THE CHALLENGE: 21ST CENTURY SKILL DEVELOPMENT IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING SOCIETY
HOW UNIVERSITIES STILL PROVIDE THE BEST ENVIRONMENT – BUT DON’T BE COMPLACENT!
General characteristics of a rapidly changing (VUCA) society
We are living in a so-called ‘VUCA world’. This acronym was introduced by the US military to cover for the increased Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity that technological, political and economic processes create at the moment.
A VUCA world creates in particular a challenge for complex problems solving skills. But what type of complexity are we actually looking at? What is at stake? Already in the 1990s, authors started to realize that a so-called ‘networked knowledge society’ was rapidly coming of age (cf. Castells, 1996). Instead of hierarchical communities, relatively open communities increasingly interact with each other. The access to knowledge is increasing, partly due to the spread of the Internet, but also due to the breaking down of ideologies and other shared values. Communities of peers pragmatically get together to interactively produce joint knowledge.
This trend is best exemplified by the Wiki-phenomenon in which an open community of often unregistered participants – aided by collaborative software and the Internet – generate knowledge through quickly adding, removing and editing content. ‘Wiki’ in principle means ‘able to be edited quickly’. In some instances, quick and open Wiki networks have already provided better and more accessible knowledge results than the slower networks of closed communities dominated, for instance, by scientific peers. The networking society has multiple centres for power and decision-making, which also makes it more difficult to change its course once it takes the wrong route.
The declining number of shared values can lead to the disintegration of societies that were built on these values, with nothing replacing them (cf. Etzioni, 1998). The power vacuum produces an institutional void, in which the lack of common rules and practices can also lead to chaos (cf. Van Tulder, with Van der Zwart, 2006). In economic terms, the wiki-society got organised as a ‘sharedeconomy’ or the ‘we-economy’, which emphasizes decentralized collaboration as much as competition. But sharing, also implies exclusion of those groups that are not allowed to participate.
If quick and open becomes more pervasive, it could also jeopardise the creation of more thorough and deep knowledge, which sometimes requires closed networks of dedicated and committed peers that engage in dialogue to develop knowledge. Wikipedia as the most advanced global application of the Wiki-principle has been criticised for being susceptible to manipulation and electronic vandalism. Cornell University, confronted with comparable developments, even instituted a taskforce to enhance ‘wisdom in the age of information’. Another term used for the effects of abundant information is ‘infobesitas’ which leads to people facing increased choice stress. Or in the words of Mega Trend watcher John Naisbit (1982): “we are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge”.
Read about the challenges for 21st century skill development in the downloadable PDFs below.