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AI is everywhere. Its use is being debated in headlines, on social media and around dinner tables. To some, the rate of AI acceleration is concerning, with many technology leaders calling for a six-month pause in the training of new systems to better understand the impact such tools are having. To others, AI is seen as the cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution, the latest disruptive technology opening up possibilities for new ways of learning, working and living that we have never experienced before.
Yet, disruptive technologies are nothing new. They have been changing the way we live and work for decades. And these changes have not been without consequences, particularly in the form of economic dislocation and social upheaval. Automation in manufacturing has streamlined mass production and driven down costs; Ecommerce platforms have reshaped the way we shop and do business; even online education has found new ways to provide flexible and affordable ways of learning, delivering opportunities to millions across the globe that simply were not available before.
Presently, much of the discussion around the impact of AI is based on conjecture. However, it is widely agreed that it will have a major impact on jobs and even has the potential to call into question the very fundamentals of what work is. What is not understood is how AI will play out across society in the longer term. Will it, like previous technological revolutions, deliver short-term disruptions followed by long-term benefits, or will it be the catalyst for new ways of learning and upskilling and help reduce the widening digital divide?
One thing is clear: Unlike in previous industrial revolutions, we now have access to a wealth of learning resources that can help teach people at scale, embolden communities that were previously excluded and help mitigate occupational disruption.
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History predicts: Out with the old, in with the new
While it’s forecast AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs, history predicts it has the potential to allow for the creation of new roles. To put this into context, in today’s job market, 60% of workers are in occupations that did not exist in 1940.
What’s clear is that AI is the centerpiece of today’s workforce revolution. With the popular AI chatbot, ChatGPT, having just launched in November last year, data from Coursera has found a staggering 80% of businesses have already implemented the technology into their operations or have employees using the tool to improve their workflows.
Put simply, this is just the beginning. As AI integrates across multiple industries, it’s set to generate a slew of new roles. Some will be an expansion of existing functions, such as data science or cybersecurity, and some will be entirely new, such as prompt engineering. Soft skills, especially leadership, will be in high demand. Being able to navigate people through change and disruption is more important now but also more difficult than ever.
Meanwhile, in this revolution of knowledge, there will also be job dislocation, and rather than the lower-skilled jobs being most at risk, this time, it’s the higher-paid white-collar jobs. To avoid falling into irrelevance, every worker must be able to add value beyond what can be done by an intelligent machine.
To support these changes in the global job market while maximizing the opportunities presented by these new occupations, individuals and entire workforces must proactively learn new skills and embrace novel ways of working. Online education and lifelong learning will form the bedrock of upskilling initiatives, providing people with access to a plethora of resources, from micro-credentials to advanced degree programs and professional certificates from trusted and reputable universities and industry partners.
With the demand for AI expertise skyrocketing, data from Coursera reveals a staggering 67% of businesses are actively seeking professionals with AI skills. This underscores the critical need for individuals to harness the knowledge and tools offered by online education to seamlessly transition from declining occupations to the digital roles of the future.
Democratizing educational access with AI
The UK government recently announced its AI White Paper, designed to drive responsible innovation and maintain public trust in this revolutionary technology. Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan stated that AI should be used to make the UK a “smarter, healthier and happier place to live and work.”
Regardless of learners’ geographic location or socioeconomic background, AI-delivered educational programs will democratize educational access, providing people with new opportunities to learn virtually while adapting to changes in the job market advanced by automation. In the context of these developments, educational programs powered by AI will transform learners’ experiences from passive to interactive and immersive.
Think about personalization, for example. AI can analyze individual learners’ strengths, weaknesses and preferred learning styles to create tailored learning paths similar to a classroom experience. This allows learners to access educational content attuned to their specific needs, pace and interests, making learning more engaging and impactful. AI-powered adaptive learning platforms can also continuously assess learners’ progress and provide real-time feedback, helping them focus on areas that require improvement.
Of course, AI won’t replace teachers altogether or the value of the residential experience, but not everyone has access to this. With AI-powered online learning, it’s possible for every student to have an AI teaching assistant available 24/7, providing just-in-time contextual reminders to help them get unstuck or explain a concept differently. These advancements are ushering in a new chapter of learning that will help level the educational playing field.
Preparing for the true digital economy
While previous industrial revolutions and disruptive technologies have arguably driven a wedge between those at the top and those at the bottom, AI has the ability to democratize the way we live, work and learn.
To truly reduce the world’s digital divide and embrace the next secular technology shift, educators, governments, enterprises and individuals must align in ensuring AI is implemented inclusively and responsibly.
Only then will we unlock the true power of this technology, preparing our workers for the digital economy while creating a fairer and more equitable world for all.
Hadi Moussa is VP EMEA for Coursera.
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