In the last year, the World Economic Forum has published numerous reports forecasting the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what the unprecedented interconnectivity of the technological revolution will yield as we approach 2020. We are, as they say, in unchartered waters — and the tools we use to navigate our course aren’t necessarily familiar, either.

Recent estimates suggest that 65 percent of children entering elementary school today will end up working in jobs that currently do not exist; and according to responses from chief human service leaders and strategy executives worldwide, 35 percent of the skills that are considered important in the current workforce will change in the next five years. In fact, when you compare the skills needed to thrive in 2015 against those needed in 2020, there are some key differences.


On the Rise: Creativity, Emotional Intelligence + Cognitive Flexibility
Two particularly notable changes to the list are the rise in creativity to the top three, and the addition of emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility — the ability to adjust one’s thinking from old situations to new situations by overcoming habitual responses — to the list. As machines begin making more and more decisions for us, skills like quality control and negotiation become less critical — or even obsolete. Skills that that allow us to respond quickly and nimbly to the shifting landscape (such as creativity and cognitive flexibility) will be earmarks of success.

The question remains, how to prepare students for that which we don’t yet know.


 Once the Internet of Things is built out, IBM scientists  expect  knowledge to double every 12 hours. (Currently,  human knowledge doubles every 13 months.) 


Get Comfortable with Ambiguity
These days, almost anyone can look up just about anything they want to know on a smartphone. Knowledge has become a commodity, and human knowledge is currently doubling every 13 months. If that seems like rapid growth to you, imagine this: IBM scientists expect that, once built out, the Internet of Things will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. That means exponential growth of human knowledge at a rate faster than we can consume it — and with it, a radical rethinking of how we educate young people and adults alike.

The bottom line? We will need to become more comfortable living with ambiguity. Just as businesses will be less able to predict the future (and therefore less able to plan), so too will schools lack a stable compass by which to guide students. Here are some ways in which families and educators can help prepare their students to navigate the rapidly shifting landscape ahead of them:

  • Have an open mind, particularly when it comes to your student’s education. School should look quite different than when you were a student.
  • Feed students’ curiosity. Engage young people in activities, events, and trips that interest them. That’s the best way to cultivate internal motivation and deep learning. Beware of motivating them to learn with monetary or other external incentives since it seldom results in real learning.
  • Be an agent for innovation.
    This can be challenging,
    eve7.28_HovercraftHeroics_-_6_of_11-1.jpgn in high performing school districts; for instance, schools with prestigious college matriculation lists may resist change because the desire to stay on top (and fear that those matriculation lists may become less enviable) outweighs willingness to innovate.

  • Promote collaboration. The ability to work in teams and manage other people are becoming increasingly critical as the 21st century progresses, and these so-called “soft skills” require practice.
  • Recognize that learning happens everywhere. Schools cannot do it all, and diverse learning experiences are all around — whether that’s after school, vacations, volunteering, part-time jobs, tinkering in the garage, or summer programs. The more diverse the experiences, the more a child’s comfort zone will expand and their confidence in dealing with new situations will increase.  
  • Be a partner in improvement. Support schools in trying new things, and provide constructive feedback (not judgment) as schools experiment.
  • Work on a “default to yes culture.” Sep Kamvar, of MIT Media Lab and Wildflower Montessori School, details the simple elements — and profound results — of developing a positive school culture.
  • Focus on applied knowledge. Make use of simulations, case studies, and projects that relate to the real world, and ensure that analogies and metaphors are explicitly taught in all courses (and that students learn to use them). Thinking metaphorically is one sign of a creative mind — an increasingly important skill.
  • Cultivate a culture of questioning. The art of asking questions is at the heart of most discoveries. In search of resources? We like Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.