At a recent Ohio Early College Association summer institute, I had the pleasure of talking with teachers and administrators from several Ohio early college high schools about how readiness for life beyond high school might shift as smart automation and changing employment structures change how, when and where people work and what our jobs entail. The educators attending the institute identified several considerations to take back to their schools and for colleagues across the field to begin grappling with.
Among their observations:
- Youth need more real-world experience to help inform their choices during and beyond high school.
- That said, being aware of how rapidly the employment landscape is changing can reduce the pressure for youth to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Guidance conversations can focus shorter-term, say, getting ready for the next ten to fifteen years.
- While it is important to support kids in developing and exercising agency, and while work structures are becoming more flexible, kids might misinterpret that as meaning that they do not need to stick with difficult tasks or follow through on commitments.
- Education – and society – need forward-facing narratives about creating our future in response to a changing world instead of trying to revert to outdated paradigms. We also need to take collective action toward the future.
- For education, that means, in part, thinking more deliberately about consumer choice. More and more students and their families will have increasing options about where – and maybe how and when – they go to school.
- Education also needs to redefine teaching roles to focus less on content delivery and more on holistic human development, strong relationships, skill application, and knowledge transfer. As artificial intelligence and machine learning power increasingly smart machines, the field will not be immune to automation.
- While experts debate the extent to which workers will face technological displacement over the coming decades, the spread of artisanal production, driven by people’s desire to have distinctive goods and experiences, could help ameliorate its effects. People may be doing different work, but we are likely to find or create new work. How, then, can education prepare learners to seize or make those opportunities?
As these comments reflect, the changing nature of work and readiness mean that education needs to tackle big issues such as what accountability systems measure and how curriculum is developed and applied. It also needs to address the changing nature of readiness in specific context-responsive ways. For example, it can feel difficult to teach empathy in a social studies course given pressure to cover the content laid out in the pacing guide.
To dig deeper into the future of readiness, see The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out. To host a conversation about redefining readiness in your context, see Shaping the Future of Readiness: A Discussion and Facilitation Guide©.
As we look toward an uncertain future, we need to work at multiple levels to redefine readiness for the emerging era, with many stakeholders contributing. One way forward is to empower educators – through time, partnerships, experiential learning opportunities, and the appropriate data – to pursue curricular innovations and design learning experiences that can help learners develop critical future-ready skills, including metacognition, self-awareness, perspective-taking, and self-direction. Educators can also take the lead in designing highly personalized learning experiences that will help students’ access a range of experiences, including career exploration through job shadowing, rotating internships, and other approaches.
Looking toward a future in which both young people and working adults are likely to need to spend more time navigating a wider range of learning and employment opportunities than they currently do, educators can also work to build learners’ capacity to navigate new relationships and experiences by supporting student agency and choice. Giving K-12 students space in their schedules to discover, navigate, and select among a range of opportunities and options can be one way of fostering student agency and choice. In turn, postsecondary institutions can involve more stakeholders – including students, employers and community leaders – in determining schedules and offerings, working collectively to identify opportunities for students to participate in work- and community-based learning experiences that align with their classroom experiences.