Multi-dimensional approach, the need of the hour

Multi-dimensional approach, the need of the hour

Representative image. (Credit: Getty)

We’ve all heard it before. The robots are coming, and they are taking our jobs. Have we stopped to ask ourselves, what can we do to ‘future-proof’ our careers, or better yet – prepare our children to stay ahead of the technological revolution? Eminent historian Yuval Noah Harari has considered it in his book, Homo Deus. His suggestion to humankind on remaining relevant in a digital age? Cultivate the ‘3 Cs’ – creativity, communication and collaboration.

Renowned educationalist, Ken Robinson, in his book Creative Schools went even further, adding curiosity, criticism, compassion, composure and citizenship to this growing list of ‘C words’.

Interdisciplinary learning

As they step into an emerging future that looks very different from our own, the question that arises is how can our educational systems nurture these qualities in today’s youth? Current models of disciplinary learning, which focus exclusively on a narrow field and learning methods with predetermined outcomes, are failing the next generation. The reality is that the future is not compartmentalised and the outcome, rarely predictable.

Interdisciplinary learning is a teaching approach that integrates knowledge from across disciplines. It moves away from siloed specialisations to flexible learning pathways, enabling students to study a variety of courses and connect the dots across subjects. It favours experiential learning and project-based work on real-world issues inside and outside of the classroom.

Students apply their creativity, learn to critically analyse and problem-solve, collaborate as a team and communicate their findings. Exactly the kind of human skills which the robots will be hard-pressed to replicate (at least for now). These skills are transferable across disciplines and professions.

Most of all — and here, we add another ‘C’ to our list — is that it instils students with the confidence that they can learn to learn. No matter what kind of problem work or life throws at them, they are adept at learning the skills or finding the people with that skill set, to solve the problem. And that is priceless.

Jack of all trades

The concern that many people have is that interdisciplinary learning leads to people being a jack of all trades, but a master of none and that industry favours technical skills rather than broad competencies. This is not true. Soft skills are just as important as technical ones, with teamwork, leadership and communication topping the most-in-demand.

An intangible barrier cited for talent transformation is learnability, the ability for employees to reskill. Considering that the masters of trade – or at least, automation – will be robots, it’s time we become jacks.

Learnability and adaptability

In this era of rapid technological advancements, being skilled in one niche area and having one job for life is not only unlikely – but also precarious. It is looking likely that the youth of tomorrow will have to change the course of their careers twice, or three times over their lifetime and regularly upskill.

As traditional working hierarchies dissolve and as start-ups continue to sprout, employees must be adaptable enough to learn new areas continuously. Interdisciplinary learning is designed to cultivate these abilities from the outset.

More than a marksheet

Interdisciplinary learning demands that we see the value in multiple types of learning, beyond the academic. We must move away from exam-centric appraisals, where a student’s potential is reduced to a single score. Students are more than the number on their report cards and the failure to recognise this is to fail to recognise their humanity. Selection for colleges and universities needs to be based on recruiting for certain qualities, such as curiosity, passion and commitment. 

A movement in motion

The good news is there has been an upsurge in new Indian universities embracing interdisciplinary learning. The choices that you or your child make about your educational opportunities will impact your ability to survive, thrive and contribute to the world of tomorrow. Interdisciplinary learning may not be a fail-safe bet of future-proofing our careers, but it will surely expand our human capabilities, to remain relevant in a robotic workforce.

(The author is with Atria University, Bengaluru)

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