Category Archives: To code or not to code

Digital agency and the skills gap

The concluding report from Deloitte Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar Schools’ collaboration looking into digital skills in the workplace, Digital agency and the skills gap,1)Evans-Greenwood, P & Patston, T 2019, Digital agency and the skills gap, Deloitte, Australia, <https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/public-sector/articles/to-code-or-not-to-code-coding-competence.html>. has been published by Deloitte, Australia. This report pulls together the results from across the project to provide an overview of the journey and the findings.

There’s a huge amount of angst in the community that our education system cannot keep up with rapid technological change, however this project shows that this is likely not the case. What we’re seeing is, in many cases, not a lack of skills, but an inability to navigate an increasingly complex digital environment. While digital skills are important, knowing when and why to use these skills is more important, particularly in a world where new knowledge is no further away than a search engine accessed via a smart phone.

Workers are unable to make the connection between the skills they have and the problem infant of them, making this a problem of unknown knowns. It’s not that workers lack skills, what they lack is discernment, the ability to read the digital environment around them and make sharp judgements about when and why particular digital tools and skills should be used. A lack of discernment limits a worker’s digital agency, their ability to act freely in a digital environment.

Solving this problem is not simply a question of teaching students and workers more, and more relevant digital skills. We need to focus on fostering in them the discernment required for them to develop the work habits that will enable them to make the most of digital technology.

The project was a long and fascinating journey so this concluding report itself is quite long, around 12,000 words. A much shorter business-friendly summary, The digital ready worker,2)Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/learned-helplessness-workforce.html>. was published last week by Deloitte Insights. A lot of valuable insights were dropped on the cutting room floor to create that summary, hence this report.

This report provides a summary of project’s journey, from the initial provocation through the roundtables, the more recent workshops, to the development of the project’s conclusions, as well as providing a detailed exploration of the findings. If you’re an educator (K12 or post-secondary) you might find this longer report more valuable as it digs into the details of the models presented, and does a better job of exploring the implications of the findings. If you were involved in any of the projects, the this report will join a number of dots and provide that ah-ha moment.

Revisiting the concept of learned helplessness, the report shows how the solution to learned helplessness is not to teach students more digital skills, but to foster their digital agency, their capacity to act independently and make their own free choices in the digital workplace. The concept of digital natives is explored in light of what the project discovered, resulting in a new model of digital competence in the workplace the identifies four archetypes: the digital naïf, digital pragmatist, digital explorer, and digital evangelist.

Finally, the report develops a progression capturing how one’s digital agency changes over time, and explores how digital agency might be fostered in both students and workers, and the changes this implies.

References   [ + ]

1. Evans-Greenwood, P & Patston, T 2019, Digital agency and the skills gap, Deloitte, Australia, <https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/public-sector/articles/to-code-or-not-to-code-coding-competence.html>.
2. Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/learned-helplessness-workforce.html>.

The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity

We have a new essay published on Deloitte Insights, The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity, which is the result of a collaboration between Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School.1)Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/learned-helplessness-workforce.html>. As the blurb says, this essay looks into how:

To be effective in an increasingly technological workplace, workers must know, not just how to use digital tools, but when and why to use them. Critical to this ability is digital agency: the judgment and confidence required to navigate and be effective in unfamiliar digital environments.

There’s a lot of concern at the moment of a growing skills gap, the gap between the the skills held by graduates and those demanded by employers. Studies have been done to measure this growing gap, and significant resources have been devoted to updating curricula in an attempt to close the gap, all to no avail.

If we peal the lid of these studies we see they rely on aggregate skills data, typically from O*NET, which means that they’re limited to seeing a single negative view of how technology affects jobs, one where technology automates skills making workers redundant. The problem is that this isn’t the only pathway for technology to affect work. There’s also a positive pathway, where technology automates skills making the workers’ remaining skills more valuable, as well as a “no net change” pathway (or collection of pathways) which we have empirical evidence for but are yet to pull apart and understand.2)Spenner, KI 1983, ‘Deciphering Prometheus: Temporal Change in the Skill Level of Work’, American Sociological Review, vol. 48, no. 6, p. 824, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095328?origin=crossref>.

One of the key insights, if not the key insight, from Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar Schools’ To code or not to code collaboration, was that many of the problems we’re seeing in the workplace are likely due to learned helplessness,3)The term “learned helplessness” is borrowed from the psychology literature, drawing upon the work of Martin Seligman and many others. See, for instance, Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned helplessness,” Annual Review of Medicine 23, no. 1 (1972): pp. 407–12. where a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a persistent failure to succeed. We’re teaching students how to use particular digital tools in particular ways, but we’re also teaching them that these tools are fragile and using them the wrong often results in problems and might even ‘brick’ the device. Rather than framing the problems we’re seeing in the workplace as the result of a growing skills gap due to the destruction of skills, it might be more appropriate to frame them as a problem of unknown knowns. It’s not that the worker doesn’t have the skills required, their problem is making the connection between the skill and the current problem they’re working on.

The solution to this problem isn’t to provide students with more, and more relevant, digital skills. Indeed, that approach is unlikely to help as the students are not lacking in skills. While it’s important to know how to use particular digital tools, it’s more important to know when and why these digital tools should be used. What students lack is discernment, the knowledge and experience required to make observations and sharp judgements about which digital tools might be useful and how they will affect the work. We need to foster in students the attitudes and behaviours—something we’ve taken to calling a predilection—that help them navigate the digital workplace and develop the habits that enable them to integrate digital tools into their work. Ultimately the solution is to foster digital agency in students, to help them develop the literacies, knowledge, skills and predilections the need to act independently and make their own free choices in the digital workplace.

The essay explores, in some detail, the concept of learned helplessness in the digital workplace, and how we might might foster digital agency in both students and workers. There’s also a few of useful models for thinking about this problem, helping us move beyond misleading dichotomies like Digitial Native vs Digital Immigrant which have proven to be wrong.

You can find the entire text over at Deloitte Insights. Feel free to leave a comment here with your thoughts.

References   [ + ]

1. Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/learned-helplessness-workforce.html>.
2. Spenner, KI 1983, ‘Deciphering Prometheus: Temporal Change in the Skill Level of Work’, American Sociological Review, vol. 48, no. 6, p. 824, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095328?origin=crossref>.
3. The term “learned helplessness” is borrowed from the psychology literature, drawing upon the work of Martin Seligman and many others. See, for instance, Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned helplessness,” Annual Review of Medicine 23, no. 1 (1972): pp. 407–12.

Digital agency and the skills gap

In 2016, Deloitte Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School hosted a series of roundtables looking into digital skills and the challenges of the digital workplace. The project that emerged from those roundtables took three years to peel back layer after layer of assumptions to discover that it’s likely that our graduates are suffering from a lack of discernment, rather than a lack of digital skills.

On the 30th of October Deloitte is hosting an event in the Melbourne office around close of business to launch the reports that lay out the project’s findings, and to explore where to next. Fill out the contact form at the bottom of this post if you’re interested in attending.

The future will be digital and mastery of digital technology is seen as an essential skill. The growing skills gap—the gap between skills held by graduates and those employers seek—is a cause of great concern. Prescriptions range from new curricula, new technology-driven pedagogy, through to blowing it all up and starting again.

Our research shows that while digital skills, knowing how to use digital tools, is important, knowing when and why to use them is more important. The challenges graduates experience in the workplace a more likely due to a lack of digital agency. They suffer from learned helplessness, struggling to navigate a workplace saturated in, even defined by, digital tools.

The event will consist of a plenary discussing the findings and a panel to dig into the details. Can we fix the education system? Or do we need to disrupt it?

You can find the previous reports from the project on the Deloitte web site.

To code or not to code: Mapping digital competence

We’re kicking off the next phase of our “Should everyone learn how to code?” project. This time around it’s a series of public workshops over late January and early February in Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney, Western Sydney, Hobart, Brisbane, and Adelaide. The purpose of the workshops is to try and create a mud-map describing what a digitally competent workforce might look like.

As the pitch goes…

Australia’s prosperity depends on equipping the next generation with the skills needed to thrive in a digital environment. But does this mean that everyone needs to learn how to code?

In the national series of round tables Deloitte Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School hosted in 2016, the answer was “Yes, enough that they know what coding is.”

The greater concern, though, was ensuring that everyone is comfortable integrating digital tools into their work whatever that work might be, something that we termed ‘digital competence’. This concept was unpacked in an essay published earlier this year.

Now we’re turning our attention to the question: What does digital competence look like in practice, and how do we integrate it into the curriculum?

We are holding an invitation only workshop for industry and education to explore the following ideas:

  • What are the attributes of a digitally competent professional?
  • How might their digital competence change over their career?
  • What are the common attributes of digital competence in the workplace?
  • How might we teach these attributes?

If you’re interested in attending, or if you know someone who might be interested in attending, then contact me and we’ll add you to the list. Note that there’s only 24-32 places in each workshop and we want to ensure a diverse mix of people in each workshop, so we might not be able to fit everyone who’s interested, but we’ll do our best.

To code or not to code, is that the question?

Over 2016-2017 Deloitte Centre for the Edge collaborated with Geelong Grammar School to run a national series of roundtables where we unpacked the common catchphrase “everyone should learn how to code” as we have noticed that there was no consensus on what ‘coding’ was, and it seemed to represent an aspiration more than a skill. We felt that the community had jumped from observation (digital technology is becoming increasingly important) to prescription (everyone should learn how to code) without considering what problem we actually wanted to solve.

What we found from the roundtables was interesting. First, yes, everyone should learn how to code a little, mainly to demystify it. Coding and computers are seen as something of a black art, and that shouldn’t be the case. A short compulsory coding course would also expose students to a skill and career that they might not have otherwise considered. However, the bigger problem lurking behind the catchphrase was the inability for many workers to productively engage with the technology. Many of us suffer from learned helplessness, where we’ve learnt that we need to use digital tools in particular ways to solve particular problems, and if we deviate from this then all manner of things go wrong. This needs to change.

The result of the roundtables were written up and published but Deloitte and Geelong Grammar School.

To code or not to code, is that the question?

Centre for the Edge is dipping our toe into the education waters again after last years report, , Redefining EducationWe’re collaborating with Geelong Grammar‘s School of Creative Education to look into “Does everyone need to learn how to code?”

Computers are at the heart of the economy, and coding is at the heart of computers. Australia’s prosperity depends on equipping the next generation with the skills they need to thrive in this environment, but does this mean that we need to teach everyone how to code? Coding has a proud role in digital technology’s past, but is it an essential skill in the future? Our relationship with technology is evolving and coding, while still important, is just one of the many new skills that will be required.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for the country’s schools to introduce IT skills to students much earlier than they do now, suggesting that children as young as five or six should be introduced to coding. President Obama affirmed the need for coding education in his final state of the nation address. Some educators, however, are already pointing out that that teaching coding on its own might not be enough.

We will be holding a series of round table discussions across Geelong, Melbourne,  Sydney, Adelaide and Perth in May 2016 to explore the following questions:

  • What is the intention behind “we need to teach everyone to code”?
  • What educational and social outcomes we should be striving for?
  • Are there key skills from “learning to code” not covered in the current curriculum?
  • Is there a better definition for digital literacy?
  • How does digital literacy relate to coding and the rest of computer science?
  • How do we demystify digital technology and bring the community along?

Please contact me if you are interested in participating.

To code or not to code, is that the question?

Image: Ruiwen Chua.