Students learn better from books than screens, according to a new study

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks. In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

Speed – at a cost

Our work has revealed a significant discrepancy. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

To explore these patterns further, we conducted three studies that explored college students’ ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.

Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.

The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).

But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Placing print in perspective

From these findings, there are some lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print’s place in an increasingly digital world.

1. Consider the purpose

We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.

As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose.

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

2. Analyze the task

One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.

But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students’ judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.

3. Slow it down

In our third experiment, we were able to create meaningful profiles of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts.

Among those profiles, we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.

4. Something that can’t be measured

There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.

In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text. There should probably always be a place for print in students’ academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.

Of course, we realize that the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don’t want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access.

Rather, our goal is simply to remind today’s digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development.

Education systems are failing our kids

How can we prepare them for the jobs of the future?

Source:       Author: Andrea Willige

The world’s education systems are failing our children by not preparing them for the workplace of the future. This is the key finding of a new report by the World Economic Forum, Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which puts forward a series of practical measures for aligning education and training with future job requirements.

Training for jobs that don’t yet exist

Technology and globalization continue to reshape business models across all sectors and geographies, creating new types of jobs and disposing of old ones at great pace. However, monolithic, underfunded education and training systems around the world have fallen short of responding to this trend. This means that by the time they leave education, as many as two-thirds of children entering primary school today will not have the skills required to get a job. The impact will be worse for women who already have less than two-thirds of the economic opportunity that men have.

The report was put together by a panel of business leaders, policy-makers, unions, educational institutions and academics. It recommends that governments and the private sector work together in eight core areas to ensure the world’s children are equipped for the future.

Reinventing education for a new age

Image: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

1. Focus on the early years: Reinventing education starts in early childhood, where the focus should be on literacy and reading. Adequate childcare provision for working parents will be critical in both developed and developing economies.

2. Keeping it dynamic: Training curricula must be aligned with market demand for skills – both job-specific and generic, such as problem-solving and project management. The challenge will be to keep these curricula dynamic and responsive to evolving business needs. In Finland, one of the world’s top-performing nations in education, the curriculum is updated regularly to provide an overall framework, with room for local adaptation by the schools themselves.

3. Open-sourcing education: The report advocates adopting training innovations more quickly, opening up to alternative learning routes (such as Hackathons) and allowing for experimentation with new techniques. For example, the New York City Department of Education has created “Lab” schools and tasked them with reinventing teaching and learning. In Ghana, the US and France, schools are pioneering short courses in coding based on peer-to-peer teaching, project-based learning and gamification.

4. Taking teachers out of the ivory tower: To bring education and business closer together, the report recommends initiatives such as teacher “externships” in businesses, workplace mentoring and involving the private sector in teacher training.

5. Giving students a sense of the real world of work: Similarly, students should experience the world of work from early on – for example through internships and ongoing career coaching – to help them see a variety of career options and the skills required.

6. Addressing the vocational stigma: Vocational and technical education is critical to the world economy but has been neglected and often looked down on as second best. The World Economic Forum advocates promoting vocational and technical career paths more proactively and raising the quality of vocational training on offer. For example, Germany’s vocational training system sees apprentices divide their days between classroom instruction and on-the-job training at a company. Apprentices are paid and their training typically extends to between two and three years. Not only does this approach create an excellent talent pool, it also smooths the – often difficult – transition from education to the world of work.

Image: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

7. Digital fluency: Digital skills will be fundamental to a wide range of careers, but “digital fluency” is not a given. The report highlights the need for a greater focus on ICT in teacher training and students’ work placements to address the growing digital skills crisis. One successful example comes from India, where the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has partnered with NGOs and the Government of India to build National Digital Literacy Centres across the country to enable digital literacy.

8. Education, education, education: Given the rapid evolution of the job market, workers can no longer rely on just one skillset or narrow expertise to sustain long-term careers. The report advocates incentivizing employees to commit to lifelong learning so they continue to develop their skills or even retrain for new roles. For example, in Singapore, individuals receive an annual training allowance they can spend on a range of training courses all geared towards developing future-oriented skills.

The fourth industrial revolution will turn the world of work as we know it on its head as it continues to unfold. The report suggests that, unless the world’s monolithic education systems can be reformed and rendered more nimble, their failings will come back to haunt future generations’ ability to prosper.

We may have less than 5 years to change how we learn, earn and care

Source:      Author: Saadia Zahidi

Over the course of the last year, at World Economic Forum and elsewhere, I have asked participants two questions. First I ask for a show of hands on whether they feel confident about their current skills taking them through to the end of their careers – about one in five raise their hands. Then I ask if they feel confident about advising their children on their education to prepare for their own futures: none raises their hand. These are some of the most knowledgeable, leading figures in the world and yet they, like many of us, are uncertain about what the future of labour markets looks like.

This is not surprising.

Globalization and technology are accelerating both job creation and destruction. Some estimates have put the risk of automation as high as half of current jobs, while others forecast a considerably lower value of 9%. Still, all occupations will go through change: we found that on average one-third of the skillsets required to perform today’s jobs will be wholly new by 2020.

At the same time, education and training systems are not keeping pace with these shifts. Some studies suggest that 65% of children currently entering primary school will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them, exacerbating skills gaps and unemployment in the future. Even more urgent, underdeveloped adult training and skilling systems are unable to support learning for the currently active workforce of nearly 3 billion people.

In addition, outdated cultural norms and institutional inertia already create roadblocks for half of the world’s talent – and are getting worse in the new context. Despite women’s leap forward in education, their participation in the paid workforce remains low; and progress is stalling, with current forecasts for economic parity at 170 years.

The near-term outcomes of these dynamics, compounded through other demographic, geopolitical and economic factors, are profoundly challenging. They include skills gaps in the workforce that are difficult for employers and workers alike, unemployment and job displacement, particularly in blue-collar and services work, rising fear of further technological unemployment, insufficient supply of talent for many high-skill occupations, and loss of female talent and potential. Together these factors are exacerbating income inequality and creating a crisis of identity.

Yet, most of these dire predictions need not be foregone conclusions. If leaders act now, using this moment of transformation as an impetus for tackling long-overdue reform, they have the ability not only to stem the flow of negative trends but to accelerate positive ones and create an environment in which over 7 billion people on the planet can live up to their full potential.

Instead, in several advanced economies, we are seeing the political and social consequences of short-term, emotive – and sometimes disingenuous – thinking. For those who are losing out from the changes underway, fear is an understandable response. But turning away immigrants, trade or technology itself, and disengaging from the world, is a distraction, at best. At worst, will create even more negative consequences for those already losing out – and many more. It is up to courageous, responsible and responsive leaders and citizens to take the long view and set out on the path to more fundamental, relevant reforms, and an inspiring future.

How? By investing in human capital and preparing people for the new opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. The World Economic Forum has worked with leaders, experts and practitioners to create a common vision and a shared change agenda focused on how we learn, earn and care.

1. Transform education ecosystems. Most education systems are so far behind the mark on keeping up with the pace of change today and so disconnected from labour markets that nothing short of a fundamental overhaul will suffice in many economies. The eight key areas of action here are early childhood education, future-ready curricula, a professionalized teaching workforce, early exposure to the workplace, digital fluency, robust and respected technical and vocational education, openness to education innovation, and critically, a new deal on lifelong learning.

2. Facilitate the transition to a new world of work. While there are deeply polarized views about how technology will impact employment, there is agreement that we are in a period of transition. Policy needs to catch up and facilitate this transition. We propose four areas of action: recognition of all work models and agile implementation of new regulations, updated social protection, adult learning and continuous re-skilling, and proactive employment services.

3. Advance the care economy. Often undervalued and unregulated, care is one of the most fundamental needs among both young and old populations. It has a strong impact on education, and holds potential for job growth. We propose six areas of action: recognize and value care as a vital sector of the economy, professionalize the care workforce, rebalance paid and unpaid work responsibilities, expand high-quality care infrastructure, create new financial provisions to facilitate care, and use technology as a tool for balancing care and work.

Image: World Economic Forum

To do any of this – and to make it pay off – it is critical that policy design includes agile multistakeholder governance, empowerment of the individual, objective measurement, universal access and long-term planning as fundamental tenets.

The rapid pace of change means we need to act urgently. By some estimates the current window of opportunity for action is three-to-five years. This may sound daunting but there are a large variety of robust success stories to learn from and emulate. There are also substantial new commercial opportunities – such as adult education, care services, employment services – that make this space ripe for public-private collaboration.

It’s the harder path to follow, there’s no doubt about it. Transforming education ecosystems, creating a care economy and managing the transition to a new world of work require political will, innovative policy, new financing models and, most importantly, a new mindset.

But this is also the only viable path if we want to get ahead of the transition underway and turn this moment of flux into an opportunity for revitalizing growth and realizing human potential in the age of the fourth industrial revolution.

The whitepaper on Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work can be found here. Saadia Zahidi is Head of Education, Gender and Work and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

Education must foster creativity – and fight inequality

source:   author: Hao Jingfang

Nowadays, two of the most frequently discussed topics in the media are perhaps the growing gap between rich and poor, and the challenges presented by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

These two problems are mentioned in my sci-fi novelette Folding Beijing, and people still haven’t found satisfactory solutions to them.

The causes of the widening social gap are various: globalization, the financial system, political policies, and, the most important one, the replacement of workers by automation.

As AI becomes more advanced, it is expected that it will replace more and more jobs now done by humans, increasing joblessness and social inequality.

These problems are not easy to solve.

Social welfare can help people survive, but it cannot help create hope.

Education as key

If countries cannot make proper preparations for these challenges, they may face extremely difficult challenges in having to deal with joblessness and social crises.

Only education can provide the tools to tackle the problem of inequality in the future.

Requirements for jobs in the age of AI are quite different to those in the industrial era.

Programmatic, repeatable work will be increasingly replaced by AI; while new jobs will require much more creative thinking, something that in many countries is not normally the main focus of the educational system.

What, then, should education do to solve the problem of inequality and lack of creativity?

In my view, the most important thing is to produce and share educational programmes that promote creativity.

First, we need a group of professionals who can lead the design of innovative educational programmes, including the content and teaching methods.

These should allow students to learn in explorative, creative ways, and focus on promoting the habits of self-learning and independent thinking, and make creative thinking the most important goal.

Education as commodity

Second, these innovative programmes should be shared broadly, by all children.

Nowadays, in many countries, education has become a high-price commodity, serving as the tool of an elite group to keep their social status advantages.

This undoubtedly exacerbates the problem of social inequality.

In addition to innovation in educational content, it is equally important to improve sharing mechanisms if we are to make progress.

We need to help all children, whatever their families’ status, to have the same opportunities to train and develop their creative thinking.

Can creativity be taught?

Traditionally, people have often considered creativity to be a set of special talents belonging to a few individuals; they saw it as a sign of genius, as a gift, and something brought about through inspiration.

However, new psychological studies suggest there are some common traits in the creative thinking processes.

One prominent feature is the feasible transition between divergent thinking and convergent thinking, which can be practised in classes.

The capacity to identify and then solve problems can be practised as well.

These traits can be trained through designed programmes. Teachers can ask more open questions, encourage students to give independent solutions, let them learn in creative ways, and establish virtuous cycles of explore-study-create in class.

Can this educational innovation be inclusive?

Traditionally, high-quality education has depended on face-to-face teaching by distinguished teachers, and so it was more or less restricted to prestigious campuses.

With new technologies, however, high-quality education can be promoted in a much broader way.

Internet courses can offer people free or low-price education, online applications, and AI techniques can help students learn by themselves; and this new teacher-training system can help spread innovative classes at relatively low cost. Only by these new paths, can all children share the advantages of educational innovation.

My own plans

Educational equality and educational innovation will be, I believe, the most important social issues in the future.

I hope to contribute my own energy into this meaningful process.

As a result, my friends and I have launched a new programme called “WePlan”, in order to explore programmes that promote creative thinking and share these new explorations with all kids in an inclusive way.

Our hope is that children from all families can share high-quality educational resources, and so share a future together.

Is online learning the future of education?


In the past, if you wanted to get a qualification, or even simply learn something new, you would sign up for a course at a bricks-and-mortar institution, pay any relevant fees, and then physically attend class. That was until the online learning revolution started.

Last year, the e-learning market was worth an enormous $166.5 billion. It’s been estimated that this will grow to $255 billion by 2017. Its growing financial value is matched only by the swelling numbers of students choosing to follow an online course.

In the latest Global Shapers Survey of 25,000 young people from across the world, 77.84% of respondents reported having taken online courses in the past. So is online learning the future of education?

What is online education?

Let’s start first by looking at what exactly it is. Online education takes two major forms. The first: for-credit courses where students enrolled in tertiary education take online classes offered by home or other higher education learning institutions for credit. Some well-known cases include the MIT OpenCourseWare and the Harvard Online learning.

The second form of online education consists of professional training and certification preparation. Such online learning is usually targeted at professionals or students seeking training or preparing for certification exams. Popular courses include training in foreign languages, accounting and nursing.

In the Global Shapers Survey, close to half (47.79%) of respondents said they would be willing to pursue certification for certain skills, including online certification, once they have started their working careers. This again speaks to the large potential and market for online education.

Teething problems

The growth of online education has not been without challenges. Since its early inception in the 1960s, online education has been constantly criticized for its apparent lack of quality control, particularly the scarcity of high-quality teachers.

It’s also been said that online learning deprives students of some of the benefits of being in a classroom, such as teacher-student interaction, as well as other things such as a reliable internet connection and electricity supply.

Overcoming the challenges in online learning

Regardless of these concerns, online education has made great strides in recent years. For starters, more and more institutions of higher learning have introduced or reinforced their online education platforms, the main considerations being cost reduction for students and recruitment expansion in face of rising competition. As a result, online education has become an increasingly important part of tertiary education, with colleges and universities using world-famous faculty members and professional support teams to promote online courses.

To tackle the question of teaching quality, a number of providers have turned to user rating and internal evaluation. Star teacher, for instance, has become a popular teacher evaluation mechanism in China and South Korea, two of the largest e-learning markets.

Overall, such progress seems to have eased the doubt about the quality of teaching, and 40.56% of respondents in the Global Shapers Survey said online education is as strong as traditional learning in a classroom, with another 11.76% saying they didn’t know.

The maturity of education technology has also enabled online education to become more manageable and accessible than ever before. All a prospective student needs is a computer, an internet connection and some basic IT skills.

As for the loss of traditional classroom features, online education has been making up for this through its flexibility and low cost. Students have access to their “classroom” recordings whenever they want, allowing them to go over ideas and review lessons at their convenience. Some have also pointed out that far from being an inferior learning experience, the one-on-one lessons that are often part of online education have taken teacher-student interaction to a new level, where one student is getting all the attention and the interaction, and training can be so unique and valuable.

Furthermore, some argue that online education has significantly helped make education more accessible, thus achieving the aim of “education for all”, a theme that has become a global mandate since the 1990s. While a large number of countries have made significant progress in their provision of basic education to all citizens, there are still too many people – often living in remote areas – who can’t access education.

But with an increasing number of “netizens” in rural areas in many developing countries, online education could be used to reach the last group of citizens without proper access to education and hence fulfill Sustainable Development Goal 4 concerning quality education.

Education for all

Undoubtedly, with the even wider spread of technology and deepening of the global mandate of education for all, online education’s potential to become complementary – or in some cases alternatives – to traditional education cannot be overlooked.

Instead of worrying whether or not online education can ever be as good as more traditional formats, perhaps we should instead focus on how we can use it to deliver quality education for people all over the world, particularly the poor and underserved.

This won’t be an easy task – online education is in dire need of regulation. Outstanding issues include the question of accreditation and quality control. This gets even more complicated when you consider the international dimensions. For years, cross-border credit or degree accreditation has been a major issue for various education systems. The flexibility of online learning will only make that harder.

The obstacles are real but not insurmountable. And the opportunity to make good on the promise of education for all is too big to miss.


随着2016年美国总统大选的结束以及“后真相时代”的兴起,是时候围绕教育领域创新开展一番讨论了。 教育领域面临的最大挑战是什么,又有哪些解决方案正在路上? 谁来负责重塑有缺陷的教育制度? 虽然教育制度的相关问题来自多个维度,但有件事情我们是能够确信的:要想改变社会,就得从教育后代开始做起,而这正是现在所发生的事情。


数字化 在教育领域,“大规模开放式在线课程”(MOOCs)的兴起是一大热门话题。 数字时代为信息访问带来了前所未有的便利度。所有年龄段的学生都能获得比以往任何时候更多的信息,还能获得世界上最优质的教育资源(只要那些最优秀的教育者愿意在网上发布他们的课程)。

Khan Academy, EdX和 Coursera都是正在快速扩张的教育组织,在优质教育内容的支持下,它们在新兴市场大举竞争,但其营收却不是非常稳定。 这些组织所集合了来自不同背景的顶级教师及教授,为学生提供教学大纲、家庭作业、学习聊天组,以及即时视频讨论。

学生不必按照固定的时间表完成课程。 如果学生发现自己晚上的学习效率更好,那么他们都能这样做。 如果学生需要重复学习的话,他们能以10秒为单位随意回滚视频,直到完全理解老师说了什么说。 这种学习模式也带来了缺点,过多的灵活性让学生很难获得激励去完成学习任务。 更重要的是,在学习过程中,触觉对于激励心智发展来说几乎是不可替代的。
国际化 最迷人的教育改革运动往往不在传统组织中发生。 在高等教育方面,凯基的Minerva学校引发了一场教育风暴,今年一年内获得了超过16,000份入学申请,而该学校拥有306个教学点。

每年,Minerva学校的学生都会前往一个新的国家,在世界各地不同的城市背景下完成他们的本科课程:伊斯坦布尔,伦敦,旧金山,柏林,首尔,班加罗尔。 大学教育的“去中心化”直到最近才得以实现。 而“间隔年”则是另一个快速增长的教育创新空间。 摆脱了K-12或高等教育体系的限制,学生们能够利用“间隔年”的时间来重塑自己的生活,探索能够真正激励、挑战并鼓舞他们的事情。

剑桥的“冬季全球技能”计划,通过在学生们的“间隔年”旅行过程中教授给他们现实世界技能,为应对现实世界的挑战做好准备。 参加这一计划的学生每周都会前往一个新的地方,从海洋保护,到运营餐馆,再到拍摄纪录片,并从这些经历中学习.
个性化 那些对实体教育创新感兴趣的人,会发现当前最高素质学校中出现的“教育个性化”浪潮相当鼓舞人心。

圣地亚哥的“高科技高”计划开设了一家基于抽签制度的公立特许学校, 该学校99%的毕业生都能进入大学。 作为一个几乎没有教科书的学校,他们强调教育的个性化,多样性,协作性,以及对于工作期望(甚至是成年人级别的期望值)。这些特色对他们的K-12学生产生了深远影响。

“高峰公立学校”拥有先进的软硬件,在社会及情感学习的框架内为其学生开发高度个性化的学习计划。 在高科技的帮助下,学校能够辨别出学生的学习在什么时候会落后,学生什么时候会需要老师的帮助,应该如何(以及何时)寻求更多的高质量教育信息。 很明显,这种技能与21世纪的工作需求联系日益紧密。


Mark Esposito, 剑桥大学商法学院研究员。


3 ways to unleash your creativity

Formula One - F1 - Malaysia Grand Prix - Sepang, Malaysia- 29/9/16. Crew members push the car of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton of Britain for a change of tyres.

The Formula 1 season will begin later this month, pitting the most talented drivers in the most finely honed machines against one another.

The image of a car designer sitting at a computer, working on a complex 3D visualization, is consistent with our perception of a ‘creative person’, but you may not immediately think about the act of driving a Formula 1 car as a creative process.

In fact, drivers are continuously finding inspired ways to take full advantage of every opportunity provided by their car, the conditions and their competitors. The world of Formula 1 represents a fascinating laboratory for exploring human creativity through drivers and their teams.

We can think about human creativity in the context of four components:

Components of creativity

The creative person

I was speaking to a colleague recently about the Finnish Formula 1 driver Kimi Räikkönen. We were reflecting on reports of the 2007 World Champion’s exceptional ability to ‘conceptualise three-dimensional space.’ Theoretically, if a driver can simulate a race circuit in their brain in ‘higher-definition’ than another driver, they can imagine more possible scenarios, and take advantage of them.

Kimi has demonstrated a creative approach to his driving from a young age. There is a legendary story from his days racing karts as a youngster. One race weekend in Monaco, Kimi’s kart was knocked over the barrier in a collision. The kart ended up completely off the circuit. The barrier was much too high, and the kart much too heavy, to lift it back over. Undeterred, Kimi continued driving alongside the circuit, on the wrong side of the barrier, until he ran out of road. At this point, Kimi was able to lift the kart onto the track. Kimi jumped back into his kart and worked his way through the pack, eventually finishing third.

Creativity in knowledge work

Creativity is vital in racing, for teams and for drivers, and it’s becoming increasingly important in the context of knowledge work.

Where the goal of work was once to extract the maximum amount of physical energy from a worker, and transform it into a tangible product, most knowledge work completely disrupts this equation. Knowledge work organisations transform mental energy into ideas and insights – something that will become even more critical as automation replaces many repeatable, process-based tasks.

Last year, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs’ report identified complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the top three skills required to thrive in the 4th industrial revolution. Both complex problem solving and critical thinking require imagination, innovation and the ability to perceive multiple perspectives. Arguably, this makes creativity the foundation for the ‘podium of future skills’.

Efficient, productivity-orientated tasks are easy to reproduce by another human, or even a machine. Creativity is rare. Creativity is the antidote to the poison of efficiency over effectiveness. It’s the solution to sending endless e-mails and making meaningless presentations, because it allows us to perceive the new opportunities that are unfolding in front of us. While the specific factors that provide the optimal circumstances for creativity are debated, a brute force approach, based on clocking the hours, is not amongst them.

All humans have the capacity to be creative

All humans have the capacity to be creative and many of us could unlock more of our creative potential with the right process and conditions. I have heard many people label themselves as “not very creative” but creativity can be expressed in many different ways. For example, creativity may manifest itself as we think of solutions to challenging situations at work, or resolve conflicts, rather than being defined as a tangible creative output.

Previously, it’s been assumed that creativity declines with age. However, in domains that draw on knowledge and expertise, such as writing, philosophy and medicine, research suggests that creative achievement can peak in the early 40s, and declines at a relatively slow rate.

The creative process

Contrary to popular belief, providing someone with a blank slate does not appear to optimise the creative process. Unbounded choice and opportunity can quickly overwhelm the limited resources of attention, executive function and working memory.

We crave new information and we are rewarded for searching out novelty. In the digital age we have access to a fire hose of content to titillate the reward centres of our brain, but if we don’t have rules and boundaries in place, we can easily become distracted and create little real value.

Creativity thrives when there is some pressure and limitation, but not too much. We could plot the creative process as an inverted-U.

A hospitable environment for innovation

Too much time pressure impairs creative cognitive processing, but some pressure can fuel our creativity. Eliminating pressure entirely can suffocate the creative process and create an inhospitable environment for innovation.

Our response to pressure is individual; some people thrive when their backs are against the wall; others prefer a more relaxed approach. For certain individuals, a prize can drive them to produce their most innovative work; others are more motivated by intrinsic rewards. For most of us, it is a combination of the two.

Conditions for creativity

Creativity thrives in three conditions:

1. When we apply and combine old ideas in new ways.

Boundaries force us to look deeper within ourselves, to sift through our experiences for something that could be useful and pool our cognitive resources. Boundaries create the conditions that encourage us to combine what we already know, as well as the new ideas we can come up with.

2. When we feel enough pressure and incentive to encourage flexible thinking.

If we don’t have any pressure or incentive, we can talk forever without actually creating anything. When a clock is ticking, when a reward is waiting and we need to find an answer, our minds are more open to new ways of looking at a problem and we become more cognitively flexible.

3. When we don’t get too comfortable.

When we’ve finally developed an idea that we’re proud of, it’s easy to feel self-satisfied in the afterglow of creative breakthrough. This is one of the greatest risks in the creative process because we can easily become attached to an idea and miss further opportunities for improvement. One way to avoid this state is to regularly move boundaries and change rules (as is the case in Formula 1). This disruption creates a ‘shelf-life’ for your solutions and forces fresh rounds of innovation and creativity.

The creative situation

The development of a Formula 1 car is a good example of what can happen if you provide boundaries and creative conditions for knowledge workers. Team structures combine a breadth and depth of experience that promote the combining of old ideas in new ways. The World Championship competition provides pressure and incentives. Rule changes on an annual basis prevent anyone from becoming too satisfied with their ideas.

A Formula 1 car has thousands of separate elements that must fit together perfectly. A race season could see 30,000 design changes being made to the car, 1,000 per week, as components are tweaked and improved to maximise performance.

The development of a Formula 1 car also illustrates one of the myths of the10,000 hours rule. Achieving excellence is not the result of countless cycles of mechanical repetition. It works more like a neural network, processes are repeated, but parameters are deliberately adjusted after each cycle of learning, to get closer to the desired result.

Default mode and creativity

Crafting a ‘creative situation’ isn’t just about setting up boundaries for work; it can also involve allocating space for creative reflection. Our brains have a distinct network of interacting brain regions that become active in periods of wakeful rest, such as when we daydream or let our minds wander. This default mode network (DMN) activates whenever we are not involved in a task. Consequently, it’s sometimes described as a ‘task-negative’ state.

Entering ‘default mode’ has strong associations with creative and divergent thinking, comprehension, remembering the past and planning for the future. Some evidence has also observed a positive correlation between creative performance, across all measures of creativity, and the physical volume of the grey matter that makes up the default mode network.

The creative product

The technical story of Formula 1 describes the importance of quality over quantity and the triumph of creative solutions over brute force. In the 1906 Grand Prix, Mercedes fielded a car with a Maybach designed 11 litre engine. Its beastly engineering produced a mere 78kW of power. 110 years later, Mercedes is still competing and winning Grand Prix. In the 2016 Formula 1 season, Mercedes’ F1 W07 Hybrid cars featured a power unit that produced nearly 10 times the power of the Maybach engine, with 1/7th of the capacity of its ancestor. Brains have replaced brawn with precision, sophistication and consistent creativity.

It is interesting to note that some of the most significant developments in engine design have taken place in the previous four years. Endless cycles of development, testing and refinement, with a hefty dose of ingenuity, mean that today’s Mercedes PU106C power unit delivers at least 47% efficiency, versus 29% in 2013 and around 20% in 1906. These innovations have been instrumentals to the Mercedes’ AMG F1 teams’ three consecutive Constructor’s Championship victories.

There have been greater improvements in the efficiency of internal combustion engines in the last four years than in the last century. When you provide boundaries, resources, and a clear objective, then release people to do their best work, great things are possible.

Three questions to consider

1. Have you considered what level of pressure facilitates your most creative moments?
2. How can you engineer your environment to construct a more hospitable environment for creativity?
3. When did you last enjoy a ‘task-negative’ state and allocate some time for creative reflection?

Author:James Hewitt


The largest internet company in 2030? This prediction will probably surprise you


This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider.
Honda's latest version of the Asimo humanoid robot runs during a presentation in Zaventem near Brussels July 16, 2014. Honda introduced in Belgium an improved version of its Asimo humanoid robot that it says has enhanced intelligence and hand dexterity, and is able to run at a speed of some 9 kilometres per hour (5.6 miles per hour).  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS SOCIETY) - RTR3YVQI

Online learning taught by robots could be widespread by 2030.
Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Written by
Chris WellerIdeas Reporter, Business Insider
Wednesday 4 January 2017

Thirty years ago, it was a big deal when schools got their first computers. Today, it’s a big deal when students get their own laptops.

According to futurist Thomas Frey, in 14 years it’ll be a big deal when students learn from robot teachers over the internet.

It’s not just because the technology will be that sophisticated, Frey says, but because the company responsible for it will be the largest of its kind.

“I’ve been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet,” Frey, the senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute think tank, tells Business Insider.

Frey’s prediction comes amid a boom in artificial intelligence research. Google is developing DeepMind, a complex piece of machine-learning software. IBM is developing Watson-powered robots. Amazon is developing drone delivery.

 Growth of MOOCs

Image: Class Central

“Nobody has quite cracked the code for the future of education,” Frey contends.

His vision for 2030 includes a massively enhanced version of today’s open online courses — the kind of instruction you may find with Khan Academy, Coursera, or MIT OpenCourseWare. Only, the instructors won’t be humans beamed through videos. They’ll be bots, and they’ll be smart enough to personalize each lesson plan to the child sitting in front of the screen.

Frey suspects that kind of efficiency will allow students to learn at much faster rates than if they had to compete with 19 other students for the teacher’s attention. Students will breeze through their material at four or 10 times the speed, perhaps completing an undergraduate education in less than half a year.

“It learns what your proclivities are, it learns what your idiosyncrasies are,” he explains. “It learns what your interests are, your reference points. And it figures out how to teach you in a faster and faster way over time.”

He uses the example of Google’s DeepMind learning to play the Atari video game “Breakout.” Not only did it quickly pick up on the rules, but within a half hour it figured out a way to achieve incredibly high scores — all with little human input.

Machine learning will accelerate in a similar fashion in the education space, Frey says. Online bots will pick up on a student’s strengths and weaknesses and use a series of algorithms to tailor the lessons accordingly. Research suggests this personalized method is among the most effective at raising kids’ overall achievement.

Frey doesn’t go so far as to argue education bots will replace traditional schooling outright. He sees them more as a supplement, perhaps as a kind of tutor. If a child struggles with algebra, a bot may be able to offer some help during homework time or over the weekend.

It’s up for debate whether AI can master the subtleties of language, thought, and reason all within the next 14 years. One of the greatest hurdles for machine learning is grasping social interactions. Many AI systems today are still less capable (cognitively speaking) than a 6-year-old.

Frey trusts 14 years isn’t too generous a timeline for the technology to ramp up, given how quickly technology innovation builds on itself. The internet was just beginning to enter a lot of people’s homes 14 years ago, in 2002. But by 2007 people were already surfing the Web on their iPhones, and today the internet is almost omnipresent in daily life.

Frey predicts that artificial intelligence will have the same trajectory in the education space. By 2030, DeepMind’s ability to master “Breakout” could seem as quaint as dial-up modems do today, and what seemed like a massive library of online content in 2016 could look to future students like a skimpy collection that hardly does anything.