Redefining Readiness in Southwest Ohio: One Scenario for Shaping the Future

Topics: Future of Learning

Guest post by Kimberly Daniels

This scenario builds upon ideas explored in a convening hosted by KnowledgeWorks with funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. That convening brought together stakeholders in Southwest 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, work and life in 2040. In so doing, it creates a future image that characterizes one way a region might think about its approaches to readiness and learning. This scenario could be far from ideal for many readers but draws upon current trends and driving forces of change to imagine one possible way the integration of artificial intelligence into many areas of life could impact learning. One assumption it makes is that the development of artificial intelligence accelerates quickly enough to enable the creation of general artificial intelligence. 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—recognizing that those preferred futures could be very different from the one described here.

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.

Future fiction

Southwest Ohio in 2040 is quite different than it was in 2017. That’s mostly the result of the region’s having adjusted—and readjusted—to the spread of artificially-intelligent machines. Now, these machines are at the center of daily life and are a key tool for shaping readiness. A general artificial intelligence called the Personalized Adaptive Learning Machine, or PALM, has become a key partner in learning.

PALM is governed by incorruptible ethically-based algorithms that guide its interactions with people and with certain other smart technologies and systems. For 10 years, robotic PALMs have been paired with many educators, K-12 and other students, working adults and anyone else who chooses them to help enable customizable learning and readiness experiences. PALMs provide stimulating interactive learning experiences for students as they engage in formal and informal learning. The robotic learning partners assist educators by giving additional instruction and attention to students to help them master academic targets. They also help educators earn continuing education credits and offer engaging on-demand training for other workers in need or in want of ongoing professional development experiences. PALMs can also function as lifelong learning coaches, friendly companions, and/or personal care assistants for retired or aging individuals and for those with disabilities or medical concerns.

At first, schools in Southwest Ohio resisted using artificially intelligent machines in learning, aiming to keep traditional teacher and student relationships at the center. Eventually, such machines became so ubiquitous that the schools realized they needed to adopt them to support learning inside and outside the classroom. Not using these technologies was beginning to put students at a disadvantage, undermining their readiness for the changing employment landscape.

As the use of artificially-intelligent machines such as PALM spread, traditional school structures started to change. Staffing models also shifted as some schools refocused teaching roles to emphasize the kinds of support that these machines could not provide and as other schools decided to save money by reducing the number of teachers. Access to both human teachers and the latest versions of artificially-intelligent learning tools emerged as a new focus of equity debates.

As artificially-intelligent machines became increasingly prevalent in workplaces, the implications were fourfold: an overall decrease in the human workforce and in average job tenure; a decrease in middle management; the continuing decline of lifelong careers; and lower hourly and salaried pay across blue-, white- and pink-collar jobs. With those changes, more and more adults started going back and forth between work and learning experiences to help keep their skills current. Often, using a PALM machine helped them access just-in-time learning when and where they needed it. However, that learning did not always go deep enough to help people develop the more enduring readiness skills such as social-emotional skills, creative problem solving, and cultivating inclusive communities.

The disruption caused by the proliferation of artificially intelligent machines extended beyond education and the workplace to people’s social lives. Many adults, youth and children began to choose robotic PALMs and similar machines as preferred companions for social engagement. Some people tried to manipulate machine partners for personal gain in ways that were detrimental to themselves and/or society. In response to this social disruption, educators, business and community leaders used their influence to push for public policies that supported a stronger social safety net for coping with and adjusting to the new norm. These leaders also organized regular conversations about the need for greater ethical responsibility in managing artificially intelligent machines.

Southwest Ohio in 2040 is indeed different than it was in 2017. While the use of artificially-intelligent machines to support learning and readiness for people at different life stages has helped people access learning in more flexible ways and develop the machine partnership skills needed for work and other areas of life, the social costs have been enormous. The region is still negotiating how best to adapt to their proliferation.

Scenario Reflections

A desired outcome of reading this scenario is that it helps stakeholders in Southwest 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:

  • How might education institutions and educators begin preparing now for a possible future heavily driven by automation and artificial intelligence?
  • How might artificially-intelligent learning machines be paired with educators, students, workers and others as effective readiness partners?
  • What ethical conversations around the relationship between human and machine partners need to happen now to ensure that education institutions, communities and individuals have frameworks to guide the kinds of choices that the rise of smart machines might present?

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.