In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone and along with that the idea of the application – or app. Before that moment, the career of app developer was nonexistent. Now, even elementary students study coding, and older students are using the latest coding software to create apps. Technology, with its promise of accelerated changes for the workplace, has created a challenge for education.
At this moment, parents and educators alike are concerned about the future that awaits our current teens. The fast pace of changes in technology will undoubtedly continue, and we are uncertain what that will mean for work and opportunity in the next decade. Adolescents today are far more tech-savvy than their parents and demonstrate daily how completely their devices are integrated into their daily lives. Yet does that facility translate into the type of skills that will be needed for future success in work and life?
The Challenge for Educators
Most of us are familiar with the notion that the nature of jobs will be vastly different for our kids. In fact, researcher Cathy Davidson predicts that 65% of the jobs of the future are unimaginable to us at present. So, it is nearly impossible to prepare our students for careers that don’t yet exist in their future world.
Perhaps the best thing for the education world to do is to shift from being reactive to proactive. Once schools saw that technology was going to be the future, courses in coding and programming and web design began to materialize in high schools all over the country. Tablets and laptops were introduced into classrooms to prepare students for jobs that would inevitably require the use of these devices. But these were all attempts at fixes to what was perceived to be an already-existing problem.
From Application to Invention
To make this shift from being reactive to proactive, schools will need to focus on the soft skills that apply to any situation. Rather than focusing on the skills required to create an application for a phone, education should shift to concentrate on the skills needed to dream up an application. That is, instead of learning applications like Swift or Objective C, students need the forward-thinking creative skills that help them determine that an application is a solution to a problem. Then, they will be able to apply this skill to whatever the current technology is.
In a similar vein, instead of teaching effective social media strategies for marketing a product, education should shift to focusing on the skills that make for effectively communicating the strengths of a product. In essence, students need a strong foundation in communication and marketing rather than learning how to use the latest technology.
The point is that technology and our world will always be changing. While it may be tempting to focus education on learning all the latest computer software or using the newest hardware, creating fluency in a product that will soon become obsolete leaves students with a skills gap. This is particularly troublesome if some hard skills are not transferable.
For instance, if learning how to code for an Android-based phone is part of a curriculum, and a student has trouble grasping this skill, what will happen when the student has to learn a new platform? That student will likely quit. If, on the other hand, the student had been taught to consider multiple options to solving a problem and arguing how to best use those solutions, these skills would be applicable no matter the emerging technology.
The most effective 21st-century education is going to be innovative and experiential, providing students with multiple opportunities to learn and practice soft skills that will apply to any job – even those they haven't dreamed yet. Schools that adopt innovative, future-oriented approaches will take great leaps toward providing the kind of preparation our students need today.