Written by: Stephanie Ong

Attending the EduTech conference in 2020 has brought new perspectives to me and the various insights and observations (as shared in the article) are ideas contributed by different speakers throughout the conference which have then given rise to this piece of reflective article.

In today’s society, the work environment is ever changing as we continue to advance with time. Therefore, the expectations of future learners continue to grow and learners are expected to develop new sets of skills so that they are able to push beyond the boundaries of the old. With the changes and transformation, there is no doubt that the criteria in selecting potential employees has also evolved as well. Nowadays, many employers are in search of well-rounded individuals who not only possess qualifications but adequate social skills in order for them to perform well. In addition, they should also be able to tap on their intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to relate to others to manage conflicts which may possibly arise. Due to this, educators are then under the pressure to step up to the challenge to develop learners who are highly competent in order to meet the expectations of our society.

Having this in mind, more institutions are then seeking to integrate technical skills and soft skills into their curriculum so as to develop the competent learner that society is in search of. Personal strengths are always deemed to be a merit, however, in recent years; it has become evident that having emotional intelligence is a quality that is highly valued. In fact, it has slowly become part of one’s assessment in consideration for one’s suitability for a job. Therefore, this drives the need to build the bridge between university and industry so that they are able to establish a real link between the both, creating a highly valued education for our future learners. So, in order to be considered as a competent learner (apart from having qualifications, technical skills and professional knowledge), learners have to build on their self-awareness and self-management skills. Therefore, the future learner has to adapt to a new mind-set and learn to be resilient and remain adaptable as the society continues to push forward.

Once the learners have graduated and begin applying for jobs, they will notice on job advertisements and during interviews that employers will have listed the necessary hard skills and soft skills expected from a candidate. Therefore, it is true to say that a job applicant’s suitability for the job goes beyond qualification and work knowledge. They will also need to possess the right types of personal qualities to suit the nature of the job in order to be shortlisted. In the past, job qualifications, professional knowledge and experience have been the main focus for selection. However, with the change of times, scrutiny of one’s soft skills has become an unspoken examinable component in an interview. In some aspects, it is considered to be more important than intelligence for certain types of jobs.

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Moreover, when it comes to soft skills, Interpersonal skills vary from intrapersonal skills. While possessing good interpersonal skills allows one to work in a team environment and communicate effectively and with empathy for others, intrapersonal skills are considered important if not essential in being a well-rounded learner as having the right attitude and resilience contributes a lot to their success. Therefore, schools have begun to realize that these skill sets are integral in moulding a competent learner especially before they enter the workforce. Soft skills are considered very valuable but they are also known to be the most challenging to mould in a learner. 

With society moving from an industrial to a knowledge based economy, we have thus seen the emergence of a digital era. Living in a digital era requires a certain level of digital literacy and comfort in using media, new technologies and being able to transfer this knowledge into practical skills. Therefore, another examinable component has now been included in a successful profile of a well-rounded individual due to the needs of an ever-changing society. Apart from the skill sets mentioned in the above, these learners need to hone their cognitive agility, motivation and engagement skills, self-management, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving skills and finally to also possess technological and cultural competence. Therefore, the need to move beyond the mastery in academic knowledge to transfer of learning is exactly what the society has moved into.

In order to develop these skills in our future learners, it is crucial that educators need to be given the support and training needed to hone these skills. More importantly, with the new curriculum in mind, it is important to make sure that assessments are tweaked to ensure that they are being assessed accordingly in order to meet those objectives. Therefore, there is a need to relook into the method that students are being assessed in order to path the right way to further their cognitive development. Effective feedback is also crucial and has to be part of the process in order to make sure that the learners’ progress in the right direction.

While pen and paper based tests remain as the main mode of our assessments, it is definitely not the only means of conducting assessments. This form of assessment can result in the learner regurgitating the content which then loses its purpose. The learning objective is to move from surface learning to deep learning and eventually the transfer of skills. Therefore, tests and assessments should then be assessing the whole endowment and personality of the learners so as to achieve a holistic assessment of one’s capabilities. However, we must be careful when introducing this new form of test as we should always ensure its reliability and validity. It should not in any way distort teaching.

In order to make the shift from knowledge based to skills based learning, performance tasks or assessments should not encourage regurgitating of content and memorization. It should in fact, involve the application of knowledge and skills. Assessments then become part of a routine where student’s growth is being assessed for their capabilities and to ensure that they are making progress. However, we should consider moving away from having simply one single answer. In fact, these answers could be left open-ended to encourage higher order thinking and allow students to demonstrate creativity. Novel and authentic contexts should be established for the tasks as well. The tasks or assessments should be multifaceted. It could look into integrating two or more subjects and tie it in with the skills needed in a 21st century environment to perform a task. Some performance based tasks could include, but are not limited to, presentations, portfolios, performance, projects, exhibits, fairs and debates. The purpose of this kind of assessment is to transform and train them to become independent learners. Therefore, when planning for a curriculum, aside from including performance based tasks, there should be activities incorporating experiential learning and engaging activities which allows evaluation to take place continuously and also give room for the learner to evolve. 

With progression and evolvement, learners need to also be given the opportunity to pause, receive effective feedback before reflecting and moving forward so as to ensure that they are staying on the right track. How should the practitioners then ensure that the learners are receiving effective feedback? Firstly, it is important to note that feedback does not equate to praises or evaluations. Praises are designed to affirm and demonstrate approval. On the other hand, evaluation is an assessment of how well the learner has performed on a task. This can take the form of using star charts or simply going through reflective questions. One thing to remember is that evaluation only provides a value in correspondence with your performance but it does not tell you how to improve on a skill. That is when learners require feedback. A feedback is provided in order to help the learner to grow and improve on their skills. However, most of the time, the feedback given may very well be quite general. In order to ensure that learners are receiving constructive feedback, there are seven key components that one should be mindful of when relaying feedback. These components are listed in the table below.

Seven key components of effective feedback

Goal referenced: It should be in line with learning targets.
1. Tangible and transparent: Feedback conveyed should be stated clearly to the recipient. Feedback statements should not be generalized.
2. Actionable: Following the feedback, there should be steps taken in order to rectify or improve the current data.

3. User-friendly: Language used to relay feedback should be targeted at their level. It has to be understandable to them.

4. Timely: Feedback should be given on time so that amendments can be made and be corrected early. It has to be timely in order to be effective.

5. Ongoing: Discussion and feedback should follow the pattern of having a conversation. It should be ongoing and continuous throughout the process.

6. Be concise and clear: It should be short and succinct.

 

Therefore, we realized that when it comes to developing the competent learner that society is in search of, there are actually many different aspects involved and all of them are interlinked. Hence, to give rise to future transformations, we have to start by tackling the root of the problem and be bold in making the shift in order to witness a change in our learning landscape.