How Private Firms are Gearing Up for the Future of Education

South Pacific university students benefit from ICT-based education. Photo credit: ADB

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Published: 15 January 2018

Private institutions are creating new ways to learn and access learning tools for people to meet future skills demand.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution, seen potentially wiping out up to 50 percent of human tasks that can be replaced by machines, is forcing institutions to create digital content and delivery channels that millions of people can access anytime, anywhere in the world.

Key Findings

Education is being swept by a sea change of digital disruption since the advent of the internet, mobile phones, increased broadband speed, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum published The Future of Jobs report, which revealed the 10 "social skills” – such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills – that will be in higher demand across industries by 2020.

“These skills will need to be developed on scale and at speed to up-skill sufficient people globally” especially given the predictions that 20 to 50 percent of human tasks will be replaced by machines and AI, said So-Young Kang, founder of Awaken Group and Gnowbe, an innovative mobile-first training and engagement platform.

At the Asian Development Bank’s 7th International Skills Forum, some of these leading institutions presented how they have harnessing modern technologies to democratize learning through digital access to content.  

Massive Open Online Course

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) started nearly eight years ago when the need arose to digitize content and make it accessible to millions around the world.

One of the early pioneers was venture-backed Coursera, based in Mountain View, California, home to many high technology companies such as Google and Facebook. Coursera’s vision is to have a “world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience.”

To date, Coursera has reached over 28 million learners worldwide through its partnerships with more than 150 colleges and universities. These colleges and universities create course videos and assignments that are offered on the company’s platform for free—and students can pay for a certificate showing completion.

In August 2016, the company launched Coursera for Business to meet the growing demand from corporate clients willing to invest in their employees’ up-skilling and online education. Just over a year from its launch, Coursera for Business is already being tapped by more than 100 companies and institutions worldwide. Coursera claims 84% of its learners have so far benefited through career advancement.

Cloud Computing is primarily known for its massive e-commerce business. To monetize idle room on its servers, the company set up Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing in 2006, which has now quickly grown to become its most profitable and fastest-growing business at US$16 billion.

In addition to having millions of corporate customers using AWS for pay-as-you-go, on-demand services, including small business backup solutions and cloud storage, more than 7,000 educational institutions currently use the AWS Cloud to lower IT costs, launch student analytic initiatives, and prepare students for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.  

Open Universities Australia, an aggregator of Australian universities and colleges that offers distance learning services, tapped AWS to reach over 100,000 students worldwide through a MOOC site called Open2Study.  

Ivy Tech Community College, based in Indiana, is the largest community college in the United States with about 170,000 students registering for classes each year. The school has a huge database and IT infrastructure that includes an average of 23 million emails transmitted daily and about 10 TB of information downloaded each day from the Internet. Using AWS’ data warehouse service to perform predictive analytics and produce reports, Ivy Tech was able to drastically cut its operational costs and respond to student queries as fast as three seconds from 40 minutes or more in the past. AWS’ pay-as-you-go pricing also enabled the community college to manage its budget constraints.


In 2015, the world’s mobile worker population had reached 1.3 billion people, which represents 37.2% of the total workforce, according to the International Data Corporation. To enable over a billion mobile people to learn the “soft skills” that their future jobs demand, Gnowbe developed a “micro-learning” model: short-form, gamified courses on a mobile phone that take no more than 10 minutes a day.

Headquartered in Singapore and in Silicon Valley and started in 2015, Gnowbe is a mobile-first, learn-by-doing workplace education platform that delivers engaging content including employee onboarding, product knowledge training, and team updates. Its app delivers multimedia content and uses social features and gamification elements, like leaderboards and rewards, to keep users engaged.

“Workforces around the world are rapidly transitioning to a ‘mobile-first’ mindset. This presents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to empower employees through knowledge,” said Gnowbe’s CEO and co-founder, So-Young Kang.

Clients are empowered to author their own content with engaging and action-oriented templates. A data analytics platform is available to users and employers to measure performance and progress.

Chatbots and Kinetic Coach

Dioworks, an e-learning design company, relied on two key components in education — psychomotor training and facilitated learning — to teach young people in Asia to quickly upgrade their skills and gain access to scalable e-learning tools.

Dioworks automated these two components and developed two solutions:

  1. the Kinetic Coach, which uses artificial intelligence to create movement-based skills such as crane signaling, sports, and dances. Learners need a psychomotor sensory device and a personal computer with psychomotor training solutions where the expert can be replicated and then scaled up quickly; and
  2. Chatbots that allow learners to replicate the cognitive skills and knowledge of experts. They can be accessed via common social media platforms such as Facebook, Skype and Telegram. This makes chatbots easy to access and affordable.

Combining the two approaches allows for the holistic development of the learner. Currently, Dioworks is customizing the solution for primary school learners in Singapore, with one primary school adopting the solution to train sports in their Primary 3 and 4 students.


Digital learning solutions will need to be designed, not just to deliver content, but to enable people to learn the “soft skills,” such as critical thinking and collaboration, that the future demands.

Related Links

Dr. Michael Choy
Director, Dioworks Learning

Dr. Michael Choy is the director of Dioworks Learning based in Singapore. He has more than 20 journal articles and conference papers to his name and has trained and developed curricula for more than 7,000 teachers on various topics on adult learning. His recent forays into artificial intelligence and kinetic coach has won in national competitions on technology-enabled learning in Singapore.

So-Young Kang
Founder and CEO, Awaken Group and Gnowbe

So-Young Kang is the founder and CEO of Awaken Group and Gnowbe, an innovative mobile-first training and engagement platform. She is one of the Young Global Leaders nominated by the World Economic Forum. She started her professional career teaching in Japan nearly 20 years ago before moving on to Citigroup and McKinsey & Company.

Matthew Klein
Manager for International Government Partnerships, Coursera

Matthew Klein is the manager for International Government Partnerships of Coursera. Prior to joining the education-focused technology company, Mr. Klein was director of business development at Stroll Health and senior program officer for Vaccine Delivery at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Inc., where he started as research analyst in 2009.

Vincent Quah
Business Lead, Amazon Web Services

Vincent Quah is the Business Lead for Amazon Web Services. He has more than 25 years of experience working in the education, high performance computing, life science, learning and healthcare industries. He has worked in major multinational corporations, primarily focused in the education and research industry and have led successful teams to deliver strong business outcomes.

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