Never in history has there been more knowledge at our fingertips than today – and at the same time, whatever knowledge and skills we acquire is likely to become obsolete more quickly, due to the rapid pace of change in various professions. Prof. Ruimin Shen, Director of the e-Learning Lab of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, is researching new strategies for teaching and learning. We spoke with him ahead of his talk at DLD 2019 to see what schools and universities can do to better prepare their students for a future of work with constantly changing demands.
In the face of automation and AI, how does education need to adapt?
I think Introduction to AI and Program Design are the two classes that should be added to the curriculum – especially in middle school. This will help to prepare students for the workplace of the future. It seems clear that factories will become completely automated at some point, meaning workers will no longer be required to perform many physical tasks. Instead they need to have the skills required for working with automated systems and be familiar with the basics of artificial intelligence. Considering that programming and AI are constantly changing, lifelong learning will also be very important in the future. A college degree will still be important, but it will not be enough because much of the knowledge will quickly become outdated.
Can online learning replace regular schools?
I don't think so. Both ways of learning have their own strengths and weaknesses. In my research I found that traditional classroom teaching can strengthen the bond between teachers and students, resulting in more effective classroom performance. On the other hand, online learning is not restricted by the location and size of the audience, its flexibility surpassing regular schools enormously. So it's impossible for them to replace each other. I see them as complementary instead. Online learning and offline learning go hand in hand.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital learning?
The advantage is that the students can get a more vivid, concrete picture of what is taught. On the other hand, some students might have difficulty in understanding the material without a real teacher by their side. Nowadays digital learning offers a lot more instruments designed to help students how to learn. But in my research I found many students feel lost when too many instruments are presented to them. They’d rather have real teachers to guide them and tailor the instruments to meet their needs. In my opinion, digital learning can do better when combined with real classroom teaching.
Which topic deserves more of our attention in the coming months?
I will say global climate change might be a worthy topic in the coming year. People have argued over global warming versus global cooling for decades. We also see catastrophic weather incidents happening more and more frequently around the world. I think AI and Big Data might become more and more critical in playing a role of predicting and preventing such catastrophes. If we fail to take good care of our planet, all of our efforts in the digital world will become pointless.