To understand the Student of the Future, we must first grasp what the world will look like in 10 or 20 years and what their needs will be. It is important to not only consider them regarding their education but in the context of their overall lives. We must rethink how campuses are preparing students for the technological world that is continually changing – sometimes even faster than we can comprehend.

Students’ expectations focus on wanting their educational opportunities to fit their lifestyles. They want a new system of learning online and offline, traditional and real world, inside and outside walled classrooms. This vision of education for our future students should be freeing, untethered and help them discover who they are and their purpose as they live and work together.

With this learner-centric model of education, providing students a lifetime of learning opportunities has to be a priority, rather than the traditional four/six years of a college education following high school. Advancing technologies are driving us to a DIY learning ecosystem that includes MOOCs, Learning Management Systems, Custom Portals, Boot Camps and Informal Learning opportunities.

Educational programs around the country are responding by creating flexible, multidisciplinary, technology-infused authentic learning experiences. As content becomes more dynamic, free and accessible to more and more students, researchers are looking at how technology advances can deliver that content in more engaging ways. To help our students of the future thrive amid constant change, it will demand new ways of thinking about the evolution of the educational process.

According to Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun, “We need a new model of learning that enables learners to understand the highly technological world around them and that simultaneously allows them to transcend it by nurturing the mental and intellectual qualities that are unique to humans– namely, their capacity for creativity and mental flexibility.”

He calls this model humanics. “What I am calling for is to break down the silos between liberal arts literacies and technologies literacies. We need an intentional integration.”

This model identifies the new literacies as
– Data Literacy: students have the skills to read, analyze and apply the vast amount of data available to them
– Technological Literacy: students must have the knowledge to code, understanding machines and how they work
– Human Literacy: students need empathy, compassion, complexity along with imagination, creativity, and entrepreneurial skills

We have identified educational opportunities that our students of the future will need based on what we know now. In 2033 students will embark on a trip into an unknown job market — 65% of today’s students will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet! The Bureau of Labor Statistics and labor economists see science, technology, engineering, and healthcare growing rapidly, while employment in manufacturing will decline. Technology advancements, especially in artificial intelligence and automation, along with social and economic changes are disrupting the traditional old career choices.

In the book College (Un)bound, author and editor at large for The Chronicle for Higher Education Jeffery Selingo writes, “Employers want workers who have the ability to learn how to learn. In other words, the capability to find the answers to the questions of tomorrow that we cannot envision asking today.” Employers are asking students to focus on skills that computers don’t have and recognize how these skills change the landscape of formal and informal learning. In our complex and interconnected world, we need leaders of imagination and understanding. To prepare them for an unknown future, they must be able to adapt to change.

The Microsoft Apprenticeship Program The Future Laboratory tackles the research into what jobs might look like. The careers focus on potential applications of emerging technologies for human services that are continually changing the workplace landscape. A few examples include

– Rewilding Strategist: This will focus on creating resilient and vibrant landscapes in the face of advancing climate change.

– Human Parts Designer: Bioengineering advances will extend the average healthy human life to 100+.

– Virtual Habitat Designer: Training in cognitive psychology and behavioral science will be useful as teams of virtual reality designers seek to understand exactly how humans interact with their surroundings through touch, smell and sight.

– Ethical Technology Advocates: Working between humans in connection with robots and artificial intelligence applications to manage our complex and connected world.

Dr. Philip Gardner, Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, cautions future students, “If you can’t adapt your work to the context you’re in, and you’re limited within your own context, then you’ve got problems.” So the question becomes, are campuses preparing future students for what employers really want? I think we need to not only teach them the skills they need for employment but also prepare them for the ever-changing job market environment they will encounter early in their career. Dr. Gardner summarizes that there are four big ideas to incorporate into curriculum planning.

– Elevate the Career Center: This is often not a priority on college campuses. With technology tools offering DIY learning experiences, students need career direction more than ever.

– Break Down Campus Silos: For students to be equipped to solve tomorrows highly complex problems, they need interdisciplinary contextual knowledge. Real-world learning experiences across disciplines will create the learning opportunity needed.

– Focus on Retraining: Disruptive technologies will be offering new and different employment opportunities. Campuses need to address how they can assist future students in this transition from traditional jobs to future employment.

– Build Campus Programs Relevant to the Workplace: Students gain real-world learning through Project-Based Learning pedagogies, internships, co-ops with local companies and international partnerships. Future students will want relevant and rewarding work opportunities to learn and apply the skills needed and will be seeking out campuses offering these types of programs.

When I think of the Student of the Future, 11-year-old fifth grader Naomi Wilder comes to mind. She was the youngest speaker at the “March for Our Lives” event who became a hashtag, a meme shared around the world and has even been heralded as future presidential material. Watching her deliver that heartfelt message on African American victims of gun violence made me proud to be an American. She instilled hope for our future. Our young people are courageous, empowering, and compassionate…the very skills we need for our future. They will no longer sit and wait for change…they will be the change.

Our future is bright.