21st Century Workplace Literacy: What Does that Mean and How Do We Engage More People in the Discussion?
I find that when it comes to learning and instruction, I tend to run in two different circles, as evidenced by the "Learning" tab in my feed reader. Here, I'm following both bloggers from the world of workplace learning (i.e. corporate and organizational trainers and instructional designers) and edubloggers--people who are working in the k-12 and university systems. I do this in part because I tend to be working with both constituencies, so I need to keep an eye on developments in each area. I also do this because it's interesting to see the cross-over (or lack of cross-over) that occurs.
One of the areas that is generates a fair amount of discussion in the edublogosphere is how to define 21st century literacy. What are the skills that students will need in order to be successful in a constantly changing work world? David Warlick, for example, has some ideas here. Last year, Stephen Downes had some some thoughts on what you really need to learn here.
In a global economy, these are conversations all nations should be having if they hope to remain competitive, and you would think that this would be an area where there would be considerable discussion going on between workplace learning professionals and edubloggers. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case.
From what I've observed, edubloggers are weighing in with their ideas about the key skills young people will need to be successful in the world of work, but it's educators talking to other educators without a lot of input from people who are operating in the work world for which students are supposedly being prepared.
This is nothing new of course--education and the so-called "real world" have long been disconnected (at least according to most businesses). However, given our new-found ability to connect the two groups through technology and the high stakes involved, it's unfortunate that we aren't doing more to have joint discussions. And I mean on the ground floor, practitioner to practitioner--not these high level "partnerships" that supposedly bring together business and education but never seem to really mean anything at work or in the classroom.
I see a few issues and implications with this . . .
First, if educators are basically talking to other educators, attending conferences together, running in the same blogging circles, etc., how do they truly get an appreciation for the needs of the workplace? Certainly they can make certain inferences about what constitutes "workplace literacy," but it seems to me that if you're talking about skills that people need to be successful in a particular environment, it would be more productive to reach outside of your educator circle and connect to the people who will be hiring the workers you're preparing. Shouldn't there be more discussions happening between the two groups?
I don't say this as a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect it has to do with the fact that online we still tend to connect to the people we know and feel comfortable with, but then are we getting the most from the technology if we end up having the same conversations with the same kinds of people? (Amy Gahran has an excellent blog post on this tendency, by the way, and some suggestions for how to reach out to people who are outside of our normal circles).
I'm also wondering why workplace learning professionals aren't talking more about the issue of changing workplace literacy and 21st century foundational success skills. We know, for example, that people need to have what we've always called "basic literacy," (reading, writing, math skills) and it's understood that for people to be successful at work they need some minimal level of skills in these areas. They are the scaffolding that allow people to develop more technical skills.
It seems to me that technology and dramatically different ways of doing business (virtual teams, etc.) are drastically impacting our definitions of basic workplace literacy. If we haven't really re-defined workplace literacy, how can we be sure that staff have those underlying skills? I think, for example, that being able to learn new materials and skills quickly is a fundamental workplace literacy. Yet what has been done or is being done to ensure that people who are in the workplace now have those skills? And if they don't, how can they realistically operate in such a fast-paced economy?
Personally what I'd like to see is more conversations happening between edubloggers and workplace learning professionals on the issue of 21s century workplace literacy. The same technology that is impacting our definitions also provides us with the means to have the discussions, although it will mean we have to step outside of our silos. I know it's too much to hope that we'd start attending each other's conferences (limited dollars, limited time), but at a minimum, it would be nice if we did something virtual to share ideas and generate discussion. I think we'd actually have a lot to learn from each other.
How could we start better connecting the two worlds to further the conversations and define how we could all proceed together to ensure that people have the foundational workplace skills they need to be successful? Is this even an issue?