Guest post by Kimberly Daniels
This scenario reflects a convening hosted by KnowledgeWorks with funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation that brought together stakeholders in Southeast Ohio to consider how redefining readiness today might better prepare students for life and work in the future. The scenario draws from convening discussions and insights to project a fictional narrative of learning and work in 2040. In so doing, it creates a future image that exemplifies one way a region could transform its approaches to readiness and learning. The reflection questions that follow the scenario invite readers to begin exploring the kinds of decisions that communities need to address today to ensure that all learners are ready for the future and that we as education and readiness stakeholders pursue our preferred futures for readiness and learning.
The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code is KnowledgeWorks’ fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning explores the intersection of three impact layers — people, structures and society.
Mr. Bradley, CEO of a repurposed manufacturing plant in Southeast Ohio that produces bioplastics, is preparing for the arrival of students for an experiential learning session. Through a joint collaboration involving the plant and regional career readiness initiatives, Mr. Bradley and other business and organization leaders combine efforts and resources to help K-12 learners get ready for life and work in the future.
As the visiting students walk into the plant, Mr. Bradley personally greets each one. These students have chosen to be physically on site for a more hands-on learning experience; however, Mr. Bradley briefly interacts with them remotely from his home by way of a real-time digital rendering of himself as they arrive. The joint readiness collaboration allows students to shadow or be mentored by human workers and/or their automaton partners on-site or remotely to explore internship possibilities. One of several collaborative readiness programs orchestrated over the years to help students prepare for the changing work environment, it has helped close the gap between education and employment.
Some of the students visiting Mr. Bradley’s manufacturing plant come from the region’s rural areas, where they live and work with their families on small, profitable micro-farms that support economic development. Each farm is fitted with smart technologies and is ecologically designed so that renewable energy sources, combined with an Integrated Water Resources Management approach, support sustainable agricultural practices, including animal husbandry and sustainable living, on as little as one and-a-half acres of land. Other students come from the region’s cities, where they and their families live in homes designed to support sustainable indoor and outdoor urban gardening systems. For minimal financial investment and using regular or biomimetically-created smart soil, these urban families organically grow the foods they eat. Working to grow nutritious foods sustainably helps students develop readiness skills for day-to-day life focused around holistic well-being.
Most students living in Southeast Ohio in 2040 who work with their families and communities to locally source their own foods also tend to develop a diversified readiness skillset for responding and adapting to change. In part, this readiness response can be attributed to students’ participation in their communities’ grassroots efforts to confront every-day challenges, along with a number of problems. Those problems have been many: an aging workforce, ongoing opioid drug addiction, the slow reduction of poverty in the region’s less affluent areas, declining health, the migration of educated citizens to regions with better-paying jobs, worker displacement as a result of automation and increasing stress levels among both adults and children. In 2021, to help confront such problems, a coalition of schools, businesses and civic organizations began funding programs to teach people how to adapt to changing life situations and to manage the stress brought about by increasing complexity.
As it turned out, helping students develop adaptability and manage stress involved moving from traditional education systems to resilient learning ecosystems that engage a range of stakeholders in optimizing student learning. By 2025, every student had a learning pit crew of peers, adults and machine partners to provide quick responses to their needs, to encourage them to practice tolerance and embrace cultural diversity, and to teach students both the technical and soft skills needed for long-term success.
In 2028, the Ohio Department of Education introduced a competency-based assessment system that allows students to demonstrate mastery of learning; for example, by earning personal impact scores to address real-world problems. It also introduced greater flexibility for students to direct their own learning. Now, students’ learning journeys and assessments are recorded in personalized learning portfolios. Within only a few years, students began to show reduced stress levels and greater levels of accomplishment.
In many communities, students working in project-oriented teams alongside their families and others also develop readiness skills for responding and adapting to change as they confront the region’s economic problems through entrepreneurial solutions. Community-centered entrepreneurship has involved utilizing existing surplus resources from agricultural activities to meet various industry needs. Households now sell agricultural biomass made from byproducts such as corn starch, wheat gluten and cellulose to Mr. Bradley’s bioplastics manufacturing plant. Animal manure and other biomass materials are sold to another repurposed plant that manufactures biogas, which is converted into electricity and which is also refined to natural gas for both household and commercial consumption. And the region’s organically grown foods are sold throughout Ohio. Taking an “all-hands-on-deck” approach in crafting entrepreneurial solutions to confront economic problems has brought about the added benefit of minimizing adult stress.
Transitioning to resilient learning ecosystems and crafting their own solutions in response to change has allowed communities in the region to move towards more preferable futures. As an example, practicing sustainable agriculture has significantly reduced the quantity of harmful toxins in the environment and has helped some opioid users refocus their habits from self-harm to community well-being. Additionally, it has allowed aging populations to develop adaptive skills for making ongoing contributions to the overall welfare of society. As another example, starting small entrepreneurial businesses has resulted in job creation for those displaced by automation. These and other solutions have boosted local economies, reduced regional poverty and incentivized migrating Ohioans to return to the region.
In 2040, Southeast Ohio is characterized by redefined communities in which people enjoy the present-day future that they were willing to pursue.
A desired outcome of reading this scenario is that it helps stakeholders in Southeast Ohio and similar regions begin exploring the kinds of decisions that we need to address today to ensure that all students are ready for the future and that education and readiness stakeholders pursue our preferred futures for readiness and learning. The following questions provide a starting point for reflection:
- In what ways might regional education stakeholders collaborate toward creating experiential learning opportunities that enable students to help address real-world problems throughout the region and in the rest of the world?
- What changes might enable relatively rural communities to utilize their land and living spaces in ways that create preferred work and living environments, make healthier foods more accessible, and promote improved quality of life for everyone in the region?
- How might abandoned or underused manufacturing plants or other resources be repurposed to create future jobs that maximize human-machine collaboration, meet changing industry needs and protect the health of the natural environment?
Babies born this year will have graduated from college by 2040 and be entering the workforce. Will they be ready? The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out explores how career readiness may be redefined to better prepare students for an uncertain future.