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    The Class of 2030 and Life-Ready Learning Report

    2020 kickstarted a future that has been prophesied over the years. Suddenly, the class of 2030 does not seem all that distant. It has become increasingly apparent that thoughtful changes across the higher education/workforce spectrum need to be put into motion at light speed for everybody to get there soundly. 

    One of the principal emerging characteristics of the future of work is constant change; things will not stay the same for long. This is already evident in the workplace, in fact. As technology evolves, so does every job — and they are evolving rapidly. 

    Tasks that can be automated will be automated, and the jobs we are left with will be the ones that require those human abilities that are irreplaceable by machines. 

    As it turns out, this long-term trend towards a very different paradigm is already causing imbalances in the job market. So, how can higher education institutions prepare for the changing reality of the workplace and the classroom amid such rapid change? 

    In a recent study led by Microsoft and McKinsey, three key factors appear to be critical to reshaping education for the class of 2030. 

    They are:

    • Improved social-emotional skills
    • Personalized learning environments
    • Technology-enabled learning

    Today, we are taking a closer look at how these factors combine to shift the focus from the traditional career readiness of the past to a much-needed focus on life-ready learning.

    Tomorrow’s Workforce Faces a New Paradigm

    According to data from the US Department of Labor, more firms in the United States and other developed countries report not finding enough competent applicants to fill their jobs for high-skill occupations. Nearly 40% of employers said the main reasons for entry-level vacancies are missing gaps in required skills, including teamwork, work ethic, leadership, problem-solving, and creativity.

    “Studies show social and emotional competencies can increase cognitive skills, measured by academic achievement tests, by up to 11 percent. In fact, student mindsets are twice as predictive of a student’s academic achievement than their home environment or demographic, according to a McKinsey analysis.”

    Higher Education has stayed largely the same for decades, focusing on extensive and intensive academic efforts to create individuals who possess an incredible amount of knowledge on a wide variety of topics. Although that seemed to have worked in favor of those generations that stayed put in the same career or company for decades, we now know that this is no longer the case. Retiring from the same company one started at is no longer the aspirational goal it once was. Instead, moving between companies and even entire industries has become the norm.

    Millennials started this trend, and the following generations are unlikely to change gears, further increasing the mobility between industries and work. 

    The Importance of Social-Emotional Skills

    Robotics, AI, machine learning, and all these extraordinary technological innovations are all we seem to hear about these days. They will make our lives better and take away our jobs. Nice dichotomy! So why should we care about education anymore? Let the robots do it! 

    Well, as the report mentioned above indicated, numerous industries will see jobs on the rise, and those jobs are precisely the ones that require a certain level of humanity. For example, higher-level cognitive skills will be required in creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking, relationship building, and self-awareness.

    Innovation and agility are words thrown around quite often. However, in the context of the emerging world, they mean that adaptability comes first because the only thing we can be sure of is constant, unpredictable change. 

    An ever-changing employment scenario fundamentally transforms how global primary and secondary education systems must support students in improving their social-emotional skills and expanding their cognitive abilities. Beyond the demands of the labor force, there will be an increased need for social-emotional knowledge and higher cognitive faculties from society as a whole. 

    People will still need the uniquely human talents to contribute as engaged and informed citizens, think critically and analytically, create relationships, and build the next generation of society decades into the future.

    While not entirely new in education, these abilities are becoming increasingly important. As a result, they are taking center stage in school and at work, with attention being paid to communication and collaboration skills in addition to content knowledge.

    Social-emotional abilities assist students in coping with uncertainty, change, pressure, stress, and other work and life situations. This is critical since change and uncertainty will be more prevalent for the class of 2030. Changing roles more frequently than any previous generation, according to trends, is likely for the 2030 class as technological and other changes are shortening the shelf life of employees’ existing skill sets in nearly all industries.

    Mind the Gap

    • 33% percent of students across our four sample countries agreed or strongly agreed that they receive feedback on social and emotional outcomes.
    • 60% percent of teachers reported that they provide students with feedback on a range of skills, including social-emotional skills. Nevertheless, only 30% to 40% of students agreed that they receive feedback on their social-emotional skills when asked. 

    It’s clear that universities can no longer function (or survive) by maintaining the status quo of their traditional and time-honored role as a place of self-discovery and content knowledge. One of the most significant challenges this generation faces is learning to learn fast and effectively. People and the organizations that employ them cannot afford to spend years learning new technical information and skills to get their jobs right. All signs point to autonomy and accountability, upskilling and reskilling. 

    We cannot deny that there is value in taking the time to understand broader areas of human knowledge and develop the ability to take in large amounts of specialized literature to form opinions and develop deep comprehension. Still, it needs to be paired with more empirical learning based on experience and the ever-changing work landscape. 

    Learners need to leave college ready to take on not only their careers on firm footing but life in general — armed with the social-emotional skills that will empower them to adapt effectively to change.  

    The Role of a Personalized Learning Environment in Preparing for a New Reality

    Personalized learning, which has been making progress in recent decades, has shown to be the most efficient technique of developing higher cognitive abilities. Benjamin Bloom’s landmark research from 1984, “The 2 sigma problem,” revealed that students who received one-on-one tutoring in addition to traditional instruction outperformed 98 percent of students taught traditionally.

    “Modern learning experience design should center attention on the needs of students; approaching learning as a fluid, holistic, seamless set of experiences. Modern learning experience designs include inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, challenge-based learning, phenomenon-based learning, and personalized learning.” 

    – Dr. Cathy Cavanaugh Catholic Education of Western Australia (CEWA)

    67% of teachers agreed that learning ought to be personalized. However, only 30% of teachers who say they are “highly motivated” to personalize their lessons actively do so in practice because they do not feel they have the necessary time, curriculum, assessment resources, or flexibility.

    The astronomical rise of short courses and certifications indicates that people rely on quickly accessing content and adapting it to their needs. In fact, people are already designing their own “curriculum” by self-tutoring via YouTube tutorials and an array of online, self-paced, asynchronous courses that give them exactly what they need to perform well or level up at their jobs.

    Even if schools and teachers believe in the potential of personalized learning and are eager to customize instruction for hundreds or thousands of children, it may not be straightforward to do so. One-on-one tutoring is a highly successful approach to personalize learning, as we know. However, it is not a feasible approach to work with such massive student groups. 

    Many schools are instead finding that technology-enabled, student-driven methods are viable to deliver individualized education at scale.

    Embracing Technology-Enabled Learning is Key to Staying on the Cutting Edge of the Classroom

    The pandemic has shown us that technology enables education in ways we did not think were possible. Collaboration platforms, artificial intelligence, and immersive, mixed reality are three technologies that significantly impact education today and will have a tremendous impact on how learning is done for future generations. 

    These three technologies are increasingly prevalent in today’s modern workplace. Their applications in contemporary learning illustrate the growing merging of the physical and digital realms and how we use technology to solve problems and collaborate professionally in the classroom.

    Many feel that the teacher’s role amid this transformation should be one of a mentor or coach that aids the personalized journey of students. For example, teachers may spend more time guiding and encouraging their students and employing real-time assessments, and other feedback loops to monitor progress and make suggestions for change as needed if they use customized learning tools.

    Again, we can employ technology to do the tedious work to free teachers and tutors time to deal with guidance and help individuals achieve their goals. It all boils down to collaboration between humans and technology to take advantage of the best of both worlds.

    “Technology can personalize learning, engage the disengaged, complement what happens in the classroom, extend education outside the classroom, and provide access to learning to students who otherwise might not have sufficient educational opportunities.”

    Adopting these resources in strategic, agile ways will leave higher education institutions better suited to providing students with what they need to succeed in the professional world. However, failing to change has a domino effect we cannot keep ignoring. Our education system needs to welcome the (not so) new era and evolve now.

    Lexi St. Laurent


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