New approaches to education

The way in which education is delivered has changed profoundly due to increased connectivity, the use of computers and web-based apps, new pedagogical approaches and an emphasis on lifelong learning. As a result, the reach of education is increasing. However, there are still important challenges to address such ensuring inclusive quality education and closing the gap for women, as outlined by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. 1

In the old model of institutional education, children learn, become students or apprentices for a limited period, and then head off into the working world. Today, rapid change to ways of working mean professionals need to develop new skillsets throughout their lives; few people have one career in one sector, rather moving between professions such as engineering, law, academia and business, and increasingly establishing their own practices as entrepreneurs or consultants.

Learning practices now include massive open online courses (MOOCs); informal sharing online via YouTube and other forums; ‘flipped learning’, where students are responsible for their own learning and come into class for specific guidance, and games. Community learning is also taking root through the comeback of home schooling and DIY movements such as the Maker movement and hackathons.

Rapid change in both educational needs and modes of delivery raise the question of policy: how to decide what to learn and what skills to prioritise, in a world where automation might displace many jobs?

Despite these changes, poor educational outcomes and inefficient education systems persist worldwide. Governments, businesses and communities need to invest in improving educational quality and accessibility in order to engender greater socioeconomic mobility and improve quality of life.

Last updated: 21 October 2015 


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Current trajectory

Increasing access of education

• Today, there are over 30 million more children in school than there were at the beginning of the decade. Primary school enrolments have increased dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, as well as in South and West Asia. In Ethiopia there are three million more children in school than there were in 2000. 1

• Worldwide, females aged 15-24 have lower literacy rates (87%) than males (92%). However, the gap has closed somewhat since 1990, when the corresponding figures were 79% and 88%.2

• Despite large improvements made in access to education, there is still a long way to go. About 121 million children and adolescents are estimated to be out of school. Globally, 1 in 5 adolescents is excluded from the classroom, compared to 1 in 11 primary school aged children. As children get older, the risk that they will never start school or will drop out increases. According to the UNESCO and UNICEF, there has been almost no progress in reducing this number since 2007. Children living in conflict, child labourers and those facing discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and disability are at the greatest risk of exclusion from education. 3

New ways of learning

• Flipped learning - Physical chemistry students given most course content outside of the classroom scored 12% higher on exams than their counterparts in more traditional classes where students listened to lectures, a new study by researchers at the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (U-Mass) shows. 1

• Homeschooling - As a parent-led home-based mode of education, homeschooling is an age-old traditional educational practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and “alternative” but is now bordering on “mainstream” in the United States. It may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States. Home-based education has also been growing around the world in many other nations (e.g. Australia, Canada, France, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Russia, Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). There are about 2.2 million home-educated students in the United States and this population has been continuing to grow (at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the past few years). 2

• Digitisation - Globally available and extremely cheaper than traditional university fees, MOOCs have managed to attract a broad range of users. Stanford professor, former Google X head, and Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun helped launch the MOOC movement in 2011 when he drew 160,000 students to an online version of his Stanford introductory artificial intelligence course. However, MOOCs are still best equipped to deal with the well-schooled and well-supported — a problem that has surfaced since the concept’s beginning. 3

• New pathways to the workforce - Degrees and good grades have long been proxies for the kind of cognitive skills required for jobs in knowledge industries. But many say that these credentials don’t meaningfully predict job performance, and companies are starting to catch onto that. In August 2015, the UK office of the accounting firm Ernst & Young announced that, starting in 2016, it will no longer require new hires to have a college degree.EY said in a statement that the decision came after an internal 18-month study of 400 employees found little evidence that academic success was correlated with how well new hires performed on the job.  This raises the question of branding for educational institutions which have played a major role in social status, such as the Ivy League schools. 4

Focus on lifelong learning - New Learners

• In-utero health - Recent scientific advances emphasise the importance of early preparation for education. In-utero health influences for educational achievement in later life, for instance, as does infant and child health and pre-primary learning. Yet despite mounting evidence of how critical the early years are, over half the world’s children still lack access to preschool services and are unable to fulfil their potential. 1

• Micro-credentialing to train teachers - The idea of micro-credentials grew out of the “digital badging” movement led primarily by the Mozilla and MacArthur Foundations. These organisations describe digital badges, or micro-credentials, as “an online record of achievements” that track both who issued the credentials as well as the work that was actually completed to get them. In other words, a micro-credential not only represents mastery of skill, but it is also linked to an online portfolio that shows colleagues, and potentially employers, how that particular person demonstrated his or her mastery. 2

• Gamification - Many companies are experimenting with gamification to encourage employee learning. Based on the findings of a 2013 survey conducted by TalentLMS, 79% of the participants (both corporate learners and university students) said that they would be more productive and motivated if their learning environment was more like a game. 3 Employees of Xerox use Qstream app, which is similar to the popular trivia game, Trivia Crack. Instead of a formal training seminar, employees use the app throughout the day or at team meet-ups and compete with one another by answering questions. The idea is to instil best practices in employees who are on the go and too busy for formal training seminars. 4


  • Governments that quickly take advantage of recent advancements in low-cost access to education could make significant inroads into issues of educational equality and quality. This could lead to a corresponding boost in socio-economic performance, giving a country’s firms and industries a significant competitive advantage in global markets. 1
  • While higher education has been the subject of the bulk of low-cost delivery innovations, in future more alternative pathways into early education will be needed for children both in and outside the formal system. 2
  • As a result of the digital revolution and the emergence of new practice, the historical link between education and school-based learning may weaken in future, with new educational systems appearing in the form of home schooling, learning centres, workplace learning and distance learning. If education becomes more informal in this way, one effect may be to give greater agency to the individual to organise their own education.

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