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CogX and the Future of Learning


We recently attended the CogXFestival at The O2 in London. Although each year the official theme is along the lines of “How do we get the next ten years right?”, there always tends to be a specific undercurrent that dominates all the talks. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year’s was Generative AI. One of the talks that I found particularly relevant to MHR and our customers was about the future of learning, both regarding higher education and how it impacts employers, employees and the continual need for upskilling. Upskilling is the key word here because it was the essential message coming from the panel. 


AI and creative thinking 

Two of the panel were more from the academic sphere and it was interesting how they were embracing generative AI from the perspective of creative thinking and how it can improve and augment learning. In previous talks there were many warnings of the dangers of this, but in this discussion, it was more about how to utilise it and to make the most of it. Professor Neil Maiden from the University of London City was expecting AI to augment creative thinking and reflective learning and he believes it will become more common in education and work.  


Creative thinking or creative cheating? 

Even though he was aware of students using generative AI to summarise academic documents so they didn’t have to read the whole paper and how they could “cheat” on projects and dissertations, he was more interested in how they could use this to their advantage to make larger and more in-depth projects that they could complete in a shorter time span.  


Transferable skills and learning how to reinvent yourself 

While the professor was interested in AI for creative thinking, others on the panel were equally tuned-in to the need for people learning behavioural skills. This for them was a set of key transferable skills such as communication, their own creative thinking and team working. Perhaps most important of all was the ability to be able to show agility on the learning front, to be comfortable with the fact that you will constantly need to reinvent yourself due to the changing nature of the skill sets required for the workforce of the future. A particularly nice phrase was to be able to “restlessly reinvent” yourself. Everyone needs to be able to do this. 


Upskilling across organisations 

Organisations will need to look for digital growth across the entire company, which includes making sure non-digital natives are upskilled appropriately. Again, the key is a cultural shift around learning agility, and this may involve bringing in people who are comfortable with that level of constant change. Mention was made of the Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, which shows an interesting trend highlighting a difference between employers, specialist employees and non-specialist employees regarding skill development.  Most employers and employees with specialist skills (around 52%) recognise the fact that they will need to continuously improve their skills and develop new ones, whereas only 15% of workers with non-specialist skills think the same way. 


Shifting of skills in organisations 

It seems likely that employers will need to start working more closely with the education sector to bring in this new crop of skilled-up, but adaptable employees. On one hand these may be the new champions of using the AI technology in different environments that is required to encourage its efficient use and to show how it can improve productivity. On the other hand, it was interesting to hear the representative from IBM (Jenny Taylor) state that tech skills could become less important than transferable skills. She believed that traditional STEM skills were decreasing in importance and employees will be looking more at the transferable skills. 


The lessons we need to learn 

In summary, while acknowledging that it still needed to improve, generative AI is seen as a big part of both the future of work and of learning, both from augmenting the learning experience but also from needing to upskill employees to use it properly. There was a level of optimism that AI could lift work and remove the drudgery and repetition. 

But perhaps the key takeaways were: 

Everyone needs to become more agile – you will constantly need to reskill throughout your career and be able to reinvent yourself. 

You will need to find a new comfort zone and self confidence in dealing with the constant change of the work environment. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, transferable skills will become increasingly important, because of all the skills you possess, these will be the ones that won’t become outdated. 


By Neil Stenton, Research Engineer

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