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Welcome to the Da Vinci Institute: School of Business Leadership

Education for the 5th Industrial Revolution – by Dr Heather Goode

After the volatility of the last 12 months, many leaders are speculating what we can expect in the next few years for health, work, business, and innovation and whether they should be studying further or not. When considering the technology and social shifts in the past year, there’s no doubt that in 2020 the pandemic and its effects have accelerated and built momentum to some aspects of change that have emerged (Swab, 2016) and are emerging. The impacts of integrating devices into our daily lives (e.g. cell phones, migrating online, new technology, digital access, and literacy) are penetrating more deeply than before. One of the large areas of ongoing debate is how these effects affect us as human beings, how we keep up with the changes and how we interface with technology.

Impacts of the Industrial Revolutions

Recently Pratik Gauri[1] (2019), reviewed some of the thinking emerging around the 4th  and 5th Industrial Revolutions. Largely this leads us to realise the growing importance of how technology affects people, and how this changes how people interact with their world. Within each revolution, there were changes in where people lived, what jobs they did, how people moved from place to place and who developed wealth. Notice too, how people have increasingly been organised into businesses for work.

This can feel daunting as businesses have struggled with both digitisation and the pandemic. However, Forbes contributor Lawrence Wintermeyer (2019)[2] highlighted  “(t)he next big tech trend is humanity” while discussing the impact of the 4th  Industrial Revolution and what will shape the 5th Industrial Revolution:

“Most of the conferences I attend focus on ‘the next big tech thing’ and what it can do”, Wintermeyer observed, “often to the exclusion of the utility and impact the technology will have on society.”

This is reinforced by several authors like Guari (2019) who see “beacons of hope” within the emerging changes and describes growing public-private partnerships (PPPs) to achieve unsustainable development goals, changes in the gender gap with growing education and empowerment of woman. As we explore the debates around needed work shifts, not only is how we work and the health of our work increasingly important, but business is evolving as a  “powerful and active force for doing good” (ibid.) Guari (2019) describes a growing commitment to ‘profit with purpose’, so the rise of conscious capitalism and more socially just forms of capitalism. This can be seen in Entrepreneurs who seek to solve community and social issues while creating business. These social entrepreneurs are responding to a growing awareness of inequality, it’s consequences, the need for education that helps us live better and the mutual benefit within community health has certainly been highlighted in the last year.

Higher Education for the 5th Industrial Revolution

So what does this mean for us in higher education? This year has seen an acceleration of online learning, personalised learning and the use of AI in learning and service interactions. There is also an increasing debate about the value of full qualifications given the costs (i.e. the ROI of qualifications). Authors like Chamorro-Premuzic and Frankiewicz (2019) highlight these debates[3] and comment that several prominent companies are moving away from degrees as a job requirement.  For example, Google released additional professional certifications[4] as more relevant to their specific requirements, and there has been an increase in short courses, hobby courses and skills tutorial’s available online. Want to learn how to change a plug, “Google it” and YouTube will allow you to choose which video matches your plug. Be careful to look for the SA version or well, you may have a short circuit. Want to try out Yoga or paint a mural, there’s a course here, a free lesson there, and more websites than you can imagine. What this means is that the capacity to learn and the potential for learning on demand, learning as you need to know something or “just-in-time” learning has increased tremendously. Asmaa Mezied comments that “Education is increasingly becoming “just in time” rather than “just in case”. Learning seems to be more about what you need to know for a specific time, most often applied today than compiling knowledge that may never be needed.

So our education models now need to reflect the demand for lifelong learning to cope with the technological and social changes already brought by the 4th  Industrial Revolution (Ostergaard & Nordlund, 2019) and meet the needs of people as human beings in the 5th Industrial Revolution. In a world that has become much more non-linear, the situations demanding lifelong learning have changed significantly. Every time you upgrade your phone or change job roles, learning is required. Knowing how to learn or catch up in a field or qualify for promotion still leads many adults to study further.

In South Africa, student demographics are changing substantially. Students who would previously be considered ‘non-traditional’ are becoming the “new normal” student (even before the pandemic). Part of the reason for this is a history where for every 100 students who started school in South Africa and might have matriculated in the 2008 National Matric Cohort, only 12 go to university, and only four of these 12 get a degree within six years[i]. This is as much due to finances as other challenges.  What this means, is that now many adults are studying while working as they work towards promotions, career changes or adapting to new contexts.  Ostergaard and Nordlund (2019) pointed out that there are now new expectations for “seamless higher education and life-long learning experiences” that meet the needs of different careers, changing careers, varying lifestyles, individual circumstances and preferences. Growing diversity and being human need to be built into the shifts of higher education.

The greatest value of any good education

There are a few side effects of these shifts and the emerging changes of the 5th Industrial Revolution:

  • A need to continually learn and update our skills to stay relevant.
  • A devaluing of (long-term) expertise ( i.e. reconsidering how long our expertise is relevant)
  • An underestimation of the value of learning something and the need for practising to become competent
  • A reevaluation of what we need to remember and “know”
  • We are learning to navigate large amounts of information and evaluating the quality and accuracy of that information
  • An increase in anxiety when networks or power sources are lost as this means you cannot access your online library or resources
  • Learning to look good in real-time online and videos is necessary
  • People more often want education and credentials to translate into employment, specific careers and income

And yet some things haven’t changed

The greatest value of any good education is learning how to learn and thinking better, improvements in “wisdom”, both of which lead to better decision making. So what should higher education be considered as they innovate and strategise to be more people-centred: How to engage in more people-friendly ways; New ways of assessment directly related to what needs to be known, done or demonstrated as competence; Personalised learning, which happens more flexible at different times; Coaching and motivational aspects linked to better understandings of neuroscience and learning. Given the costs of higher education, there should also be high accountability to students and their ultimate employers (which may also be themselves if they are entrepreneurs).


[1] https://europeansting.com/2019/05/16/what-the-fifth-industrial-revolution-is-and-why-it-matters/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDiHaHPOVH0

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/lawrencewintermeyer/2019/01/31/the-next-big-tech-trend-is-humanity/?sh=51917887735c

[3] https://hbr.org/2019/01/does-higher-education-still-prepare-people-for-jobs

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/13/google-announces-certificates-in-data-project-management-and-ux.html; https://developers.google.com/certification

[i] This is one of the findings in the academic paper Higher Education Access and Outcomes for the 2008 National Matric Cohort. (https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2016/wp162016; 2016; Hendrik van BroekhuizenServaas van der Berg; Heleen Hofmeyr 😉

[ii] OECD (2019), Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en. See also data where having a degree lead to a 5.4% unemployment rate https://africacheck.org/reports/yes-education-jobs-belong-to-same-whatsapp-group-as-sas-malema-said/