Future Learning: Gig Economies, Cultural Capital, & New Learning Pathways

Rohan Roberts
Sapient Symbiosis
Published in
7 min readJul 21, 2020


We are currently starting to see credentialing shift away from top-down central authority (e.g. universities) and are simultaneously witnessing a shift in the learning pathways students choose. A learning pathway is described as “the chosen route, taken by a learner through a range of learning activities, which allows them to build knowledge progressively.”

Previously, students had little control over their learning pathways. They would start their formal education in Kindergarten and the next 14 years of their life will have been charted out for them. They would be expected to pass tests assigned by the teacher; move up year groups and key stages; sit for their year 10 exams and then their year 12 exams; and finally, they would leave high school.

To encourage students to stick to this straight and narrow path, schools and universities have created a massive system of reports, standardised tests, fixed syllabus, subject-specific assessments, board exams, college prep, honours programmes, Deans’ lists etc. The emphasis has been overwhelmingly on the products of learning — tests results, exams grades etc., rather than on the process of learning. This inevitably has led to most students forgetting almost all that they learn in high school almost immediately after they leave high school. (If you doubt this, refer to the TIME magazine survey, which revealed that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth; or watch Are You Smarter than a Fifth-grader?)

Students used to be offered a limited choice in what they could learn and little to no flexibility in how they could learn and at what pace.

That was the prescribed learning pathway for almost everyone on the planet. Students had little or no opportunity to deviate from this prescribed learning pathway.

Thankfully, this is slowly starting to change. New learning pathways are emerging in which the control of choice is moving away from the teacher to the learner. Web 2.0 tools, online encyclopaedias, MOOCs, online tutoring platforms, interactive courseware aids, online study guides, internships, social media, and online collaborative platforms are allowing students to bridge the gap between the access to information and their personal requirements for cognitive development. These novel ways of navigating the educational space will allow learners to personalise their learning. It will also allow them to leverage their own personal experiences and cultural capital to ensure their cognitive development and future success.

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital is a collection of the social assets (education, intellect, style of speech and dress), and other symbolic elements (skills, tastes, posture, clothing, mannerisms, material belongings, credentials, etc.) that students acquire or possess by being part of a particular social class, ethnicity, or nation. The term was developed and popularised by late-twentieth-century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

In our new hyper-connected, digitally-linked world, cultural capital can be exchanged for economic capital, via social connections, knowledge, skills, values and behaviours that help one attain high-paying jobs.

This is why the ability to socialise, create personalised learning networks and find mentors is an increasingly important part of any useful learning pathway.

Learning Playlists

As new learning pathways evolve, students will increasingly have more choice in what they learn and how they learn. Just as listeners can curate their choice of music on Spotify and iTunes, students of the future will curate their own learning “playlists”.

We can make a comparison with how we used to listen to music. In the old days, if a listener liked a particular song they were expected to buy the entire album. Today, listeners can download just the song they like and add it to their customised music playlist.

Part of the process of creating learning playlists will be to break down large curricula into manageable-sized chunks of knowledge. These can then be categorised into sections based on learner needs, prior knowledge, level of difficulty, the time required, and additional research requirements.

Using learning playlists will also mean we will be expected to change how we assess. The essence of a playlist is that it is not one-size-fits-all (like the current syllabus in most schools). A learning playlist will be unique to the individual needs of each child. Therefore, the assessments will also be required to be differentiated and flexible.

Terry Heick writing for TeachThought says, “With modern digital and social technology, learning playlists are now possible. Each learner has access to both the content and the tools to consume content in an order that is within their unique Zone of Proximal Development, cultural schema, and personal interest. Learning playlists combine the formless nature of digital content with the need for unique content. They need not be asynchronous. Fully social collaboration is possible within and across the lists. They can be projects, traditional academic work, or help inform Place-Based Education.”

Instead of a focus on rigid structure, prescribed syllabus, and teaching in sequence, we’ve got to transition towards the just in time, just enough, just for me philosophy pf Personalised learning.

As students make this transition what they need help with are the following:

· Building on prior knowledge and prior experience

· Bridging current knowledge and future knowledge

· Creating learning pathways that are diverse, cross-curricular, and inter-disciplinary.

· Ensuring playlists and learning pathways cater to diverse and niche interests

· Making informed choices about post-high school and future career pathways

· Opportunities to share their learning and collaborate locally and globally

The main takeaway is that we need new learning pathways for a new economy.

The Gig Economy

The old paradigm where you entered the workforce and had a job for life is over. The old days where you worked for a single employer from nine to five is ending. We are now witnessing the evolution of new ways of working. A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are readily available and companies work with freelancers or contract independent workers for short-term assignments.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today’s learners will have 8 to 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Many of them will join the workforce as freelancers. The gig economy allows workers the flexibility of keeping their own time and also occasionally working on multiple jobs with different organisations. In such an economy, a worker is paid for the gig they do. These could be video production, copy editing, graphic designing, website creation, Uber driving etc.

A report by Mckinsey Global Institute titled, Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy found that up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States — or 20 to 30 per cent of the working-age population — engage in some form of independent work. The report points out that though these independent workers are of diverse demographic backgrounds they could broadly be divided into four categories: free agents are those who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it; casual earners, are those who use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice; reluctants, make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs; and the financially strapped, who do supplemental independent work out of necessity.

There are many reasons for the emergence of the gig economy. The rapid evolution of technology has opened up new resources, new opportunities, and new ways of connecting.

But what implication will this have for education? For starters, it underscores the importance of schools focusing on project-based learning. Collaboration skills are crucial for success in the gig economy.

While some jobs will require greater specialisation than ever, for the most part we’ve got to teach our students to be flexible. They will need to equip themselves with a wide range of skills. A focus on cross-curricular learning, inter-disciplinary problem solving, and the ability to transfer knowledge and understanding across media will be enormously beneficial. Additionally, all the other 21st century skills of effective communication, leading by influence, leveraging networks, etc. will also be valuable.

In the future workplace, the ability to pivot, unlearn, relearn, and upskill will be crucial. Intrinsic motivation and self-drive will continue to be a key factor in ensuring success.

However, the biggest impact will possibly be on the number of students deciding to spend four years in college and incurring huge student debts in the process. It is hard to put a figure, but there can be no doubt that a sizeable percentage of the student population will choose not to pursue their formal education in colleges and get a single degree. Instead, it is likely that they may decide to dive straight into this new gig economy.

Participatory Culture

Henry Jenkins II is an American media scholar and author of several books. In 2006, he led a group of researchers from MIT and produced a White Paper titled, Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, that examined digital media and learning. This report highlighted a digital divide — a socio-economic inequality about access to and use of ICT technologies. Installing computers in schools and handing out devices is not the solution to this problem. Instead, what they recommended was the promotion and development of cultural competencies and social skills that students require to participate fully in contemporary society.

Participatory culture is defined by this study as having: low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, informal mentorship, belief that members’ own contributions matter, and social connection (caring what other people think about their creations).

Forms of participatory culture include:

Affiliations — memberships, formal and informal, in online communities centred around various forms of media, such as message boards, metagaming, game clans, and other social media).

Expressions — producing new creative forms, such as digital sampling, skinning and modding, fan videomaking, fan fiction writing, zines, mash-ups.

Collaborative Problem-solving — working together in teams, formal and informal, to complete tasks and develop new knowledge (such as through Wikipedia, alternative reality gaming, spoiling).

Circulations — shaping the flow of media (such as podcasting, blogging).

Currently, the vast majority of our students around the world are passive consumers of other people’s creative output. We must teach the value of contributing to the sum total of human knowledge and creative endeavour.

As we move into the future, we must encourage our children to be active producers of material and enthusiastic creators of content.



Rohan Roberts
Sapient Symbiosis

Director, SciFest Dubai | Director of Innovation and Future Learning, GEMS Education | www.rohanroberts.com