Building blocks for a connected learn and work ecosystem in an uncertain AI future
Lumina Foundation recently sponsored the first of two conversations on AI Future Skills with the Institute for the Future (IFTF), an organization that has been forecasting 10-year futures for 50 years. We joined the conversation with experts in artificial intelligence, education and the workforce to inform our efforts to help redesign postsecondary education—to build a more connected, more flexible “learn and work ecosystem.”
One of Lumina’s questions heading into this conversation: Will today’s vision of this connected learn and work ecosystem hold up in a future shaped by major technological advances and the demographic realities of growing numbers of underserved students?
The vision is that if the key building blocks of this new ecosystem are working together (see accompanying list), individuals will be able to move more seamlessly through the labor market, using a variety of credentials to communicate the skills and knowledge they acquired in multiple settings (e.g., school, work, service, self-study). Employers will have more detailed and externally validated information to inform their hiring decisions. Schools will be better able to count learning obtained outside academic settings toward a degree or other credential. And the public will be informed about the nation’s learn and work ecosystem.
We at Lumina left the day-long conversation convinced that a connected, understandable learn and work ecosystem will be essential in an increasingly complex future–and that the future is complex in part because so many different scenarios can be envisioned for it.
We focused on four potential scenarios, using the same questions for each: How has technology shaped work, the work experience, and society in this scenario? What are the predominant values in this future? Who (or what) has power? What are the skill sets that serve this future? What are the new vulnerabilities and new risks? What, if any, is the safety net?
This October, the IFTF will issue a report on the skills likely to be needed to navigate the ecosystem over the next 10 to 15 years. The report will also suggest steps that can be taken to better serve the nation’s needs going forward.
Here are key takeaways from this first conversation:
- The need for education will not diminish but there will be key changes, including less focus on rote memorization and more on how to learn and how to improve conceptual understanding.
- Academic advising and counseling will change with the growth of Big Data, enabling more personalized assistance in navigating the ecosystem.
- Major advances are coming in record-keeping and verification systems, and they will make it easier to recognize and validate learning acquired from multiple sources. Personal digitized records will also capture more about a student’s demonstrated ability to learn, since being a continuous learner will be prized by employers.
- Understanding the ecosystem (transparency) will be vital in the emerging world of work. In that world, “jobs” will take on new definitions, with many tasks automated and outsourced in virtually all industry sectors.
- The most useful skill sets will change, with some skills falling off the priority list and new ones being added. We will rely less on instinct and quick judgment because computers will be analyzing large amounts of data, acquiring evidence for us. We will be called on more to be flexible, continuous learners, able to connect and combine domains, and find new ways to delegate rote functions to machines.
- We will spend less time scheduling and organizing; computers will automate these functions for us.
- We will work more in project-based teams and remotely. Being able to deal with diversity of our teams will be an important skill.
All these skills (and many others) can be developed in an integrated learn and work ecosystem. In such a system, education and work will no longer be viewed as sequential, with education coming first, then work, followed by rotating periods of education and work. Rather, the new system will allow people to move seamlessly between working and learning—learn as they work, developing skills and competencies over a lifetime.
We don’t have a precise term yet for this integrated work and learn ecosystem, but that may be a good thing. We’ve faced this conundrum before. Many have struggled—and failed—to adequately define the differences between traditional and non-traditional education, degree and non-degree credentials, and education and training. But in all of these, learning is the key—wherever the learning is acquired and whatever the delivery system. A well connected learn and work ecosystem will help us navigate the choppy waters ahead.