Defining future readiness
This year’s PebbleBash, our 4th biennial global conference, had as its theme future readiness. We have adopted the idea of future readiness because it appears more inclusive than the more instrumental construct of employability. The world around us is changing rapidly and increasingly a learner’s chosen destination might encompass further study, advanced research, a future in volunteering or as an entrepreneur in the emergent YouEconomy, and so the idea of future readiness seems a much more valuable goal of education, and here at PebblePad we maintain eportfolio and personal learning has a huge part to play in achieving this goal.
However we define it, I do feel somewhat ill-equipped to write around this topic. And yet, on further reflection, I wonder whether, in fact, I am actually rather well qualified to speak on the subject. In my early academic career, I was the course leader for a very large ‘learning skills’ module at The University of Wolverhampton. This course had a single purpose, to help our learners, who were primarily first generation university students, be future ready for their studies - and I hoped, the future more generally.
It was this experience of working with hundreds of students over several iterations of the course that influenced the early designs for PebblePad - and it is those core design principles that remain evident in the creative, innovative and inspiring work we saw in the case studies presented at the 'Bash. The invaluable experience I gained working on “Learning for Success” now seems an age away (PebblePad is, after all, now 12 years old) and so it is my more recent experience as an employer of new graduates and placement students that gives me my most current insight into what future readiness might mean.
And yet, although I’m reasonably well versed on the characteristics, attributes, and abilities that make great PebblePad employees, it’s notoriously hard to predict the future we’re preparing our learners for. For a few years around the millennium, I used to chair the Learning Lab ‘Future Learning’ seminars. During that time one of our speakers predicted the imminent arrival of roll-out flexible screens for phones and other devices – like me, you’re likely still waiting for them to make a meaningful appearance! However, we have seen things we never imagined at that time including the incredible rise of tablet devices and other mobile technology. So with the world changing so rapidly how can, for example, a degree in software engineering train someone to build an IoS app - when IoS apps don’t even yet exist? The answer, of course, is in developing the skills to learn, unlearn and relearn, to research new information, to self-manage, prioritise, and regulate one’s own performance and, perhaps most importantly to network, collaborate and build successful learning relationships - all of which can be beautifully accomplished using the right eportfolio.
So, within reason, the future is what you want it to be… if you understand your own strengths and aspirations, are self-aware and self-regulating, are able to make appropriate choices for yourself, and have the capacity to act upon those choices - or persuade others to act upon them with or for you.
Andreas Schleicher of the OECD provides a beautifully succinct framework of 21st Century Skills encompassing ways of thinking, ways of working and tools for working – where both the ways of working and the tools for working emphasise networking and collaborative endeavour. Time and again leading employers, think tanks, and academics promote skills, experience and attributes over qualifications. It’s not that the latter are unimportant, it’s more that knowledge-based qualifications have an increasingly short shelf-life. Some philosophers might relate this to the knowledge vs wisdom dichotomy - where knowledge is information and wisdom is the understanding and application of that knowledge. When you consider what eportfolio can bring to a learner's ability to learn through experience and application of knowledge, it's not too difficult to see why we remain so passionate about the benefit of personalised learning and eportfolio.
If we have a better idea of what employers are looking for, do we know what employment opportunities will be on offer? The idea of a career for life does not accord with today’s working environment. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics:
- Every year, more than ⅓ of the entire US labour force changes jobs
- Today’s students will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38
- 50% of workers have been with their company less than 5 years
- Every year, more than 30 million Americans are working in jobs that did not exist in the previous quarter
An example of a job that didn't exist 10 years ago.
The future ready university
The above may not be ‘graduate’ destinations, but the entrepreneurial skills that led significant numbers of workers to identify and then seize new opportunities are the very skills being promoted by the world's best business schools. And what are graduate destinations anyway? According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 58.8% of graduates are in jobs deemed to be non-graduate roles. According to McCrindle as many as 1 in 2 Gen Zs, that is people born since 1995, will have a university degree. Exacerbating degree abundance is a perceived loss of confidence in the capacity of graduates to demonstrate the future ready skills and attributes so in demand by employers.
There are also well-documented risks posed by automation - if you're wondering whether your job will be stolen by a robot try the BBC’s job risk calculator. Importantly, however, roles requiring employees to think on their feet and come up with creative and original ideas, for example, artists, designers or engineers, hold a significant advantage in the face of automation. Additionally, occupations involving tasks that require a high degree of social intelligence and negotiating skills, like managerial positions, are considerably less at risk from machines according to the study, as are those requiring social perceptiveness, persuasion, assisting and caring for others. That sounds to me like the very kind of learners being developed through the work represented in our case studies.
What seems to set our collective work apart from traditional university education, or indeed traditional professional development, is our focus on knowing how, and knowing why - above and beyond knowing what. It’s what PebblePad was designed for 12 years ago, and it continues to hold to the principles of learners, learning and lived experience over courses, content and colleges - the dominant model of the LMS.
If you've enjoyed the post and are keen to learn more about our work and how PebblePad is used, download a free copy of our conference case studies by clicking on the button below.