Scaffolding learners into the new world of work

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Scaffolding learners into the new world of work

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Written by Zoe Guzman Martinez, Supervising Editor: Instructional Design

When I was pregnant with my second child, I printed an ultrasound scan of her foot on canvas and inscribed it with the words: “Oh the wonders of what paths these feet might take; they have not yet touched the ground, but endless possibilities await!” I often think about this in relation to young people entering the rapidly evolving 21st-century workplace.

The fourth industrial revolution has changed the way that we engage with the world around us; the changes we see in the workplace have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the changes were inevitable, and it is unlikely that things will ever return to “what they were”. In higher education, we need to equip students for a work environment where “watercooler chats” and “boardroom meetings” will have no meaning. Remote working will be a norm, where output will matter more than the number of hours spent at work. Leading and mentoring remotely, and the ability to work independently will be critical skills, as will the ability to use technology to network and communicate effectively. Work environments will be dynamic, which will require employees to be adaptable, flexible, and open to life-long learning. It is unlikely, in the future, that many people will do the same job for their entire working career.

It has become less important for institutions in higher education to impart knowledge, with much more focus being placed on the skills that are required to thrive in the “new world of work”. Constructivist learning theory suggests that the process of learning is just as important as what is learnt; learners are actively engaged in creating meaning, with guidance from a “more knowledgeable other” and input from their peers. Knowledge is constructed by building on pre-existing schemas, which continue to expand over time. Facilitators who use constructivist methods will rely on “scaffolding” to challenge their students with tasks and questions that are just beyond their current level of learning and comfort, to enable them to progress.

Even though constructivist learning theory has been around for quite some time, it is still very applicable to higher education, where learning outcomes form a framework for learning. Effective learning outcomes should be interwoven into every element of a qualification – they should give an indication of what a learner will be able to do at the end of a learning experience, and form the basis of all content and assessments (both formal and informal). To equip students for a workplace that will evolve constantly, outcomes should not only be about the knowledge they need to have attained by the end of a qualification, but also the skills that they must acquire in the learning process to equip them for the working context.

In higher education, we need to focus on “building a solid foundation”, rather than “building a house”. We need to equip students with a starting point in terms of knowledge, but the real gift we can give them is the skills that they will require to continue learning and adapting in their ever-changing environment.

27 Sep 2021