I’ve been thinking about the world of education and work right now. We are experiencing so many changes, uncertainties and yet have to determine how to plan for the upcoming school year and what types of learning experiences to design for our students. For myself, something that keeps coming to mind is providing ways for students to have more choices, to become flexible with learning and new ideas, and to consider strategies or tools that enable us to transition between our physical and virtual learning spaces. I thought back to some research that I started a few years ago and how that can help us now as we consider options in the new school year.
About two years ago, I read about something called the “gig economy.” Not knowing what that meant, I turned to Google to do a search and within .30 seconds, I had over 35 million results. After a more advanced search and filter, I learned that the term refers to jobs or work assignments that are the equivalent to a “gig.” Short-termed, specific types of tasks. Common applications of this are jobs that employ freelancers or independent contractors. When searching for the top “gig economy” jobs, a few common themes of the top 10 list include Deep Learning (think AI and machine learning), Bitcoin, Blockchain and Social Media Marketing.
Employment in a gig economy is on the rise, which means that our students need to develop a variety of skills that will prepare them to adapt to the changing landscape of work since we cannot predict what jobs will exist in the future. With statistics such as:
- In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers and on average earned an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees.
- A projected 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and it leads me to wonder what the number will rise to in another 10 years?
We need to prepare students for their future by offering innovative and challenging learning experiences. Experiences that will push their problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills and that involve real-world experiences.
As a Spanish and STEAM teacher, I am commonly asked why students need to learn a foreign language, or why I have them create different projects using emerging technologies rather than traditional document or powerpoint style presentations. My response is always that students need to develop a variety of skills that will enable them to adapt and be marketable to multiple job possibilities in the future. The ability to communicate in another language can benefit students in many ways and it is always a marketable skill to have.
Students also need the opportunity to explore their interests, whether in the arts, music, technology, through entrepreneurial courses, as a few examples. Learning how to establish oneself as an independent contractor, to be self-employed and to understand the traditional components of working in business, but yet preparing for non-traditional forms of business and work.
What experiences will help?
Entrepreneurial Courses: How can educators best prepare students for a gig economy workforce or to possibly become entrepreneurs? By designing learning experiences where students have an opportunity to explore, create, and innovate and have choices in the how, what and where they learn, we will offer more possibilities for inquiry-based learning and foster a growth mindset. Some schools offer programs and courses which lend themselves to these types of possibilities for students.
In my own school, we have a course on entrepreneurship, sports and entertainment management, and a variety of STEAM courses where students design problems to solve and explore emerging technologies. Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for more relevant courses that provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways. She believed that these courses “would prepare students for future success.” She created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and “Sports and Entertainment Management” a few years ago and has continued to build more real-world experiences and project-based learning into the curriculum. In her classes, students learn about project management, business management, social media, finances and how to plan large events. In courses like this and others like it offered across the country, students are not only developing skills that will prepare them for many career options, they are also building critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well.
Project-based learning: Alan November, international keynote speaker, and author, said we have to “teach students how to learn.” During his keynote, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”
November’s message reinforces the importance for students to learn to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. These are key skills that will benefit students whether they choose to enroll in college, get a job, pursue specialized training, or possibly take a gap year to explore the world and different learning experiences before deciding.
Project-based learning (PBL) helps students to create their own learning path by looking for an answer to a question they come up with and not having a specific direction to go, nor one right answer to find. With PBL, students engage in sustained inquiry and the skills of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving become part of the learning process. Students need more real-world experiences, especially those like in place-based learning where they can assess needs that exist in their own community or look globally, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Learning beyond the classroom walls with a more authentic purpose will benefit all students.
STEM and Emerging Technologies: Artificial Intelligence is a growing area in education and in the world. It is estimated that 40% of the jobs will be replaced by AI, so how can we prepare students to be competitive? We create opportunities for students to become the creators of AI, to learn how to code, to design new technologies that will make an impact on not only their learning experience but for the future. Even using AI for learning, students have access to virtual tutors and can enroll in online courses that are taught by AI, which expand the how, when and where they can learn. Knowing how to code becomes a skill that is marketable to many areas. Students can become app designers, create new innovations, and develop the critical “21st-century” skills that they need to be successful in whatever their goals may be.
Educators can facilitate greater, more personalized learning experiences for students by fostering a “STEM mindset” in students. As Dr. Jacie Maslyk states, “The way we engage with our students can build confidence and fuel curiosity.” In a world where the future of learning and work are uncertain, the best way we can provide for our students is to push their curiosity, promote risk-taking and challenge them to explore emerging technologies and different STEM concepts and be there to support them along the way.
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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.
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