Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Why We Need Change: Part 1

This blog post is part of a four-part series in response to the recent report by the National Academies Press entitled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. The purpose of these posts is to summarize the most salient points of the research and provide context for your personal journey with instructional design. The entire research report can be downloaded here at no charge.

Everlasting / 永遠
We need change. What was needed less than 15 years ago is not needed today. Our workforce is polarizing rapidly based on the availability of computer technology to automate routine tasks. 

Consider the following excerpt from Education for Life and Work:
More recently, Autor, Katz, and Kearney (2008) analyzed data on wages and education levels from 1962 to 2005. The analysis supports the argument that computers complement workers in performing abstract tasks (non routine cognitive tasks) and substitute for workers performing routine tasks. However, it also suggests that the continued growth of low-wage service jobs can be explained by computers' lack of impact on non-routine manual tasks. Noting that these tasks, performed in service jobs such as health aides, security guards, cleaners, and restaurant servers, require interpersonal and environmental adaptability that has proven difficulty to computerize, Autor, Katz, and Kearney (2008) suggest that low-wage service work may grow as a share of the labor market.

Our students increasingly have two options: non-routine, low-wage service work or complex, high-wage problem solving work. To better prepare them for success, we need to ensure that our curricular materials give students many opportunities to solve murky, real-world problems on their own. In short, students need to be competent.Competent students are more likely to obtain meaningful, high-wage work which is inextricably linked to improved outcomes in life and the workplace. 

Competency has been defined by many different organizations across the years, and its most recent label has been "21st century skills." Education for Life and Work synthesizes these concepts with the following clarification:
In contrast to a view of '21st century skills' as general skills that can be applied to a range of different tasks in various academic, civic, workplace or family contexts, the committee views 21st century skills as dimensions of expertise that are specific to-- and intertwined with-- knowledge within a particular domain of content and performance. To reflect our view that skills and knowledge are intertwined, we use the term 'competencies,' rather than "skills." 

Our curriculum must integrate many different skills, allowing students to both gain deep, disciplinary knowledge and actually use that knowledge. Outdated practices won't give us the results we need. Luckily, the new standards documents are written with the intention of moving schools and classrooms in the right direction.

The report asserts:
Goals for deeper learning and some 21st century competencies are found in standards documents, indicating that disciplinary goals have expanded beyond their traditional focus on basic academic content.

So, what does this mean? Simply stated, we must revise our current practices using the new standards documents as a framework to ensure that all of our students are competent. This will increase their chances of have satisfying work available to them after they leave our K-16 institutions.

Tomorrow's post will look at the link between competency and meaningful learning: EDUCATIONAL TRANSFER. Stay tuned.


  1. Hi Kristen

    Loving your work! I am UK based teacher doing a PhD in Learning to Learn which pretty much pivots on the extent to which we can make transfer happen... I haven't really come across much about transfer, it's nice to come across a kindred spirit!

    If you know of any useful publications about transfer I'd be glad to hear of them - my email is jwmannion at gmail.com



  2. Hi James,
    Yes, kindred spirits indeed! How People Learn by NAP as well as Making Learning Whole by Perkins are helpful! I'll send you an email with more details. ;-)




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