Knowledge Café: What skills should be prioritised for learners in the twenty-first century?

What knowledge, skills and capabilities should be prioritised for university learners in the twenty-first century? 

That was the question posed at Knowledge Café at Regent’s University London on Wednesday 26th February 2020. In the Knowledge Café a roomful of forward-thinking people considered and debated issues about the question from 18:00 to 21:00. 

Knowledge cafe group session
Delegates discussing the topic

The Knowledge Café is an innovative format that starts with a 10-minute talk from an expert, before breaking the audience off into small groups to discuss the topic at hand. The twist? Every few minutes, they need to get up and switch tables and introduce themselves and their ideas to a brand new group of people.

On the agenda: AI, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, creativity and ethicality. All skills that employers are looking for in the century ahead. But how can universities help learners with these skills? And what challenges do academics face when preparing their students for the new-look workforce? 

David Gurteen speaking
David Gurteen

Dr Peter Sharp gave the keynote speech at the event. 

He said: ‘Due to the effect of globalisation, high and low skilled jobs are being polarised. There is a need for people with a high level skills that can work in a way that complements technology. There are fewer jobs for life, and a lot more people doing portfolio work.

‘There is a juxtaposition between the things people can do with apps, computers and technology – making a large amount of money in a very short period of time – on one extreme, and, at the same time, traditional skills and heritage are still valued in our complex world. 

Dr Sharp introducing the topic
Dr Sharp introducing the topic

‘More people are now looking at apprenticeships for a good career, and some people are saying the university model appears to be broken – while the world is changing, the system that prepares students for the workforce isn’t evolving. 

‘But we need to question where universities fit, what should they be thinking about and how can they adapt?’

Dr Sharp then continued with a suggestion: ‘Learners today seek learner-focused courses that have high employment rates, good value for money, and interactive, experiential learning. Blended learning – with the use of IT – is being seen as a good thing. Instead of learning being relegated to a couple of years at university, some students are increasingly seeing themselves as lifelong learners. Also, there are some things robots just can’t do, and these jobs must be picked up by humans. AI has its limits.’

Delegates discussed the issues at length for 2 hours in the Knowledge Café format. There was a lot of lively debate and bridges formed between delegates, and much positive feedback on the event.

Dr Peter Sharp has just written a chapter in the book, ‘University of the Future’, which was on sale at the event.