Fusing Future Fit Skills into the College Curriculum
Societal disruption should prompt faculty members to re-examine what we teach and how we teach it
College students in the U.S. have grown accustomed to experiencing the annual campus traditions, supportive campus life, and seasonal routines that flow from move-in week on through to graduation. Campus-based experiences at over 3000 U.S. institutions, intentionally designed to help more than 19 million students transition onto campus and into classes, provide a sense of safety and psychological security. College campuses are places where many young adults pursue their purpose, refine their identities, and develop a sense of interdependence among the many rules, values, programs, and social groups that serve as a learning lab and safety net for college students. The byproduct of this dependable and stable community are college graduates who contribute to the nation’s economic health and vitality, generate new innovations, develop the abilities to improve the quality of life of their communities and learn to appreciate and support civil society and cultural activities.
However, in the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic placed restrictions on how we teach, work, and learn. In higher education specifically, the magnitude of changes resulting from COVID responses have totally disrupted the sheltered and predictable experience of a college campus, displacing faculty, staff, and students to remote engagements. The UN estimated that 1.6 billion learners shifted from classroom instruction to remote learning, posing many challenges for faculty and students around the world. Most educational institutions and their faculty and teachers were caught off guard and ill-prepared to make this shift, leaving students to struggle with learning tasks and to feel overwhelmed.
Given the prevalence of unsatisfactory remote teaching and learning practices, employers have amplified their concern that colleges may not adequately be preparing students for the VUCA environment and rapidly changing workplace. McKinsey and Company have reviewed the effect of the pandemic, artificial intelligence, and automation and robotics in shaping the future of work. Consequently, their researchers anticipate a continuation of hybrid models of remote work in some professional fields, an increase in online learning and training for years to come. And yet, eight months into the pandemic, higher education continues to struggle with the adoption of rapidly evolving technologies into the educational process and with connecting classroom learning to career opportunities.
In noting these changes to both work and preparatory workforce development and education, the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres recently declared that the “future of education is here.” This declaration signals a once in a generation opportunity for faculty and school teachers to reimagine education. However, transitioning to a more evolved approach to education, one that incorporates instructional technologies in ways that both support student access to educational opportunities and success after matriculation is not, nor will be, an easy transition for either faculty or students. According to LinkedIn’s latest U.S. based Workforce Confidence Index, workers in education indicated struggling with stress at higher levels than professionals in other industry segments due to the pressures of the global pandemic and the tumult it’s caused for them both at work and at home. As indicated below, education workers are indicating higher levels of stress than in other industry segments.
The “great lockdown” has presented an even greater level of stress for college-age students. According to the American Psychological Association, the problem of chronic and unhealthy levels of stress is at its worst among college-age students. Nearly 90% of this age group reported education as a significant source of stress. Pandemic related stressors are posited to tax students’ ability to cope in all facets of their lives, affect how they learn, and curtail their ability to plan for the future.
If the mission of universities includes supporting the personal development of students, developing their expertise and occupational identity, and enabling them to contribute constructively to civil society then college faculty have an educational and moral obligation to prepare graduates to make sense of and prosper in a VUCA world. The conditions served up by the pandemic should serve as an accelerant for this generation of faculty to fuse “future fit” skills that link classroom to careers into their curriculum. Faculty members have a choice to incorporate engaging technologies into the design of instruction for deeper learning; learning that allows for the transfer of knowledge from instructors to learners, and from learners to performance situations in a VUCA world. We can learn and adapt “what we teach” and “how we teach” to the needs of learners, societies, and professions. Presented here are a host of opportunities for faculty members to align curriculum with the changing needs of students and employers:
There is an opportunity for faculty members to identify, prioritize, and incorporate “future fit” competencies into curriculum and instruction. Instructional time is a premium and limited to the schedule of courses and programs. Faculty must determine the most important curricular outcomes and the best use of instructional time. The Institute for the Future provides one source of “future fit” learning outcomes that can complement discipline-specific learning outcomes. IFTF promotes the future fit competencies such as reputation management, sense-making, resilience, and human-machine collaboration to name a few.
There is an opportunity for faculty to embed social and emotional learning outcomes into our curriculum.
On top of acquiring disciplinary knowledge, the Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum suggests that graduates transitioning into a VUCA world must also be resilient in the face of changing circumstances, be able to tolerate the stress associated with dealing with higher degrees of complexity and more frequent transitions, and remain flexible when confronted with social and economic volatility. Unfortunately, in many departments at universities, affective learning outcomes are often overlooked in the curriculum outside of the general education curriculum. Social and emotional competencies often get diminished and mislabeled as soft skills despite their increased importance in an increasingly technological world. Introducing and reinforcing affective learning outcomes that target the social and emotional competencies which make us empathetic, collaborative across arbitrary social boundaries, and that aid in building personal resilience can go a long way in “robot-proofing” higher education.
There is an opportunity for faculty to incorporate relevant technologies and related learning outcomes into the curriculum.
According to the World Economic Forum 2020 Future of Jobs Report, “automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers.” Technological adoption by companies is expected to dramatically transform tasks, jobs, and skills by 2025, resulting in greater skill gaps and mismatches in a number of occupational areas. The ubiquitous nature of communication and information technology and its broad personal and professional application means that technological proficiency is rapidly becoming a new general education requirement. In order to get college graduates adequately prepared for rapidly changing technology innovation cycles in the workplace, faculty members can incorporate and embed relevant technologies into their instructional activities. To do so requires faculty members to connect with their professional counterparts in order to understand how technologies are being used in the professions. Rather than over-rely on video conferencing and slide presentations, student-centered scholars like Dr. Maria Angel Ferrero recommend designing more engaging and interactive instructional activities and highlights 15 Free Digital Tools to Boost Students’ Engagement Online.
There is an opportunity for faculty to develop greater competence in the use of instructional technologies.
The rapid movement to remote learning in March 2020 accelerated our need to consider different ways of using instructional technologies and learning platforms, to understand the needs and expectancies of learners in remote settings, and to upskill our ability to use instructional technologies and related pedagogies. Institutions like the International Institute for Innovative Instruction provides resources and programs to assist faculty members at colleges and universities in building their proficiency in using instructional technology appropriately and in instructing students on the use of relevant technologies.
There is an opportunity for faculty to actively and purposefully engage and partner with stakeholders.
Stakeholders are those who care about the success of learners. They can play an important part in clarifying the needs and requirements of graduates. For example, faculty may establish a program advisory board that includes employers of program graduates. Faculty may partner with employers to assure the relevance of curriculum and instructional approaches by clarifying workplace and learning requirements; offering real-world cases for case studies; hosting guest speakers from organizations in classes; clarifying the rules and leading indicators for the programming of instructional simulations; or by clarifying how technology will be used in workplace situations.
There is an opportunity for faculty to consider learning strategies that can occur outside of the classroom and away from campus.
Students and employers agree that applied learning experiences are important preparations for career success. The thoughtful design of learning opportunities requires properly align learning technologies, content, activities, and assessments within the context of diverse learning settings. The range of experiential learning opportunities that can occur away from campus classrooms include apprenticeships, clinical experiences, fellowships, fieldwork, internships, practicums, service learning, simulations, role-playing, student teaching, study abroad, undergraduate research, and community volunteering. Instructional technologies can bridge faculty and students to these learning settings. The benefits can be significant. Employers In the Hart Research Associates study reported that they are more likely to consider hiring recent college graduates who have completed an applied learning or project-based learning experience. If this is known to be true, then it becomes a moral imperative for faculty members to leverage communication and information technology to design relevant experiential learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom.
There is an opportunity for faculty to incorporate the most relevant, useful, and engaging technologies into curriculum and instruction.
With so many technological tools available on the market, and given the rapidly evolving features of these tools, it becomes a challenge for faculty members to select the right ones. Faculty members must account for the various positive and negative aspects of the technologies in relation to the wide array of learning outcome expectations that can be met by technology. An “affordance-based design” approach, as articulated by Jonathan Maier and George Fadel, is one way of thinking about introducing educational innovations into curriculum design processes. This design approach to incorporating new technology considers three types of affordances: educational affordances or the characteristics of an educational resource that indicate if and how a particular learning behavior could occur; social affordances or the aspects of the learning environment that enables learner’s social interaction; and technology affordances or the aspects of technology that support the educational and collaborative design of learning tasks, and the action possibilities of users of the technology. Since the actions of learners are dependent in large part on the cues they receive from faculty, the affordances of the technology must be articulated to learners so that they can perceive specific uses of the technology as it relates to their learning tasks.
Faculty views of instructional technology will be a factor in determining whether educational institutions choose to revert back to their pre-COVID-19 practices, or reimagine education in ways that both leverage learning technologies and support the future fitness of their graduates. Our students need the skills to be prepared for a VUCA world. We need to help them. Instructional technologies can aid in supporting both instructional access and students success. Now is our opportunity to fuse future fit skills into our curriculum and to extend learning well beyond our classrooms.
Dr. Christopher Washington is a tireless supporter of global leadership development, designer of accessible and relevant education, and champion for the role of universities in workforce development. He serves as the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for Franklin University, a private, nonprofit institution of higher education.
Dr. Washington takes an active role in his community by serving on the Board of the International Visitors Council and on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Ohio Advisory Council. He currently is a member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Washington D.C. based Global Ties U.S.