My Teacher is a Robot

While the headline may still seem a little far-fetched today, this might not be so uncommon after all in the not-so-distant future of education. If there were resistance or hesitations about the use of technology in education, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly has acted as the biggest impetus in transforming education in ways we have not imagined. Along with this, it has forced us to rethink the role of teachers and how the roles might change in the future.

Luthra & Mackenzie (2020) asserts that this is a good time to rethink education with technology playing a key role and the need for the role of educators to transform to cope with these changes. They also suggested that “the role of educators will need to move towards facilitating young people’s development as contributing members of society”.

While I am encouraged to see that traditional educators have started to embrace technology, I am also seeing many questions about the way forward, questions about best practices, and how best to prepare not only ourselves but also our students for a digital future that is coming upon us. In this post, I’m going to explore the notion of how technology might impact the demand for teachers in the future and how educators can prepare themselves today for such a future.

The Case for Embracing Technology

After the Millennials or Gen Y, came the Gen Z (born mid-to-late 1990s – early 2010s), then the Gen Alpha (born early 2010s – mid-2020s) (Wikipedia, 2021). Children from Gen Z onwards have been born into a world with technology. Talk to a Gen-Zer and they cannot imagine living in a world without technology. This is the generation that we are having to teach and guide, so as educators, we better make sure we keep up.

As we are looking to prepare Gen Z and Alpha for the future workforce, it might be worth noting that only 15% of the jobs these two generations will be entering into, exist today. This also means that 85% of those jobs have yet to be invented! (Dell Technologies, 2017). This perspective should be a trigger for educators to rethink how we design learning and the skills we should be imparting on young learners today to prepare them for jobs that do not yet exist today.

Teachers of the Future – A Changing Role

And then there is that extreme claim by influential British educator, Sir Anthony Seldon, who predicted that the role of teachers will be replaced by robots by the year 2027 and the teacher’s role will be decimated to one of a “classroom assistant” (Insider.co.uk, 2017).

I prefer to see the role of teachers as shifting rather than becoming obsolete. It will look more like a world in which humans partner with machines to achieve learning goals more effectively and efficiently. The role of teachers will not be redundant, but teachers will need to rethink their role as the work that they will be doing will be quite different from what they are doing today (Dell Technologies, 2017). 

Based on Moore’s Law, the processing power of machines will accelerate with time to the point where machines will soon overtake the capabilities of humans in many areas, with greater accuracy and efficiency. As educators, our job is not to fear technology but to look at ways in which we can partner with technology to transcend our own limitations (Dell Technologies, 2017).

The machines may be capable of executing and carrying out the task of teaching better but there is still a need for humans to design and architect the learning experience itself. Hence I see the role of teachers shifting in weight towards one of a learning designer, thoughtfully considering designing the learning experience to cater to diverse learner needs.

The Way Forward

The report by Dell Technologies (2017) introduced us to the term “in-the-moment learning” where learners partner with machines to learn while they are on-the-job. By 2030, we will be living in a world where in-the-moment learning will be commonplace and those who are agile, adaptable, and quick learners will trump those with pre-existing knowledge.

The Dell Technologies’ IFTF report (2017) sums up how we, as humans can prepare for a future where we embrace human-machine partnership:

  1. Contextualized intelligence: nuanced understanding of culture, society, business, and people
  2. Entrepreneurial mindset: applying creativity, learning agility, and an enterprising attitude to find workarounds and circumvent constraints
  3. Personal brand cultivation: a searchable and favorable digital identity as basic work hygiene
  4. Automation literacy: the nimble ability to integrate lightweight automation tools into one’s own work and home life
  5. Computational sensemaking: ability to derive meaning from blended machine and human-based outputs

In a future where machines trump humans in their capacity to contain knowledge, a focus on academic knowledge and grades alone will become less significant. Instead, Luthra & Mackenzie (2020)  underlined imparting and cultivating life skills in learners as being far more important. These life skills include skills such as resilience, adaptability, creativity, communication, collaboration and teamwork, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

While we bear these thoughts in mind and look for opportunities to weave the cultivation of life skills when designing learning experiences for our learners today, it will also serve educators well to cultivate these life skills within ourselves in order that we too, might be prepared for a future where humans and machines coexist.

References

  1. Wikipedia. (2021, April 28). Generation Alpha. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Alpha.
  2. Wikipedia. (2021, April 30). Generation Z. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z.
  3. Wikipedia. (2021, April 29). Millennials. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennials.
  4. The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships. Dell Technologies. (2017, July 12). https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-us/perspectives/the-next-era-of-human-machine-partnerships/.
  5. Insider.co.uk. (2017, September 11). Intelligent robots ‘will replace teachers in inspiring pupils’. Insider.co.uk. https://www.insider.co.uk/news/intelligent-robots-will-replace-teachers-11146699.
  6. Wikipedia. (2021, April 30). Moore’s law. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law.
  7. Institute for the Future (2017). The next era of human-machine partnerships. Dell Technologies. https://www.delltechnologies.com/content/dam/delltechnologies/assets/perspectives/2030/pdf/SR1940_IFTFforDellTechnologies_Human-Machine_070517_readerhigh-res.pdf
  8. Luthra, P., & Mackenzie, S. (2020, March 30). 4 ways Covid-19 could change how we educate future generations. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/4-ways-covid-19-education-future-generations/