3 Ways to Transform Education and Prepare Students for Future Workforce Needs

by Stephan Turnipseed
‎Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer and Thought Leader, Destination Imagination

By now, it should come as no surprise that today’s incredibly fast-paced, hyper-connected digital economy is changing the way we learn, work, live and play. According to Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, progress in the 21st century is expected to proceed at rates one thousand times greater than the 20th century. This is essentially like building the Great Wall of China in two months rather than 200 years!

Progress and growth often bring many economic benefits, like the creation of new jobs, innovative technology breakthroughs, higher average incomes, and overall better standards of living. However, the unfortunate reality is there are still an estimated 5.4 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. and nearly 8 million people are unemployed. And by some estimates, 65 percent of future jobs have not even been created yet. This, in my opinion, is largely due to the skills gap that continues to grow as technological advancements quickly outpace the ability for many people to keep up.

Our children clearly will face a much different world and our current educational system is failing to recognize the immense need to help them build 21st century skills for the future – not the past. How can they be best equipped to tackle the unpredictable challenges of today and tomorrow? And, in this increasingly impersonal digital world, how can we make learning personal again for our children?

On Nov. 11, I’m looking forward to diving into these timely questions and concerns at the 7th Annual National Convening on Personalized Learning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I’ve been invited to give a keynote speech. I’m also excited to be sharing the stage with a great lineup of speakers as well as meeting many of the attendees from various roles in the education sector – all of whom are coming together to explore and discuss different strategies and approaches around the conference theme, “Preparing Learners for the Future.”

Here’s a sneak peak of three strategies I’ll be sharing in my talk, “21st Century Learning and the Drive to Transformation,” that I believe are essential to transforming education and effectively preparing students for 21st century workforce needs:

  • Advance 21st Century Learning Skills: The ability to recall facts may help students pass a multiple-choice test, and impress your friends during trivia night, but memorizing content of the past has become largely irrelevant in today’s modern society. And while product-specific skills served us very well in the industrial economy, learning will largely be driven by process skills in the 21st century. To help students meet their futures head-on, we need an education system that prepares them with the knowledge, dispositions and essential 21st century skills, including creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication. By mastering these skills early on, our future workforce will be able to effectively respond to the constantly changing vista of challenges and opportunities.
  • Move Away from One-Size-Fits-All Learning Model: Personalized learning is inherently focused on the student, where instruction is tailored to unique styles of learning and most importantly, encourages students to explore their specific interests and passions. I have always told children to find something they are passionate about, learn how to be better at it than anyone they know, and then find a way to make a living out of it. In doing so, they will never work a day in their lives and instead be fulfilling their dreams and aspirations. The Convening is exactly about this notion – unlocking the passions of our children to live into the future in which they will create, nurture and flourish.
  • Less Talk, More Action: All too often we only give lip service to the importance of truly transforming education rather than using a retreat to reforming efforts disguised as transformative thinking in the hopes that this too shall pass. Let me assure anyone who is in doubt: the children of today and our future generations will not go quietly into the night as the modern day luddites of education hide quietly behind regulations of test and punish standards which destroy the promise of education.

We stand at the precipice of either a great ascent or fall in how we choose to treat the issue of transformation. Our dated industrial economy education model is being replaced in favor of a creative society – key to fostering innovative potential. The way we perceive the knowledge, skills and dispositions required for success in this world will determine if we drive transformation or take our place in history beside the luddites of the early 19th century. 

Turnipseed is an education thought leader, strategist and entrepreneur passionate about inspiring children through education. He is an advocate for hands-on learning and fostering creativity, which he sees as instrumental for 21st century success. Turnipseed currently serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer for Destination Imagination, a non-profit education organization and host of the world’s largest celebration of creativity dedicated to teaching skills-based learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering, visual arts and mathematics (STEAM) through its engaging Challenge Program.

During his over 25 years in education and throughout his career he has led companies and organizations to transformative success. As the former President of LEGO® Education North America, he led the team responsible for transforming LEGO Education in North America from a product sales company to an educational resource leader, working with educators, industry experts and academia to help inspire all children to be creative problem solvers. He is the immediate past Chairman of The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. Turnipseed is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a graduate of Auburn University with a B.S. in electrical engineering.

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