4 key takeaways from the April 2019 J-WEL Week | MIT J-WEL

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4 key takeaways from the April 2019 J-WEL Week


April 2019 J-WEL Week

From April 1-4, 2019, J-WEL held its fourth semi-annual J-WEL Week event. During the event, 112 participants from 26 countries collaborated with MIT faculty and staff to develop strategic plans to scale transformation across pK-12, higher education, and Workforce Learning. Attendees at the April 2019 J-WEL Week heard from MIT Provost Martin Schmidt on the new MIT Schwarzmann College of Computing and its role in connecting computing across academic disciplines, workshopped with MIT experts to construct ways to train students and employees in data science skills, and unraveled some of the complexities of the changing landscape of the workforce.

Members from each of J-WEL’s three collaboratives - pK-12, Higher Education, and Workforce Learning (WL) - shared their local challenges and insights with one another, fostering a shared sense of community and purpose. 

So what were some of the week’s key takeaways? 

Sanjay Sarma1. The future of work is learning

Many people are worried about the future of work- some go so far as to say that it will not exist. But the consensus among the research-informed is that, while some jobs will disappear, most will be changed, not destroyed. Several experts who spoke at J-WEL Week, including Dr. Elisabeth Reynolds, Executive Director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, shared her view with participants during a WL session on “Work of the Future”:

“We are by nature myopic. We can only count what’s been lost, not what's coming down the pike. We don’t take into account the dynamic nature of the economy.”

She added that current research shows that technologies such as 3D printing are not yet radically changing the workplace- they are adding to it by creating complimentary skills acquisitions and a net positive impact on jobs. 

Professor Sanjay Sarma, MIT Vice President for Open Learning, explained his view during his keynote session:

“We have to fundamentally rethink the education system to prepare people to become the CEOs of their own lives. No longer do they work for this gigantic company town where the CEO of the company is responsible for their health care, for their education, for their home, for their family, everything. The future of work is being able to reinvent yourself every few years and learn completely new skills.” 

Professor Hazel Sive, J-WEL Higher Education Faculty Director, noted the role that higher education needs to play in this transformation:

“Above all, [we need] students who are educated so that they are truly confident in their abilities, and are able to take their education into places and to levels that they never were able to before they engaged with higher education. Those are some of the skills that we think about, and that makes students who are truly employable, really almost regardless of the particular discipline they study.”  

" "2. Today’s pK-12 education will transform the future of work

J-WEL Executive Director, Dr. Vijay Kumar, illustrated connections across the lifespan of a learner during the event’s opening session: 

“One of the connections that we are beginning to see much more acutely than others, is the connection between workforce learning and pre-K through 12. How might we design curricula that has immediate relevance, immediate implications for the workforce?”

Creating a workforce for the future is about identifying what skills individuals and organizations need to excel in the modern economy using research-driven insights. J-WEL’s Workforce Learning Collaborative is accomplishing this through funding research on future-ready skills. WL is also working with other institutions, such as corporations, governments, non-profits, and universities, to help individuals understand how to take charge of their career progression.  

people at table3. Traditional technical education neglects skills for the 21st century, and they aren’t just technical

Many researchers studying the modern economy argue that the future of work is not just about technical skills-it’s so much more than that. As J-WEL Week attendee Ash Cowlagi observed, “What skills are and how people talk about those skills is a moving target.” 

During the event, WL experts emphasized the importance of future-ready skills in discussions with attendees. 

Many of the skills taught by traditional educational systems are automatable. What’s missing are “the social skills, the non-technical skills to succeed in this digital environment,” explained Dr. George Westerman, J-WEL WL Faculty Director. One simple solution, proposed by Prof. Sarma, is to stop teaching automatable skills. 

J-WEL pK-12 and J-WEL Higher Education are integrating this idea into their work with curriculum design by focusing on skills such as computational thinking and creativity. Creativity is a lifelong skill that cannot be automated but can be fostered in students using hands-on and active learning exercises. It is a critical skill not only for learners, but for teachers, as well. Thus, the J-WEL Week pK-12 program was designed to encourage educators to be curious and experience phenomena using their own senses during hands-on sessions such as “Experiential Learning in STEAM Education,” led by Ed Moriarty of the Edgerton Center.

" "4. Global and cross-sector collaborations aren’t just important - they are vital for transforming learning

Education and learning interventions do not occur in silos - they interact with one another. Collaborations need to happen within and across organizations, institutions, and countries. Aitor Larrabe, Head of Talent at Ferrovial, explained:

“More and more conversations are around working together- institutions, private and public, to the point where your own solution is never going to be as good as the ones you make when you collaborate."

Sive spoke with attendees about J-WEL's ability to collaborate across borders: “Even at this early stage of J-WEL, we are spread across the globe. And that is truly inspirational, and it truly makes for a global education initiative that is rich and is extraordinary, and I think is really quite unique." 

J-WEL Week participants were not only spread geographically, but also occupied diverse areas of education leadership; attendees included teachers, principals, university faculty and administration, and heads of corporate innovation and learning. 


Looking to the future

J-WEL members and J-WEL Week participants can watch keynotes from the event in our library. Videos from other sessions will be added in the coming weeks. 

The next J-WEL Week will be held October 28-31, 2019.