Edtech: Honing critical thinking in the metaverse

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 28, 2022 - December 04, 2022.
Participants of the Doyobi metaverse learn to solve real-life challenges through interactive storylines

Participants of the Doyobi metaverse learn to solve real-life challenges through interactive storylines

-A +A

Critical thinking is a desirable and valuable skill that has a direct impact on individual success. However, it is a skill that is not often honed, says technopreneur and father of five, John Tan. The founder of Singapore-based professional development platform Doyobi says it is this gap in mainstream education that needs to be addressed to prepare talents of the future.

Tan — who is also an angel investor of multiple successful tech companies such as Glints and Ninja Van — says the lack of reflective and cognitive ability among those entering the workforce has yet to be solved despite the many attempts by institutions of higher learning to prepare their students for employment.

College students are graduating with the required academic credentials, yet lack the skills that are effective for their tasks. “As an employer, I don’t care about what you know. Instead, I care about what you can do with what you have learnt,” he explains. “Meanwhile, the skills of existing employees in the workforce are no longer particularly relevant or useful. They need to learn new skills and keep developing themselves. That’s also lacking.”

On the other hand, employers know what they want in their new hires but only a few of them are directly engaged when learning curriculums are put together, resulting in a skills mismatch. The onus is on employers then to train their workforce.

Keeping this in mind, Tan set up Doyobi in 2020 as a digital extension of Saturday Kids, a coding school he established in 2012. Web-based platform Doyobi caters for children aged six to 12 and uses the metaverse to teach them the “6 Cs of the 21st century”, which are critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, citizenship and confidence.

“We want to bridge the gap from a really young age because critical thinking is not something that you develop overnight. It’s a continuous process,” he says.

“We help kids develop all of these critical life skills and make sure that when they are ready to get out into the real world and contribute, they can do so meaningfully.”

In the Doyobi metaverse, 25 participants create avatars, join a specially designed virtual world and are challenged to go on quests. The scenarios include zombie apocalypses, space missions and refugee crises.

Apart from making sure that the storyline is appealing to children, Doyobi incorporates real-life lessons to help them solve challenges at each level.

For example, in the zombie apocalypse quest, participants are required to distinguish between real and fake news as soon as the outbreak occurs. Then, the participants will have to decide on the setting up of a new settlement and elect members of government.

The metaverse provides an immersive environment for play-based learning and differs from gamification, which still has high-skilled elements, says Tan.

“To me, gamification is almost a bad word because it gets kids to memorise the multiplication table to get points and move up the leader board. That’s not play-based learning.”

“[Gamification] is a chocolate-covered broccoli phrase. What we don’t do at Doyobi is sell chocolate-covered broccoli,” he stresses.

Currently, Doyobi has eight instructors to facilitate the weekly sessions. The sessions cost US$90 per month.

Future talent trends

In an interview with Harvard Business Review in May, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet said all of its job candidates’ technology quotient (TQ) levels are accessed through an assessment in 10 areas.

The TQ is the latest addition to the quotients of life, which include the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). The TQ measures a person’s knowledge level on technology usage.

Sweet also highlighted that one of the general attributes that candidates need to possess these days is learning agility, or the ability to learn across different skillsets in accordance with the rapid changes in trends.

This resonates with Tan’s mission to help children develop the ability to learn. “The world is evolving so fast, and we cannot possibly help children to learn everything that they need to know.”

He believes that college degrees will become less important than micro-credentials. People will constantly develop their skills through short courses.

According to “The Emerging Degree Reset” study by Harvard Business Review and labour market data company Emsi Burning Glass, in over 50 million job openings between 2017 and 2020, only 29% of IBM’s job postings required a degree. For Accenture, it was 26%.

Tan adds that more companies will start utilising the metaverse, especially those that have adopted remote working.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of employees, or even a hundred employees in five different countries, how do you create that shared culture, norms and values? How do you help these employees upskill? I think the metaverse is a really powerful way of doing that.”

Some global companies have already done their employee onboarding in the metaverse. One of the largest public relation firms, Havas Group, opened a virtual village in April, which includes a recruitment service.

Meanwhile, BMW is currently partnering with 3D collaborative metaverse platform NVIDIA Omniverse to create a future factory, deemed to be a perfect “digital twin” designed entirely in digital and simulated from the beginning to end to train employees in a spatial environment.

Tan adds that the metaverse can become an avenue to access trainers globally. No longer bound by distance and time zones, companies have the luxury of sourcing the best trainers from around the world to upskill their employees.