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Can We Back Into a Plan for More Relevant Learning Design?

If we look ahead to tomorrow’s workplace, we know that employees need to be increasingly:

  1. Agile thinkers and problem solvers

  2. Technically savvy

  3. Capable of managing and sorting through massive amounts of information

If we look at today’s college graduates, what do we see? In one New York Times report, Steven Ratner describes millennials as “the best educated generation.” Yet, despite his characterization of them as “engaged, upbeat and open to change,” he also notes that “They are faced with a slow economy, high employment, stagnant wages and student loans that will constrict their ability both to maintain a reasonable lifestyle and to save for the future.”

While it’s reasonable to look to the state of the economy to understand what landed many of this generation of 18-34-year-olds into their current plight, we must also examine the means by which we prepare young people for the workplace in any given time period and in the face of ever changing economic forces.

Education vs. Training Redux

Despite reports of a lagging economy and its impact on the unemployment rate, we still see many jobs being left unfilled every year. While our universities continue to preach the value of a liberal arts education, we are also seeing the growth of “academies” of learning directed at training today’s unemployed graduates and career changers for those open positions. Think Code Academy,Hacker Academy, General Assembly, Galvanize, etc.

In addition to this, we’ve seen organizations such as the Thiel Fellowshipawarding hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time to individuals to circumvent the traditional college education and work on what is now estimated to be over a half a billion dollars of aggregate worth in the past few years.

What we see in common of course is the common denominator of technology associated with all of these efforts. Additionally, we know these groups focus on:

  1. Hands-on learning activities

  2. Real-life business engagements

  3. Mentor-driven learning experiences

Still, we hear about the value of the four-year college experience, and particularly the liberal arts degree. We are still considering the value of that experience toward the development of a more fully-rounded individual, one who has learned from history and who is capable of engaging in the highly analytical thought process that may contribute to the vast amount of problem solving and decision making activities required in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace.

Aren’t we?

Backward Plan, But Start from the Beginning

We shouldn’t have to wait until college to learn how to think. Or how to think deeply. More project-based learning, more maker-based learning activities and the establishment of mentorship programs at earlier ages can help prepare the students of today for a more complex workplace of tomorrow.

While not everyone will be coding for a living, the students of tomorrow (as do many of today) will understand the principles behind the most relevant of programming languages. Design thinking and systems thinking will play increasing roles in how curriculum is developed and the result will be a stronger candidate for the workplace of tomorrow.

Universities are thinking about this already and considering their place in the world. The same should be true of K-12. How we learn is no longer a part of a single paradigm. Where we do so shouldn’t be, either.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

With the release of the Rewriting Paradigms site, we' ported them over to their new home.

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