What is Future-Ready Learning and Why do we Need it?

According to the World Economic Forum, we stand at the brink of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, with change happening at an unprecedented and exponential pace. Characterised by the integration of emerging technologies into all aspects of our lives, this revolution is disrupting every industry in every country around the world and will alter the way we live and work forever.

The OECD informs us that in the future, millions of jobs may be lost to automation but that new jobs will also emerge. We do not know which jobs will disappear and which will be created. The only certainty is uncertainty.  It is highly unlikely that students graduating from college today will hold down the same job for life but will instead be employed in the “gig economy” on a series of short term contracts, which will require them to adapt their skills throughout their lives to match the economic demands of the changing world. In order to remain employed, humans will need to capitalise on the skills and attributes that robots and artificial intelligence cannot replicate.

To prepare us for this world, education needs to change to focus more upon the development of  “soft skills” and attributes, as traditional education, which emphasises the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, decreases in relevance. We also need to focus upon deeper learning for students, providing opportunities for them to think critically and apply the skills they develop to real life contexts. Finally, we need to increase learner agency, empowering students to take ownership of their learning, increasing motivation and engagement and building initiative, allowing students to take responsibility for their learning and their lives.

Future-ready learning means focusing upon the development of these skills and attributes, replacing traditional learning with a range of new pedagogical approaches that will provide our students with the tools they need to be successful, producing curious, engaged and resilient individuals who are able to take on the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

At Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS), we have developed a model for future-ready learning, drawing upon the World Economic Forum’s model of 21st Century Skills. This model brings together three areas of focus, which we call the three pillars of future-ready learning.

The first pillar is based around core skills and their application to everyday life. The development of Literacy, Numeracy and Science skills remain as important now as it has ever been. In addition students need to develop exceptional ICT skills and cultural and civic literacy, to enable them to understand the world around them. The second pillar draws upon the four Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, supporting students in complex problem solving. Finally, the third pillar focuses upon the development of character qualities, to enable students to adapt to their ever-changing environment. These qualities are empathy, initiative, adaptability, curiosity, leadership, resilience and social and cultural awareness.

In order to develop these skills and attributes effectively, we need to emphasise more progressive pedagogical approaches in the classroom. These include inquiry-based and transdisciplinary/interdisciplinary learning, which are already key tenets of an IB education, but also include play, hands-on, experiential learning, project-based learning, personalised learning and increased student agency.

The crucial starting point on a journey to becoming future-ready is a play-based approach to early childhood education.  Play builds upon children’s natural curiosity and creativity, develops social skills, builds an understanding of how to approach and solve problems and encourages students to use their initiative from an young age. As students move through primary and into secondary school, inquiry-based, personalised learning approaches, allow students to pursue their personal interests and passions, making sure they think for themselves and collaborate with others, while making the whole learning experience more powerful and impactful. Experiential learning provides students with opportunities to go outside of the school environment and into the local community, helping them to develop empathy for others and building social and cultural awareness.  Hands-on learning, implemented through approaches such as a maker culture or one-to-one robotics programme, allows students to apply knowledge in a meaningful way and develop character qualities such as resilience.

To be most successful, these approaches should be implemented through transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary learning programmes, which model the real world much more effectively than single subject learning. Project-based learning allows students to take this to the next level by focusing on solving real world problems and providing them with authentic and meaningful work that is both engaging and allows for the development of collaboration and critical thinking skills.

In order to provide the right context for this new type of learning to take place, many schools are looking at systemic changes such as flexible scheduling, alternative credentialing mechanisms and redesigned learning spaces. There is a also a continued push towards 1:1 computing environments and the use of adaptive software systems, which use technology to individualise learning for specific student needs.

Hundreds of progressive schools around the world are already providing future-ready learning programmes for their students. Thousands more see the need for change and want to know how this might be implemented in their school. There is no doubt that future-ready learning can be complex and requires significant change from what most schools are offering today. However, through building strong networks within countries, regions and across the world, schools are able to tap into the ideas and experiences of those who are leading this journey.

Whilst the process of transitioning to future-ready learning is challenging for all, it is essential. Acquiring these future-ready learning skills and attributes will allow our students not only to cope with the fast changing world and the uncertainty that lies ahead but will place them in a strong position to take advantage of the exciting opportunities that emerging technologies offer, not only to transform their own lives but to solve the problems that we face as humankind and make the world a better place.

This article was first published in The International Educator February 2019

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