University of Oulu

GenZ white paper : strengthening human competences in the emerging digital era

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Author: Haddington, Pentti1; Hirvonen, Noora2; Hosio, Simo3;
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, English Philology, Languages and Literature (LangLit)
2University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, Information and Communication Studies, History, Culture and Communication Studies (HistCulComm)
3University of Oulu, Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Ubiquitous Computing (UBICOMP)
4University of Oulu, Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Information Processing Science, Human Computer Interaction and Human-Centered Development (INTERACT)
5University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Educational Sciences, Learning and Learning Process (LLP)
6University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Geography, Geography (Geography)
7University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Economics, Accounting and Finance, Economics
8University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Educational Sciences, Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education (VISE)
9University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Marketing, Management and International Business, Management
10University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Health Sciences, Research Unit of Nursing Science and Health Management (Nursing science)
11University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, Logopedics, Logopedics (Logo)
12University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Marketing, Management and International Business, Marketing
13Oulu University of Applied Sciences
14University of Oulu, Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.1 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulun yliopisto, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-11-19

Executive summary

We are witnessing an emerging digital revolution. For the past 25–30 years, at an increasing pace, digital technologies—especially the internet, mobile phones and smartphones—have transformed the everyday lives of human beings. The pace of change will increase, and new digital technologies will become even more tightly entangled in human everyday lives. Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), 6G wireless solutions, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (XR), robots and various platforms for remote and hybrid communication will become embedded in our lives at home, work and school.

Digitalisation has been identified as a megatrend, for example, by the OECD (2016; 2019). While digitalisation processes permeate all aspects of life, special attention has been paid to its impact on the ageing population, everyday communication practices, education and learning and working life. For example, it has been argued that digital solutions and technologies have the potential to improve quality of life, speed up processes and increase efficiency. At the same time, digitalisation is likely to bring with it unexpected trends and challenges. For example, AI and robots will doubtlessly speed up or take over many routine-based work tasks from humans, leading to the disappearance of certain occupations and the need for re-education. This, in turn, will lead to an increased demand for skills that are unique to humans and that technologies are not able to master. Thus, developing human competences in the emerging digital era will require not only the mastering of new technical skills, but also the advancement of interpersonal, emotional, literacy and problem-solving skills.

It is important to identify and describe the digitalisation phenomena—pertaining to individuals and societies—and seek human-centric answers and solutions that advance the benefits of and mitigate the possible adverse effects of digitalisation (e.g. inequality, divisions, vulnerability and unemployment). This requires directing the focus on strengthening the human skills and competences that will be needed for a sustainable digital future. Digital technologies should be seen as possibilities, not as necessities.

There is a need to call attention to the co-evolutionary processes between humans and emerging digital technologies—that is, the ways in which humans grow up with and live their lives alongside digital technologies. It is imperative to gain in-depth knowledge about the natural ways in which digital technologies are embedded in human everyday lives—for example, how people learn, interact and communicate in remote and hybrid settings or with artificial intelligence; how new digital technologies could be used to support continuous learning and understand learning processes better and how health and well-being can be promoted with the help of new digital solutions.

Another significant consideration revolves around the co-creation of our digital futures. Important questions to be asked are as follows: Who are the ones to co-create digital solutions for the future? How can humans and human sciences better contribute to digitalisation and define how emerging technologies shape society and the future? Although academic and business actors have recently fostered inclusion and diversity in their co-creation processes, more must be done. The empowerment of ordinary people to start acting as active makers and shapers of our digital futures is required, as is giving voice to those who have traditionally been silenced or marginalised in the development of digital technology. In the emerging co-creation processes, emphasis should be placed on social sustainability and contextual sensitivity. Such processes are always value-laden and political and intimately intertwined with ethical issues.

Constant and accelerating change characterises contemporary human systems, our everyday lives and the environment. Resilience thinking has become one of the major conceptual tools for understanding and dealing with change. It is a multi-scalar idea referring to the capacity of individuals and human systems to absorb disturbances and reorganise their functionality while undergoing a change. Based on the evolving new digital technologies, there is a pressing need to understand how these technologies could be utilised for human well-being, sustainable lifestyles and a better environment. This calls for analysing different scales and types of resilience in order to develop better technology-based solutions for human-centred development in the new digital era.

This white paper is a collaborative effort by researchers from six faculties and groups working on questions related to digitalisation at the University of Oulu, Finland. We have identified questions and challenges related to the emerging digital era and suggest directions that will make possible a human-centric digital future and strengthen the competences of humans and humanity in this era.

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ISBN: 978-952-62-3147-1
Type of Publication: D4 Published development or research report or study
Field of Science: 113 Computer and information sciences
519 Social and economic geography
5141 Sociology
518 Media and communications
616 Other humanities
Funding: This white paper is part of the cross-disciplinary research activities organised by the GenZ research programme. GenZ is funded by the Academy of Finland (project number 318930) and the University of Oulu, and it is part of their profiling actions (PROFI4). We thank all the authors for their important contribution to the planning and writing of this white paper.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 318930
Detailed Information: 318930 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2021. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.