The future of business education will be centered on contextual learning


Earlier this year I gave the opening keynote at the Thought Leadership Forum on The Virtual University, which examined the future of business education.

The event organizers, the Centre for Accounting, Governance, and Sustainability and the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia, have now released a book The Virtual University: Impact on Australian Accounting and Business Education based on the conference proceedings.

The opening chapter in the book was generated from a transcript of my keynote. If you are interested you can read the full article online: Global Social and Technology Trends Shaping the Future of Universities.

One of the points I make is about the shift to highly contextual and modular learning:

In the past people went to university, studied until they had a degree, then went to work and applied that knowledge. In the future learning will be modular, contextual and just in time.

Modular knowledge provides resources in a specific context, in which a question is asked, a problem confronted. When an obstacle is encountered the solution is sought in the form of a specific module of learning needed to solve that particular problem. This context specific module is acquired just as we need it, ‘just in time’.

Jay Cross, one of the leaders of informal learning, describes this as workflow learning, that is, learning that is embedded in the flow of work. When you reach a particular activity where you need to know something, you reach out to find what you need to know. The ‘learning module’ may be in any number of forms: a video, an article, or an individual who knows what you need to know or who has experienced what you are experiencing. This kind of learning is about networks, about access, about critical thinking and problem solving. It is different to being in a lecture theatre or classroom. Because it is contextual it is more meaningful and more useful.

In this way learning is personalised and tailored. Every person has a different learning style. A fundamental shift required across education is that learning must become personal, must become suited to our experience, to our style of thinking, to the context in which we are working. Different and new modes of delivery make this increasingly possible, whether it is online or in a university.

There is no longer any reason for education to be delivered in the same way to everyone, or indeed for education to be separated from the context within which it is used.

Let’s build education for all work and business to be modular so that it can always be relevant to the context of the user, available on demand, tap available expertise networks, and create fun, engaging, and efficient learning.