Knowledge Institute Podcasts
The Future of Work and Skill Development with Dr. Sheila Jagannathan10 Feb 2021
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan, Head, Open Learning Campus for World Bank in Washington DC, discusses the World Bank’s initiative to educate, skill and reskill thousands of students all over the world through widely accessible online courses. She addresses how evolving technology is changing the way we all teach and learn.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“There's more change in learning that's happened in the last 10 years, than it has in 100. And in fact, it's our learners who are leading and pushing innovation as they expand and evolve their approaches to curiosity, discovery, and information.” -
- Dr. Sheila Jagannathan
What was your motivation to digitize [the World Bank's World Development Report] and deliver it as an online package for policymakers and the public?
This massive open online course, how did you get good at this? Where'd you get the expertise to even create something like this?
What does the World Bank do, and all these countries and people that receive your report, what is in that information that informs them?
What are the other emerging technologies that are being used for digital learning?
Many of our listeners are business leaders, or they lead organizations. What are the three things they can take away from your vast experience and what you're trying to accomplish for their own environment?
What is your vision for the future of work, post the COVID-19 pandemic? And if a large percentage of organizations do work remotely, what's the impact on their learning and collaboration?
Your book is titled Technologies for Sustainable Development: How Upskilling, Data Analysis, and Digital Innovations Foster Lifelong Learning. Evidently it comes out in June of this year. And can you share a bit about the book's message on the importance of skilling?
Dr. Sheila shares her contact details.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Welcome to the Knowledge Institute Podcast. Where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Today we're talking about understanding skill development and the future of work. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute, and today, we're here with Dr. Sheila Jagannathan, the World Bank Global Head for Digital Learning and Capacity Building. We'll also talk about her new book, coming out in June, Technologies for Sustainable Development: How Upskilling, Data Analysis, and Digital Innovations Foster Lifelong Learning. Dr. Sheila, you really are at the intersection of technology and education in emerging countries. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Thank you, Jeff. It's a pleasure and an honor to join you on this podcast.
Jeff Kavanaugh: The World Bank's World Development Report is an annual publication, delivering in-depth analysis and guidance on specific aspects of economic development. What was your motivation to digitize this report and deliver it as an online package for policymakers and the public?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Let me start by saying that so much has happened since we launched that report. And we're living through a year of pivoting and acceleration. And COVID has really challenged us to think about the future and how we want to create it. The main motivation to package the World Development Report, WDR, as we call it, was scale, engagement, and impact, that we were able to achieve via a MOOC. Traditional flagship reports like this, traditionally they would be available in print format, read by a few thousand people. But with this MOOC, we were able to reach over 150,000 learners from 190 countries. And we had two tracks, a policymaker track, which is our main audience, as well as a generalist track, engaging in a four-week conversation and discussion on the opportunities and challenges of the future of work.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: I also want to share a very brief feedback we got from a participant in Nigeria, who said: "This MOOC was like a single spark, sufficient to start a fire. I believe it's going to prepare us as a change agent and begin our efforts towards immediate actions."
Jeff Kavanaugh: It's a lovely metaphor, the idea of spark to light a fire of learning. And it's really intriguing. Taking a step back for this massive achievement, this massive open online course, how did you get good at this? Where'd you get the expertise to even create something like this?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Well, it's a bit of a long journey over three decades. But let me give you the elevator pitch, three minute version. I came to the United States in the early 80s, to Boston University. At a time when Route 128 was acquiring new meaning. Tech firms were springing up and it started to become a Mecca for education and creativity.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: The real pivot came when I had the privilege of joining Seymour Papert's famous lectures on thinking about learning and learning about thinking. This was a heady time, where Papert, who founded the AI lab at MIT, was at the center of three revolutions: exploring new ideas for education, recognizing the significance of the stirrings on AI, and deploying computational techniques in education. Often, people get very surprised when I tell them that I studied AI in the 80s. People think it just started in 2017 or something like that. But really, after my summer internship with Papert, I was inspired to change my major to work on EdTech in education, with a focus on intelligent tutoring, which was really using AI-based computational techniques to mimic the student mind. And this is the beginnings of what we're calling today as adaptive learning.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: For me, these experiences, which started the journey, gave me a rich foundation and shaped my career of over 35 years, where I've been in private sector in DC working through many consulting firms, and then joined the World Bank about 20 years ago to bring in digital and blended learning. And so that has evolved. I would also say that I rode the evolution of learning and development, which has been blindingly fast going from computer based learning to eLearning and then talent management, continuous learning, learning embedded in the flow of work. And now back to intelligent learning with AI. So, as each technology innovation unfurled itself, I was able to reinvent myself and continue on in this journey, I hope contributing to solving some of the global challenges through education and capacity building.
Jeff Kavanaugh: As we dive into this topic of learning and EdTech, I don't want to miss an important point. You work at the World Bank. For a lot of people it has this mystical cabal of all these people figuring out where the world's going financially. Well, we won't delve into all that in this call, can you provide a just summary of maybe the charter? What does the World Bank do, and all these countries and people that receive your report, what is in that information that informs them?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Let me start with the mission of the World Bank. It has two twin goals. One, eradicating poverty by 2030. And sharing prosperity with the bottom of the pyramid. So these are the rather lofty goals of the World Bank, and that's what all of our operational projects, as well as learning, are trying to contribute in some small way.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What are the other emerging technologies that are being used for digital learning?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: I think development challenges are complex, and so you cannot do everything in a automated way, so there are experts behind the scenes mentoring, coaching, and guiding. But if you're looking at a number of 30, 40,000 people around the globe interacting, then it's hard even with 10 experts. And so the tutor bot becomes the first line to field questions. And by the way, unlike real life tutors, these bots work 24/7 and don't get irritated if they're asked the same question again and again. But like Siri and Alexa, the tutor bots send out reminders, respond to questions, and add encouragements, tips for assignments, and so on.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: The other area we've used AI is really the multilingual access, and given World Bank's global footprint, we didn't want language to be the barrier, and so we're using AI for voice and text translations, so very quickly information can be provided. I want to point out before I move on to other technologies that we're starting to use AI's adaptive learning platforms. We recently launched an adaptive course on urban regeneration for policymakers, and this intelligent approach adapts to the students' existing knowledge, and thereby leads to the policymakers completing the course in less time, getting more confidence. And there's sophisticated algorithms, they analyze and adjust the content and the lessons to exactly what the user knows. Or even where there are gaps and how to fill them. So the benefits, of course, as I mentioned, are greater time efficiency, and less time off the job, improved competencies, and also the ability to identify gaps and remediate. Including the unconscious incompetence that most people don't know what we don't know.
So 5G is going to be a watershed moment for education, and it changes everything. Not just a faster connection, but it enhances the ability to do things such as immersive simulations, gaming, augmented reality, without that latency anymore. So we're talking better quality, but it also brings the more human touch. Because when you do these things, it's going to remove that separation and bring us closer, as if there is no distance. So we're certainly looking forward to that. And also including those from bandwidth constraint environments, like rural areas and fragile states, the advantage to use the internet and everything that it affords.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: We're already seeing the move from learning management systems to more integrated platforms that have AI-based discoverability and that kind of combine the different forms of learning, such as micro and on the job, and provide the more user friendly experiences so that people are able to focus on the learning and not through clunky interfaces. Most of all, it enables skill building and experience and credential management in a little bit of a customized learning path that is tailored and personalized to the learner, but it also, the data, it collects very efficiently the analytics that can then be used to curate content and learning from diverse sources. So that learning becomes more intuitive and personalized and less fragmented.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Many of our listeners are business leaders, or they lead organizations. What are the three things they can take away from your vast experience and what you're trying to accomplish for their own environment?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Let me start out by saying that I think the first key point is that the technology enhanced learning, or any learning in the 21st century, requires a mindset shift. It's not about taking a technology and then adding it to an existing approach. It is about thinking through how do we create new experiences using these technologies to create value to the learning, to the learner, and what can we do that we've not been able to do before? So I think a mindset change is going to be very important.
I think as we're going through this, we need to focus more on workforce readiness and how do we build a culture for learning within the organization that is recognized as well as supported. And I think in all of this, let's not get complacent because I often find that an essential part of growth for the CLOs or leaders in this organization is today the skills that we're dealing with are not the skills we know. We already know that the shelf life of skills is going to be less than five years. So an essential part of growth is to put ourselves into situations that involve uncertainty, knowing that it may not work, and we if we fail that's fine. We still learn something fast and move along.
Jeff Kavanaugh: In our book The Live Enterprise, we dedicate a chapter to hybrid talent for the future. And what is your vision for the future of work, post the COVID-19 pandemic? And if a large percentage of organizations do work remotely, what's the impact on their learning and collaboration?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: I feel the future of work leads to a massive skilling need. And it will be so massive that traditional approaches will not work. So there has to be some integration of digital and blended learning. But that learning will be different. So as I mentioned, the many forces, external, environmental, and external such as the fourth industrial revolution, as well as the youth bulge. Many developing countries are experiencing youth bulge and large cohorts of young people are entering the workforce because of increased birthrates and lowered infant mortality rates, as well as improved health. For example, India needs to find jobs for about 12 million youth entering the job market every year. They need to develop skills to prepare themselves to take advantage of the new jobs. Of course, climate change is looming large, and this will also require us to think differently and communities to learn together and so on.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: At the same time, we must celebrate the rise of innovation in learning. And I will say, and I'm sure you'll agree, there's more change in learning that's happened in the last 10 years, than it has in 100. And in fact, it's our learners who are leading and pushing innovation as they expand and evolve their approaches to curiosity, discovery, and information.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: So the other big shifts relate to how we teach, how we learn, how we credential and support. And so what I see is learning is no longer just formal classes, but needs to be more viewed holistically, that encompass both classroom and digital, as well as informal, peer to peer, on the job, and so on.
This leads to changed roles for both the learner as well as the facilitator. The learner is really moving away from individualistic to team based and they need to pull content related to their needs at different points in time. And the role of the expert is not, as we know, is becoming more of an enabler and a facilitator rather than the font of all knowledge. And so we need to grapple with that. Content as well, at least in the World Bank and in the development world I live in, cross-sectorial and hybrid skills where everything is linked to everything else. For example, an urban planner would need to be knowledgeable about climate models, energy efficiency, smart transportation options, while retaining deep technical expertise on urban and spatial planning. So persons who have the cross-sectorial knowledge will be more competitive.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah. Two points to come from that. One, the innovation process is messy, and I think it is on full display now. Obviously the messiness is captured and shared a lot, even though a lot of good things are happening. Second, hope for this also shows the government and business can be effective and a force for good, and like you said, create a template so that we can respond even more quickly and with more resilience in the future.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: And finally the unpacking of education into more ... unbundling, if you will, into more simpler and modular approaches. And will offer us the flexibility and achieve more nonlinear pathways. Almost like Lego-like building blocks to achieve competency, as well as provide flexibility. So I think many of the approaches that I've talked about around the change in the way we learn and teach and credentialize will enable the opportunity for continuous learning on what I call a life led pathway.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Life led pathway, nicely put. Your book is titled Technologies for Sustainable Development: How Upskilling, Data Analysis, and Digital Innovations Foster Lifelong Learning. Evidently it comes out in June of this year. And can you share a bit about the book's message on the importance of skilling?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: So I start the book with a quote by Alvin Toffler: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be the one who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." And so that's really the core theme of the book. These are targeted towards emerging countries, practitioners, stakeholders who support capacity building, knowledge, learning, and skill development, and can include government officials and civil servants, national skills development councils, private sector and EdTech startups, academia and so on. And in my career at the Bank, where I've had the privilege of heading the Open Learning Campus, I frequently talk to many of the stakeholders, and they've expressed time and time again that how do we go from brick and mortar to this digital and blended, and how do we modernize learning by harnessing education technology?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: So this book is really about how to get started, how to navigate the choppy waters of market driven digitization, and how to incorporate unique community and local priorities to build quality learning institutions that incorporate education technology. And so I've got 27 chapters curated by some of the most influential thinkers and policymakers and practitioners, providing strategic direction and guidance on how to effectively harness the power of technology for learning to solve some of the complex development challenges and help achieve some of the goals for development that we talked about earlier.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Great. Last question, how can people find you online?
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: All the usual sources. I'm on LinkedIn as well as Twitter. You can find me on the World Bank site.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Great. Everyone, you can find details for everything Dr. Sheila mentioned on our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/IKI in our podcast section. Dr. Sheila, thank you so much for your time and a highly interesting discussion.
Dr. Sheila Jagannathan: Thank you, Jeff, it's been a great opportunity to interact.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Everyone, you've been listening to the Knowledge Institute, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer Catherine Burdette, Ram Sundararajan, Christine Calhoun, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Dr. Sheila Jagannathan
Sheila Jagannathan is the Head of the Open Learning Campus at the World Bank in Washington DC. She serves as the organization’s focal point on digital learning and issues at the intersection of technology use and education in emerging countries. She is an internationally recognized thought leader, advisor, author and a forward-thinking senior education leader with over 35 years of experience in leading capacity building, knowledge management, data, social learning and transformation change across public and private organizations. She has been responsible for designing and implementing world-class solutions in challenging global environments, resulting in performance and productivity improvements.
Sheila also provides policy advice and technical assistance to World Bank country-level capacity building programs (both government and training centers of excellence seeking to introduce technologies in their educational systems) in, East Asia, China, the Middle East and North Africa, Africa and South Asia. Her current areas of interest and activity include: skilling and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 60-year curricula, corporate talent management, diversity & inclusion, organizational development, MOOCs, experiential pedagogy, online/hybrid strategies, multimodal and social learning environments, immersive learning (AR/VR), use of artificial education in education, big data analytics, LXPs, LMS, and learning ecosystems.
She has written articles for various peer-reviewed publications and journals. She is on the advisory board and planning committees of major professional associations of learning such as the Canadian Foreign Service Institute, Global Distance Learning Network, Indian National Skills Development Council, George Mason University, E-learning Africa, (Annual International Conference for developing E-learning capacities in Africa), International Conference on e-learning (ICEL), and Skills Development Councils.
- “Sheila Jagannathan: Teaching the World” Chief Learning Officer – September 28, 2018
- The World Bank
- World Bank’s World Development Report
- World Bank Open Learning Campus
- MOOC- Massive Open Online Course
- “Silicon Valley vs. Route 128” Inc. Magazine
- Professor Seymour Papert
- Mission of World Bank
- The Live Enterprise: Create a Continuously Evolving and Learning Organization by Jeff Kavanaugh (Author), Rafee Tarafdar (Author), Nandan Nilekani (Foreword)
- “Youth Bulge: A Demographic Dividend or a Demographic Bomb in Developing Countries?” World Bank Blogs – January 5, 2012
- “Alvin Toffler: What he got right - and wrong” BBC News – June 30, 2016
Mentioned in the podcast
Look for Dr. Sheila’s new book “ Technologies for Sustainable Development: How Upskilling, Data Analysis, and Digital Innovations Foster Lifelong Learning” by Routledge, June 2021