The energy at the ASU+GSV Education Technology Summit among the entrepreneurs, educators, investors, and talent managers is palpable. This year my energy was focused on one conference programming track in particular: the Future of Work is Now. What did the best and the brightest from the world of ed-tech have to say about workforce development as it applied to low-skilled workers? More than you might think.
One theme that came up in several sessions, including Skilling at Scale and Is the Future of Work a Gig?, was the pace of change happening with technology and our workforce. With new technology coming to market at exponential speeds, it’s no longer about teaching workers specific technologies. It’s more important to teach them how to be adaptable and how to learn new technology and processes. Traditional learning models are seen as ineffective and too slow. New learning models that include more peer-to-peer learning and self-directed learning will be key to keeping up with this pace of change.
What does this mean for low-skilled adult learners who are often less confident about their ability to learn on their own and sometimes cling to traditional teaching models?
If we are no longer teaching specific technologies, then it’s important to make sure workers have strong “soft skills” – things like communication, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking – that transcend any specific tools or technologies and help them adapt to change quickly. This theme came up in a keynote panel and several sessions addressing the skills gap, where panelists discussed how to define and measure these soft skill competencies so they can be taught to employees and demonstrated to employers.
The good news is that work is already underway in the field of adult learning on this soft skills issue.
First, a report released last year by SRI looked at the research and practice behind “Personal Success Skills” in the workplace as a pathway to great opportunity and advancement. The report presents several recommendations for addressing barriers to supporting the development of these skills.
Second, there are a few products that are already incorporating critical thinking, problem solving, and supports for self-directed learning as underlying components to teach core subjects like math and literacy. Check out BrainQuake and Core Skills Mastery as examples.
And finally, community-based programs like Access Green, one of our Beacons, are designing soft skills and workforce development digital modules directed at helping underserved adults develop these critical skills.
What was clear is that we have to be aware of the pace of the world of work for workers today – low-skilled or not. It is incumbent on us to incorporate new learning models to help learners build their personal success skills and to help them become self-directed learners so they can continue to be successful in their work.