How future-proof skills intersect with where workers and learners are today

Applying the FutureWe Framework to support students and adult learners — a big picture and practical applications intro

By Jonathan Nalder with input from Monica Smedback, Nick Burnett, Scott Millar, Amanda Rablin

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution where it’s no longer just human physical but also mental skills that technology can replace, a different approach is needed. It’s generally understood that the third industrial revolution era of steam engines and factories created huge social impacts as large sectors of the population shifted from rural to urban life — a situation that was in large part addressed by the development of mass formal education. In 2019 however, the speed of change as the sum total of human knowledge doubles in shorter and shorter time frames is rendering this solution ineffective. Adding more content in or years onto formal education has reached its natural capacity. In addition, research shows that the number of trained people required by manufacturing is falling, even though the amount of goods being made continues to rise. This is part of why a range of predictions are estimating that 14–70% of todays jobs that will be impacted by AI (1,2,3,4), and why it’s argued that such an unpredictable future means that training needs to refocus onto the skills that AI can’t replace.

As yet, no big-picture framework has emerged or been adopted to enable this pro-active refocus even though we are facing such an unpredictable transition that may affect billions of people. This is despite extensive research from Dr George Land (5,6) showing creative lateral thinking skills fall from 98% at the start of formal schooling to 12% by age 15.

As well, even though many people and organisations are now aware a new approach with more human-focused skills is needed, they don’t know how to engage with such intangible skills, nor how to help learners and workers understand, improve, and show their competence with them. The result is a disempowered society stuck between hoping someone, somewhere else will invent the new solutions, communities, jobs and futures we need, and the promise of what this new era can bring.

However, the last two and a half years has seen a community and framework arise to work on these problems. Founded by Jonathan Nalder, an awarded educator of 18 years, and now assisted by co-Director and ex-Principal Nick Burnett and a team of 10 volunteers, the FutureWe community of like-minded experts has grown beyond 430.

The first part of FutureWe’s solution to making the intangible skills needed tangible is a mindset change from ‘spend years training for pre-set future tasks’ to ‘be ready to invent new solutions no matter what the future brings’. Such a mindset naturally leads to asking ‘what skills and approaches can help learners and workers achieve this?’ a question that inspired Jonathan to draft the first version of a framework that spells this out as a compilation of the best ideas available. This framework has since evolved to version 10 via more than 120 discussions, workshops and peer-review sessions. Now called the FutureWe Readiness Framework, it features five top-level domains and twenty ‘future literacies’ which distil over 60 key ‘foundational ideas’ down into a map for thriving in a fully automated era — not just as a list like most other frameworks, but as a holistic and contextual journey.

The framework also has adult and student versions, and as of 2019 has become interactive via an online mapping tool that is already revealing answers as to what future literacies most people are both strong and weak at. In short, the framework has been designed to give individuals, teams, educators, and employers what they are crying out for in this area — a 4th industrial revolution-proof way to 1. make intangible soft skills tangible, 2. map progress, 3. guide improvement and 4. showcase or report on how ready we are.

That then is the big picture, or ‘overview effect’ (to borrow a term from Astronauts who have observed Earth from the distance of space) of the framework, wherein we get the widest possible view and perspective. But even such a community-informed and peer-reviewed framework alone can’t create an impact big enough to help society transition in time. So let’s now turn to five ways that show how teachers and professional trainers are taking the framework and practically applying it.

1. An action and project-focused scaffold to shape course planning

All teams and cohorts are trying to achieve something — be it completing a project or learning specific topics. Embedded across the framework is an explicit process of ‘start playful and divergent, understand the problem and your team, make sure thinking and planning is in place, manage getting to the goal, and share and communicate results’. This process can form a contextual backbone for any project or learning process with the added benefit of the soft skills or future literacies layer. It also serves as practice for later times when work or further learning requires these skills again.

2. Forming groups based on their strengths

Once students or teams have completed the Framework mapping survey (preferably by completing it for each other so responses can be compared to avoid the ‘self over-reporting’ syndrome), Digital Technologies teacher Amanda Rablin has found the data can immediately be used to form students or staff into teams with the right mix of strengths. This could mean ensuring each team has members who are divergent thinkers (creativity), team-focused (community), can manage projects (project delivery) or are good communicators (storytelling) for example.

3. Get to grips with intangible skills

Traditionally, education and training have had difficulty fully addressing skills like curiosity, agency or storytelling. One example is the Australian Curriculum which specifically mandates ‘General capabilities’ and ‘Cross-curriculum Priorities’ such as ‘Ethical Understanding’ and ‘Sustainability’. These sit outside traditional subjects and are designed to integrate within and across them — but as well-intentioned as this approach is, in practice the more standard subjects of the curriculum often tend to take up the most focus. Mapping a topic like sustainability to the framework however gives it the anchor points within that to illustrate why it is just as important by showing which exact parts of the ‘creativity to community to planning to project delivery to communicating process’ it belongs to (see the attached graphic.

4. Link curriculum back to real world purpose (prep for robot-proof)

In more recent years it has become widely acknowledged that students struggle when learning is isolated and disconnected from authentic, real world applications. The Australian Council for Education Leaders 2016 paper on this topic (7) puts ‘real life relevance’ at the top of its list of ways to ensure authentic learning occurs. With becoming ‘robot-proof’ an area of growing awareness for students and their parents, the framework provides an immediate way to link any subject back to how it helps one be future-ready. Teacher Monica Smedback of Solna Stad in Sweden is a Spanish language teacher, but her students are gaining an extra layer of connection for why this subject is important as Monica directs them to map what they learn. What the students themselves are finding is that their daily tasks are actually often strengthening their ‘Community’ skills (‘collective mindset’ as underpinned by concepts such as global understanding, benefit mindset and collaboration) and their ‘Thinking’ skills (as the framework specifically calls out how learning a second language is a key method to boost lateral thinking and metacognition). This same mapping can be done for other subjects as well to better show how and why they are connected to real world needs.

5. Refer back to the framework mapping for tracking professional development

With a tool for helping to map the intangible skills our future requires now available, it next becomes possible for all workers and learners to return to it over time to help track progress. This can be done via the freely available survey at www.bit.ly/future-mapping which provides a customised PDF report for each completion. Even better results can be attained by having colleagues complete the survey for each other as way of ensuring unbiased responses as well as providing the opportunity to engage with ‘Feedback’, itself one of the twenty literacies in the framework.

As more and more trainers and teachers begin to adapt and apply the framework, more and more use cases are being devised. This is an incredibly encouraging development as helping to put each learner’s quest for future meaning at the heart of curriculum, as the framework seeks to do, is one approach “most likely to generate the resilient communities needed to face a future of unimaginable challenge and change’ (Barnes and Shirly, 8).

Trainers, managers and leaders can get a head start on using the framework by accessing all the resources the www.FutureWe.org/framework. Those wanting to contribute ideas as well can join the community at www.FutureWe.org/contact.

Teachers can work directly with students via the ‘Student Starter Edition’ which has been developed from work at St Paul’s School and in BOP Industries workshops, also downloadable at www.FutureWe.org/framework . This student edition includes a suggested task where students begin adapting the framework to support their own learning project.

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(1) https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/automation-skills-use-and-training_2e2f4eea-en

(2) https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

(3) https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages

(4) http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1119786.shtml

(5) Dr George Land, TED talk https://youtu.be/ZfKMq-rYtnc?t=5m29

(6) ‘Breakpoint and Beyond’, Dr George Land, Beth Jarmon https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0887305474/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

(7) http://www.acel.org.au/acel/ACEL_docs/Publications/e-Teaching/2016/e-Teaching_2016_10.pdf

(8) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1365480207078580