes, and an increase in both transparency and the freedom to be creative. In secondary education, a new learning culture is being established with the introduction of learning models such as “phenomenon-based learning.” Topics are explored holistically by a team, starting with the presentation of the problem. Information is formed in a social context.

Intrinsic motivators such as curiosity, personal experience and sharing are at the forefront. Knowledge is ultimately the result of what is experienced during the discussion of a topic. The learner is not “educated” in the traditional sense, but takes on the role of “knowledge architect.”

Stay tuned for Part Two.