Faculty of Higher Education, New Knowledge Workers

“Knowledge workers”, as defined in 1959 by Peter Drucker, are “those who generate value by their minds rather than their muscles, and their work would be both dynamic and autonomous”. In knowledge work industries, workers must possess a range of superior technological, social, emotional, and cognitive skills, and often need regular training to keep their skills current.

In the latest in a series of four white papers created by The Economist and sponsored by Microsoft, the authors note the correlation between knowledge work and higher education. In the white paper, titled “Leveraging Technology to Humanize the Learning Experience: Key Lessons Higher Education Can Learn from “Knowledge Worker” Companiesthe authors also suggest best practices that educational institutions can implement from knowledge work to better engage and connect with students.

Although educators and students are not usually referred to as “knowledge workers”, there are many parallels between the way information is created, stored and shared in higher education institutions and in traditional knowledge-based industries. the knowledge. Therefore, the way these knowledge-intensive industries have adapted technologically to increasingly hybrid work applies perfectly to higher education, where more hybrid courses are being offered to address security concerns related to the pandemic and provide greater flexibility for students to be distanced.

Workers in many industries have taken advantage of technological innovations to efficiently perform their tasks outside of traditional office environments, and a high percentage of them expect some of the flexibility around where and when where they do their work continues. Of course, the experience of connecting and collaborating with each other is also important, so managers and executives are trying to find the “middle ground” between allowing remote work and creating opportunities for interaction. in person.

In higher education, a similar phenomenon occurs: students yearn for the experience of campus life, but also appreciate and expect the flexibility offered by a hybrid combination of synchronous and asynchronous courses. In recent years, faculty and staff have become proficient in the digital strategies and tools used to create distance learning environments, but they also see the need for additional training and guidance to maximize the tools and techniques used. for blended learning.

“Data from the last 40 years – and what we can see in the next 20 and 40 years – shows [that] the best way to succeed in this economy will be to be an agile learner. – Rachel Romer Carlson, Guild CEO

According to Julian Birkinshaw, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School, some of the best learning is intertwined and integrated with workplace experience. Managers often incorporate training into regular tasks in the workplace, and to be successful, workers need to be agile and open to continuous learning. Therefore, a valuable skill that will help students succeed in the present and the future is lifelong learning. To prepare their students for the future, universities must help develop sustainable and non-sustainable skills and cultivate the learner’s mindset.

Technology has an immense capacity to personalize and humanize learning, but to realize this potential, it is essential to improve the skills of instructors and professors. When institutions invest in both technology and faculty training, teachers often feel more comfortable using and innovating with digital tools, which can create opportunities for more connection with students. .

Among the most promising and exciting innovations that can be applied in both industry and education are AI-powered chatbots. The power of artificial intelligence can automate mundane tasks like answering questions while providing a human feel. In education, AI and analytics can also create personalized learning options for each student.

“Tools from big tech companies, such as enterprise collaboration and productivity platforms, should be used to scaffold increasingly digital campuses in far more innovative and comprehensive ways.” – Dr David Conrad Kellermann, Senior Lecturer, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, University of New South Wales

In addition to advanced applications that use AI and machine learning, successful blended learning requires a common software technology stack. “Big tech company tools, such as enterprise collaboration and productivity platforms, should be used to scaffold increasingly digital campuses in much more innovative and comprehensive ways,” says Dr. David Conrad Kellermann , senior lecturer at the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of New South Wales. Despite the availability of these tools, many higher education institutions do not yet use them. This limits the ability of schools to modernize collaboration, collect meaningful data, and engage students in personal ways.

Hiring and onboarding workers virtually has been one of the biggest challenges for companies. Colleges and universities have taken on the similar challenge of trying to demonstrate school culture and create a sense of belonging in online student orientations. Either way, a mix of technology and in-person meetings can help. Initial presentations and group events can be organized via virtual meeting apps, while campus tours can be recreated via video, virtual reality or in-person gatherings for those who want and can attend.

Burnout is another challenge faced by both knowledge workers and students who work and learn remotely. There really is no substitute for connecting in person, and living life behind a screen can take its toll. Experts note that one of the main reasons for this is that when we work, learn and live in the same place, it’s harder to disconnect.

Experts recommend that business and education leaders recognize that mental health is as important as physical health, and implement strategies to promote wellness. This may mean dividing work into sprints, limiting or automating administrative or repetitive tasks, and ensuring opportunities for conversation and feedback. These approaches are also effective for business leaders and educators, especially when aided by technology.

Hybrid working and learning can present challenges for knowledge worker companies and higher education institutions, but it can also provide opportunities to create balance and flexibility. When workers and learners can complete tasks and achieve goals on their own terms, productivity and well-being are likely to increase. Of course, building community and empowering creative collaboration is as important in education as it is in industry, so technology that humanizes interaction and personalizes experiences offers the greatest benefit. .

Want to know more about the white paper? “Leveraging Technology to Humanize the Learning Experience: Key Lessons Higher Education Can Learn from “Knowledge Worker” Companies”, is available now.

Donald E. Patel