The choices we’ve made over the last couple of years have changed education forever. The choices we make today will continue to affect change. It’s up to us to make sure that our choices create better learning experiences for everybody, from early education right on through to vocational and corporate workplace training.
We have to nurture and teach many qualities and skills in all students to equip them for the rapidly-changing future they’re going to work and live in. Equipping the learners of the future for success will go beyond academic results.
There are some qualities, traits and skills that, traditionally, society has taught that people are ‘born with’, or born talented with. But nearly all of these skills can be taught, learned and improved, whether a learner has a natural talent or aptitude for them or not.
More importantly, equipping learners with these skills will empower them to accept and adapt to change in our fast-paced world, leveraging their personal tools to get ahead, succeed and grow.
Here are three vital skills that we can teach and nurture in learners (and teachers!) of all ages to help equip them for the future.
#1 – Digital literacy
Both learners and educators can benefit from improved digital literacy – that is, understanding as well as using technology in many forms. Technology is irrevocably part of our lives across learning, working and socializing. This means students and teachers alike need to know how best to use it!
While coding is part of this area, real digital literacy goes beyond code into helping users feel comfortable and at ease with any form of technology they may encounter, able to self-solve and adapt to new devices, new programs, and new means of gathering and communicating information.
Where once technology may have been stigmatized as only helping students ‘not to think’ or even to cheat, now, technology from smartboards to laptops to VR glasses to smartphones can be useful assistants in interactive, immersive lessons.
Importantly, learning how to use a digital technology or tool once is often not enough. With digital literacy skills, learners and educators alike can keep up with new updates to programs and new technologies that may make their life and learning even easier as time goes on.
Technology can help students and teachers access and share information in ways they wouldn’t previously have been able to, work together, and track progress, results, and portfolios of work without needing to rely on folders’ worth of paper that can be easily damaged or lost (or thrown away).
#2 – Communication
Communication and collaboration skills span across reading, writing, speaking and listening. They are necessary skills to develop not only in school or in workplace training environments, where students must learn to clearly articulate their ideas and work with others, but also in our wider society.
With more and more of our digital world dependent upon clear communication via text or speech, the learned ability to make oneself understood and to understand others via text, is increasingly important. Those who make errors in their communication are often sadly mocked or dismissed.
Whether at work or in social relationships, encouraging students to learn and practice clear communication helps with:
- stronger relationships
- self-confidence and sureness
- attaining clarity with goals, tasks and projects, and
- giving others clarity.
Teachers, meanwhile, need to be excellent communicators from the word go! They need to know how to speak to and communicate more broadly and effectively with a variety of people in order to do their job well – from the many different students they work with, to those students’ parents, and other teachers and school staff. Without strong communication skills, teachers can quickly become overwhelmed or misunderstood.
Communication not only shares information between people, both in the sense of giving/expressing and receiving information, it also stimulates effort and thinking, and encourages certain attitudes and environments.
Regular, safe collaboration and discussion between people at all levels is the key to developing strong communication skills that can be relied upon both in times of success and stress.
#3 – Critical thinking
“Critical thinking” is often one of the top ‘soft skills’ listed as necessary for a twenty-first century student, employee and citizen of the world.
Critical thinking and problem solving involve the independent analysis of all the available facts and information with the goal of arriving at a judgment. Logic and rationality, subjectivity/objectivity and bias all come into play with critical thinking, but at its most fundamental level, critical thinking revolves around not taking something at face value.
The twenty-first century is definitely an age of information and knowledge. Not every piece of information students read or hear will be a problem to be solved, but having the capacity and willingness to question a statement, research its validity and therefore understand it independently of what they’ve been told, will always be a big help for student growth.
Critical thinking extends into decision-making and problem solving. Students can develop critical thinking skills first by researching an issue, then having to make a decision or judgment call on the material based on all the available information they were able to research and accumulate (at a basic level, which parts of the research were ‘good/true/valuable’, and which were not).
Critical thinking isn’t just knowing or memorizing and recalling information – it’s understanding the information, and applying it. That’s what makes it a twenty-first century skill (while memorization and recall of information is more of a traditional form of teaching and education).
As with students, critical thinking is an important skill for teachers in their work. Teachers are constantly analyzing and evaluating their students, themselves and their teaching materials both day-to-day activities and long-term. They evaluate what they have, determine what they will need, and assess students’ progress towards learning goals in a variety of ways, making decisions every day.
These three skills all work great together in a student’s toolkit, no matter their age or the topic of their study, and they are all vital for personal and professional success at school, in the workplace, and in broader life and social situations. With strong digital literacy, communication and critical thinking skills, our learners of the future will one day become the leaders of the future.