The Future of Learning Requires a Foundation of Social Emotional Skills

In order to prepare our school districts for the future of learning, we must balance the tension between technology and deep inner connection and relationships among people.

by / April 18, 2018

Katherine Prince has been leading strategic foresight at KnowledgeWorks for the past 12 years. Her work includes studying and writing about the future of education and engaging stakeholders around the country. Prince’s role is to imagine new possibilities and think about what that looks like for strategy today.

It’s important to ask what the future looks like for students, so they can be ready, along with building strategies that we can use to get there. “The future of work and the future generally is going to be characterized by a lot of uncertainty and complexity with what were facing,” said Prince. “There are a lot of unknowns about the degree to which smart machines will displace people from our current jobs or change those jobs considerably.”

She goes on to say, “given all that uncertainty, we expect that people are going to need to be reskilling and up-skilling really frequently across their lifetimes.” It’s increasingly important to build a strong foundation of social emotional skills along with related cognitive and metacognitive skills such as creative problem-solving, according to Prince.

Although the idea of nurturing social emotional skills within the schools seems ideal and appealing, there are still many challenges to this kind of future workforce preparation. Prince thinks that we need to place more of an emphasis on foundational skills.

“It’s challenging because a lot of times people in today’s schools and districts feel hampered by being able to fully pursue those kinds of attributes for learning experiences, even when they really want them,” she said.

Many of the current challenges appear to be structural, like how we use time and space. “We’re also seeing challenges around our assessment and accountability systems, which measure a relatively narrow perspective of success,” she explained. Fostering cultures of learning among students and teachers that really relate to visions for the future of learning is important and that is something that takes time as well.

Challenges are often apparent, but there are still many things to be excited about when thinking about the future of learning. “I’m really excited about the potential for educators and to work more closely with community-based organizations, employers and other organizations beyond the walls of traditional schools to create communitywide approaches to readiness where appropriate,” said Prince.

We also must consider how technology plays into the future of learning. “Technology can be a great enabler, but we hear so much about the tension between living in an increasingly technologically mediated world but also really needing to value deep inner connection and relationships among people,” she said. This is something district leaders across the country are dealing with, finding a balance between both of these highly important skill sets that enable students to be prepared for the workforce tomorrow.

Technology and the future of learning will only be as effective as the access that comes along with it. Across the country we see great pockets of innovation, and the next big step is scaling up these opportunities for every student. “If we could build greater public will for change,” said Prince, “we could create momentum around the vision for the future of learning.”

Susan Gentz Contributing Writer
Susan is passionate about transforming education for every student and works on content for the Center for Digital Education. She loves policy, running and biking, and is a proud Iowa native.