Grand Challenge Lecture: Future Capable — Learning for Life and Work in the 21st Century

Last month I delivered a ‘grand challenge’ public lecture at Queensland University of Technology. The Institute for Future Environments hosts these lectures, which, as you’d expect, are all about the big challenges facing humanity, from feeding the world’s booming population to managing scarce natural resources and reducing our carbon footprint. Over the years they’ve hosted people like Professor Federico Rosei from the University of Quebec, who presented on new technologies for energy sustainability, and Professor Kevin Burrage from Oxford University, talking about personalised medicine.

My lecture was (of course!) about why, given disruptive changes to the world of work, society, and education, we all need to be future capable, what future capability means, and how we can all learn to be future capable.

Here’s the abstract:

This presentation asks what it means to be capable in the context of a world of work and society undergoing massive disruptive change under the influence of digital technologies. It engages with the key shifts that are occurring to the labour market, work and careers, and explores the 21st century capabilities and skills that research suggests will be important to graduates’ productive participation in the years to come, including capabilities for complex problem solving and innovation, enterprise and career self-management, social network capabilities, and digital making skills. It suggests some key ways that universities can foster 21st century capabilities, and some strategies for building agile and dynamic educational institutions that are as ‘future capable’ as the graduates they produce.

And here’s the lecture itself:


Teaching philosophy update

Edit: I was succesful in my application, and as of June 2017 am now a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy!


I just finished writing a new application to the Higher Education Academy. I became a Senior HEA Fellow in mid-2015, and posted about my teaching philosophy then. This time, I’m going for the big one: Principal Fellow. There are about 700 Principal Fellows worldwide, and these people tend to be highly experienced senior staff with strategic institutional and sectoral leadership roles in learning and teaching.

I’m applying for my Principal HEA Fellowship through QUT’s scheme QALT (QUT Academy of Learning and Teaching). My application involved about 8,000 words, all-told : a reflective account of practice demonstrating that I meet all Dimensions of the PSF at Descriptor 4 level, a record of educational impact (list of roles and activities), three advocates reports, and my learning and teaching philosophy statement.

This application drove me nuts. It was much harder to do than my previous one, and not just because it was four times the length. I had trouble pulling apart my integrated experiences to address the different criteria. I dithered over my reflections and wondered exactly which examples of practice should go where. It took me a total of two months at 1-2 hours each work day to draft and then edit the thing.

I reached the teaching philosophy part and thought I’d be fine. ‘Excellent’, I thought. ‘I can cut corners here by using my philosophy from my SFHEA application!’

Except no.

I copied-and-pasted my teaching philosophy statement, read it over, and realised it didn’t fit. Not because my philosophy of teaching has changed; but because the focus and scale of Principal Fellow is completely different. In my SF application, I spoke largely about the learner, and the role of the teacher and the learning environment. In my PF application, I started my philosophy the same way, but got far more into what I believe higher education is for, and which pedagogic principles and practices should infuse everything we do. It got quite grandiose, really.

Anyway, here it is. Upon reflection, most of my work has this kind of focus rather than at the SF level, so while the PF application was harder to write, the PF  aligns better with my thinking and practice. Cross fingers that I am approved — my application now goes to three reviewers, and I will hear back in about 8 weeks.


I believe that higher education is vitally important to personal, social and economic well-being and growth in the 21st century knowledge society. Universities are responsible for teaching high level capabilities that are needed for leadership, social responsibility, innovation and problem solving, all of which are integral to navigating a successful global future. Given this mandate, I feel that contemporary university programs must be orientated towards real world relevance and application – that is, they must be of use – as well as continuing to support learners to develop disciplinary depth and high level critical capabilities grounded in history, theory and context. Education for relevance and application should include the development of ‘future capabilities’, including disciplinary agility, enterprise and entrepreneurship, digital literacies, social network capability, and career/learning self-management, all of which are often sorely lacking in university graduate capability lists and curricula (Bridgstock, 2009; 2015). I often argue that in a world where more and more information is available online for free, provision of pre-digested curriculum content is much less important than previously. Universities will soon be differentiated by the provision of quality learning experiences that develop future capabilities, and the extent to which they foster the growth of learners’ professional relationships and networks.

Thus, in order to meet the future capability needs of learners, teachers and educational institutions need to be future capable as well.  My perspective on the dominant pedagogic approaches taken by the future capable is exemplified in my distributed knowledge network model of the university depicted in the figure below (Bridgstock, 2016). The model is based on research I conducted into the actual and preferred learning strategies of digital industry professionals (Bridgstock, 2016, published online), and is designed to create a responsive, continually updating curriculum. It has grounding in, and integrates ideas from, experiential, active learning theories and authentic learning (Dewey, 1938; Herrington & Herrington, 2005), social constructivism (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), communities of practice and enquiry (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and connectivism (Siemens, 2005).

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 5.06.58 PM

At the centre of the model is the learner who is engaged individually or in a group in task- or enquiry- based experiential learning. The green ring depicts their learning community, which may include other learners at different levels of capability, teachers, and industry/community members. The community is embedded into a much larger distributed knowledge network comprising global digital and face-to-face connections – such as learners, teachers, practitioners, industry, users, and other interested individuals. The acquisition of capability occurs in cyclical manner between authentic activity and the ‘classroom’ (whether physical or virtual), with teachers scaffolding learners’ processes of reflective metacognitive learning how to learn and emergent meaning making (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003). In strong contrast to the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ transmissive model of education on the 20th century (King, 1993), 21st century academic teachers must guide, coach, and mentor. They support learners to plan their learning, and then to filter, compare, contrast, and re-contextualise learning strategies and experiences, and identify new sources for relevant knowledge and skill acquisition, which is what learners will then do for themselves continually throughout the rest of their professional and personal lives. The learner is co-designer and co-constructor of their learning, which may traverse formal, informal, curricular and co-curricular realms as needed.

In the future capable university, teachers are vital to ‘bottom up’ educational innovation and growth, and to the ongoing facilitation of high quality learning experiences (Salmon & Wright, 2014). For teachers to be effective, they must be supported by organisational structures and processes that are germane to new ways of working and teaching. Teachers’ bottom up actions must also be met by complementary ‘top-down’ policies and strategies. Thus, I work with teachers and institutional leaders to build future teaching capability. I believe in the power of transformational leadership in stimulating organisational change (Avolio, Zhu, Koh, & Bhatia, 2004) that inspires and stimulates new ways of thinking, and affirms and capitalises on existing practice.

Avolio, B. J., Zhu, W., Koh, W., & Bhatia, P. (2004). Transformational leadership and organizational commitment: Mediating role of psychological empowerment and moderating role of structural distance. Journal of organizational behavior, 25(8), 951-968.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. London: Penguin UK.

Bridgstock, R. (2016). The university and the knowledge network: A new educational model for 21st century learning and employability. In M. Tomlinson (Ed.), Graduate Employability in Context: Research, Theory and Debate. London: Palgrave-MacMillan.

Bridgstock, R. (2016, published online). Educating for digital futures: What the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education: Simon and Schuster.

Herrington, A., & Herrington, J. (2006). What is an authentic learning environment? In A. Herrington & J. Herrington (Eds.), Authentic learning environments in higher education (pp. 1-13). Hershey: Information Science Publishing.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1).




Introducing ‘Graduate Employability 2.0’

Did you know that Linkedin now has 300 million users, which is about 1 in 3 professionals worldwide? And that 35% of those users log in every day?

And did you know that about 60% of jobs are estimated to be obtained through ‘who you know’ rather than direct application? Did you also know that between 80 and 90% of university graduates only apply for jobs using direct application methods?

70% of learning in the workplace happens informally, much of it problem-based and self-directed, and about 90% of that involves social interaction – either face to face, online or both.

One recent study found that 86% of professionals use online social networks for professional purposes in the workplace. What do they use them for? networking within and outside the organisation, research and learning, and sharing resources and project information with colleagues.

Graduate Employability 2.0 is about all of these things. It explores a different way of engaging with learning and teaching for life and career post-university. Graduate Employability 1.0 was about skills, knowledge, and attributes that individual students can learn in order to be able to obtain or create work and perform well in work situations. In the Graduate Employability 2.0 era, individual skills, knowledge and attributes are still important, but so are the individual’s professional relationships and networks, and what they do with them. The ‘2.0’ signifies the central importance of the social, digitally networked world in which we now all live.

My 2015-2016 Australian Office of Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship seeks to identify the best ways to develop students’ capabilities to build and use professional connections, both online and face-to-face, for career development, creativity and problem-solving, and professional learning, all of which are essential to employability in the digital age.

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Career development      



Professional relationships, networks and social capital are vital to career development:

  • by increasing access to career resources, information about opportunities, and career sponsorship
  • through the individual’s online presence – their personal ‘brand’, ePortfolio, use of social media as an advertising / recruitment screening tool
  • through distributed, networked options for employment generation e.g., Airtasker, Upwork, crowdsourcing resources
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Innovation, creativity and problem solving

Innovation and problem solving thrive on complex collaborative contexts:

  • by fostering new ideas through exposure to new people and new ideas (especially trans-disciplinarity)
  • by ensuring that new ideas are integrated, implemented and brought to fruition through teamwork;
  • by finding opportunities for enterprise – for example, new markets, collaborators and resources
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Professional learning

Social connections facilitate the reciprocal transmission of skills and knowledge for professional learning:

  • through communities of practice and informal social learning
  • digitally through distributed learning networks (social media, crowdsourced learning e.g., wikipedia).

What does the fellowship involve?

Right now I am seeking cases of teaching practice, particularly in humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) disciplines, that engage with these kinds of learning, and also some examples of graduates who are making the most of their social connections for professional purposes. Chosen cases will be included in a graduate employability toolkit and promoted nationally. If you are interested in being a case study, please get in touch.

I will be surveying all of the universities in Australia to find out to what extent and how they are engaging with teaching for the development of students’ professional connections.

Later on this year I’ll be working with four universities to build graduate employability 2.0 capabilities into their undergraduate programs. We’ll be doing some experiments and seeing which are the best ways to build professional networks into the curriculum

There will be a national symposium hosted at QUT, and I will launch an online community of practice for sharing, discussion and updates very shortly. Watch this space for details!