The pervasiveness of digital technologies in daily life is fundamentally changing the way individuals access and elaborate knowledge. Individuals have to process complex information, think systematically and take decisions weighting different forms of evidence. They also have to continuously update their skills to match rapid technical change at the workplace. More fundamentally, in order to seize the new opportunities that digital technologies are opening in many areas, individuals have to develop the right set of skills to make a meaningful use of these technologies.
Increasing use of digital technologies at work is raising the demand for new skills along three lines: ICT specialist skills to programme, develop applications and manage networks; ICT generic skills to use such technologies for professional purposes; and ICT complementary skills to perform new tasks associated to the use of ICTs at work, e.g.: information-processing, self-direction, problem-solving and communication. Foundation skills, digital literacies as well as social and emotional skills are crucial to enable effective use of digital technologies by all individuals in their daily lives.
To ensure that individuals can engage in digital activities and adapt rapidly to new and unexpected occupations and skills needs, a stronger emphasis has to be placed in promoting strong levels of foundation skills, digital literacies, higher order thinking competencies as well as social and emotional skills.
These changes in the demand for skills present two major challenges to skills development systems, including formal education, training and the recognition of skills acquired through non-formal learning. First, while there is awareness that the skills profile of citizens and workers will be very different than in the past, the skills of the future are difficult to identify with certainty due fast technological changes. The second challenge is to ensure that, once changes in skills have been identified, skills development systems adjust sufficiently fast to match new skills demands.
While raising the demand for new skills, digital technologies are also creating new opportunities for skills development. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) modify learning methods and give access to quality resources to a larger population over more flexible hours. The use of digital technologies in formal education and vocational training has the potential to improve learning, although the outcomes depend on the capacity to link these tools to effective pedagogy. Big data analytics can also complement labour market information systems with a more timely and precise monitoring of changing skills demand to adapt skills development and activation policies.
Lastly, the increase in the quantity of data that are collected on education and labour markets on a daily basis through online courses, administrative records and online job vacancies, and their exploitation through data analytics can open endless avenues for research and innovation in education and training and helps to better inform policy decisions.
In spite of their potential, these initiatives have, thus far, remained a niche. Barriers to their adoption include limits on learners and teachers/trainers’ capacity to take advantage of digital technologies; concerns about the quality of online education; and the lack of recognition for learning outcomes. Policies to overcome these barriers and to ensure consistency and quality, especially in an international marketplace, are key to grasping the learning opportunities created by these tools.
The OECD has developed a comprehensive Skills Strategy that helps countries identify the strengths and weaknesses of their national skills systems, benchmark them internationally, and develop policies that can transform better skills into better jobs, economic growth and social inclusion. The OECD Skills Strategy provides a useful approach to address the opportunities and challenges for skill development in the digital economy. This approach consists of three main steps. First, identify more precisely the kind of skills required in the digital economy, through the definition of an agreed framework for digital literacy, further cross-country analysis of existing datasets and the development of new surveys. Second, examine how these changes may translate into curriculum reform, teacher training and professional development. Third, leverage ICTs to improve the access to and the quality of education and training, e.g.: through online courses, new learning tools at school and adequate recognition of skills acquired through informal learning.