Pillar 1: Imparting the skills to leverage knowledge

By Professor Alwyn Louw; President: Monash South Africa

Given the levels of super-complexity that will be ushered in by The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a fundamental change in the way humans think and work is non-negotiable – and universities need to lead the charge. For Monash South Africa, delivering on this responsibility begins with a fundamental shift in macro curriculum to ensure that the learning delivered to students aligns with the key drivers of this fourth revolution, namely technology, innovation-based problem solving, manufacturing-driven thinking, resource management, and the ability to establish and manage new systems and processes.

At Monash South Africa, we believe that effectively preparing the employee of tomorrow to thrive and, more importantly, lead in this challenging and fast-changing world of work requires learning interventions built on the following four pillars:

  1. Appropriate skills to leverage dynamic knowledge
  2. The right attitude towards constant change
  3. Awareness of, and sensitivity to, the greater social context
  4. Orientation towards systems and networks thinking

In this specific article, we explore the role of appropriate skills development as the first vital cornerstone of effective learning for future leadership.

Beyond merely imparting academic or theoretical knowledge, the process of studying needs to equip students to be innovators and active participants in the development and enhancement of society, rather than simply being users of knowledge in the work environment.

The nature of knowledge has changed significantly over the past few decades, and this has placed the onus on learning institutions to change the way they equip their learners and students to access, process and, most importantly, use that knowledge.

Put another way, it is no longer adequate for a tertiary institution to pass on academic facts and information or, for that matter, to gauge a student’s level of proficiency simply by his or her ability to regurgitate that information in an examination.

The truth is that the knowledge that many of us had to attend schools and universities to access in the past is now readily and freely available to all as information. What is not so readily available are the insights needed to source, identify and analyse the relevant information and the skills to reconstruct, apply and leverage that information in a unique and innovative way.

In other words, the real work of education institutions today is no longer to impart facts; it is to impart methods by which those facts can be harnessed in order to develop new ways of working, invent, manufacture and, ultimately, move society forward towards a better future.

As the fourth industrial revolution steadily increases the pace of change and magnifies the disruption experienced by current systems and processes, linear thinking and traditional approaches will quickly become ineffective. Only by prioritising the acquisition of knowledge-processing skills as a key learning outcome will tertiary institutions produce graduates who have the ability to take the skills they have acquired and immediately apply them in the workplace – to whatever role or function they assume.
It is a vital paradigm shift, and one that must urgently be made, so that universities can realise their full potential as the leadership developers and enablers of social and economic progress that they must be in the world.

Part 2 of this four-part series explores the development of an appropriate attitude to change as the second vital pillar of effective learning outcomes.