The Future of Work: Will our Learners be Ready?

Watch the video above and you’ll see a future world full of grocery stores operated by cameras and algorithms, farming equipment and semi trucks driven by computers, and warehouses, fast-food restaurants, hospitals, and newspapers relying on robots to move inventory, flip burgers, do surgery, detect cancer, diagnose illnesses, and write articles. Change is happening fast and robots, AI, computers are proving themselves to be smarter, faster, and more precise than their human counterparts. So what does that mean for us? How do we prepare our learners for a work future that’s shaping to look much different than the work of our present?  

The truth is we don’t know because the future is unknown. And while we imagine the future of work to be the automated, robotic, AI-driven place highlighted above, we can also imagine a workplace that is more collaborative, experiential, interactive, and flexible. Learners of today must develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences to be successful in this kind of work environment. And that’s where place-based education (PBE) and “next gen” learning can really benefit and impact the student experience.

Source: “What is Place Based Education and Why Does it Matter?” by Getting Smart in partnership with eduInnovation and Teton Science Schools

So, how can we identify what understandings, skills and experiences today’s learners, our future workforce, need?

Getting into our Hands, Head and Heart

At Teton Science Schools (TSS), when we talk about the future of work and our aspirations for learners, we often use a framework that considers what learners need in their hands, heads and hearts to be successful in an unknown future. So, what does that mean?

What do learners need in their hands? Skills. The skills that learners need today are much different than the skills previous generations learned in school. Today’s learners require “real world learning” — how to ask the right questions, be curious about their surroundings, resolve questions, and critically think about real world issues. They need social-emotional and leadership skills that will prepare them for our quick-changing, technology-driven world and prepare them for more remote, yet collaborative, workplace ecosystems.

What do learners need in their heads? Understandings. Information is more readily available and accessible than ever before. Learners today can Google anything, anytime and find answers to questions. What is not as readily available are the tools needed to comprehend and make sense of the information at hand; strategies for how to determine the credibility and reliability of information. By applying these tools, learners develop and demonstrate their understanding.

What do learners need in their hearts? Experiences. Learners need experiences that provide a context and relevance for learning. They need to feel connected, have purpose beyond themselves, and engage in community in order to cultivate a sense of belonging and motivation to work through challenges.

When we explore these three areas with our working groups, we encourage them to think their ideal graduate profile. What will your graduates need in their hands, heads and hearts to be successful in an unknown future?

Image: Hands (mitten), Head (hat), and Heart with teachers at Summit Charter School

Hands, Head, and Heart in Practice

Doing this activity can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. When we did this with Summit Charter School, a Place Network school, we chose to have groups display their work on poster boards that could be showcased in classrooms and offices. You could also facilitate the activity as a group brainstorm or even as an individual journal reflection.




To do this activity:

  1. Have group recall their education. What did they learn? What did they wish they had learned?
  2. Engage your group in a discussion about the future of work. You can even show the video featured at the top of this article.  
  3. Prompt your group with the following question: What do learners need in their Hands, Head and Heart, in order to be successful with the unknown future?
  4. Lead group in a discussion about their brainstorm. What do learners need in their hands? What do learners need in their heads? What do learners need in their hearts?

Who to do it with:

Students, teachers, parents, board members. Doing this activity with each of these groups is a great way to identify if all constituents are on the same page.

When to do it:

This is a great activity to facilitate at the beginning of the school year after relationships and a certain level of comfort has been established amongst your group. It can also be facilitated again later in the year as a reflective exercise; have our aspirations for learners changed? Are they the same?

Interested in incorporating more place-based activities into your classroom?

Learn more here

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