There has been a recent spates of articles and posts that I’ve come across, notably from my various LinkedIn feeds, that hint at the quandary of what learning and education are going to mean/are becoming to mean in the age of Uber and robots, that is, in the already emerging present. Many of us have heard exhortations to lifelong learning, which I think is more complicated than we might take on face value. Lifelong learning is necessarily more than a collection of diplomas, degrees and certificates in a continual, upward trajectory of self-improvement and career growth. But, what is it?
Uber and the increasing robotization of whole careers, including my own in higher education, destabilizes and disrupts the social, cultural and legal categories of work. This has been happening for some time, with the transformation of our former manufacturing-focused economy to one led by knowledge and service industries; and certainly, one could argue that our notions of work are always in flux. Yet, with the polarization of job opportunities, with middle-class manufacturing jobs being squeezed by outsourcing, offshoring and automation, we were exhorted to pursue higher education necessary for managerial, professional and technical jobs that were rewarding for their (relative) autonomy and difficulty in automating. Yet, the complexities of robot techniques and machine learning makes even the still incredibly human and relatively autonomous task of face-to-face teaching at risk for encroachment from robots. My qualification ‘face-to-face’ already hints at how higher education and learning has been, and continues to be, transformed, by various new technologies that are changing how we design and deliver learning but also how we even understand learners and the learning process itself.
Simultaneously, disruptive technologies such as Uber are reimagining our social definition of work and career, which at once returns greater freedom and flexibility to workers, robbed by automation, while making their labour ever more contingent on a myriad of market whims. This further unhinges the worker/contractor from our contemporary social and legal notion of the employee.
So, what happens to learning and teaching and training and the efforts to develop others? This is a huge problem, and challenge, for educators, learning and development professionals, trainers, coaches, a whole myriad of people. In the age of Uber and robots, diplomas, degrees, certificates and workplace training can’t be simply collected on the escalator to upward mobility, career success, and the American Dream. Rather, their value will be measured in how they have showed us techniques and pathways to be more adaptive, flexible, entrepreneurial, creative, courageous and resilient.