Trend Magazine

The Learning Curve

Notes from the President

Albert Einstein said that “education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Today, the growing demand for problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills—combined with the rapid pace of technological change, longer life spans, and an increasingly global economy—gives new urgency to how effectively we train ourselves to learn.

And when circumstances change—to rethink, process new knowledge, and start again.  

In this issue of Trend, we explore the future of learning. As with previous issues of this annual journal of ideas, we have selected a topic that is both a challenge and an opportunity for today’s society, and one that poses major global policy questions. And, as always, we feature a variety of diverse expert perspectives that help break down a complicated subject into its key elements, sharing fresh insight and hopefully fostering new dialogue on one of the key trends shaping the world.

To ground the discussion, Kim Parker and Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center summarize their findings on how Americans view the changing landscape of work and learning. The authors note that the number of workers in occupations requiring average to above-average education, training, and experience increased 68 percent from 1980 to 2015. This helps explain why, as they write in this issue, “54 percent of adults in the labor force said it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life.” 

That work life is getting longer, too. Michelle Weise of Strada Education Network points out that 10,000 Americans will hit age 65 every day until 2030—and many will work well into their 70s. This demographic change greatly increases the need for lifelong learning. Weise explains that employers must therefore invest in “a new learning ecosystem” that addresses the growing demand for training and career counseling—and could also include giving employees time to upgrade their skills; developing age-diverse teams; and relying less on academic credentials and more on knowledge gained outside the classroom.

While Weise focuses on how lifelong learning must be the new normal for workers and their employers, education researcher Andreas Schleicher directs his attention to how we prepare the next generation for the digital jobs of the future. He makes a point that Einstein would almost certainly agree with: that the modern world no longer rewards us for the facts we know, but for “extrapolating from what we know and applying that knowledge in novel ways.” In doing so, members of the next generation will often create their own jobs, becoming more imaginative, resilient, entrepreneurial, and technologically savvy. And for all of us, the future will require a greater focus on synthesizing different fields of knowledge; developing social skills such as empathy and collaboration; embracing technology; and working to facilitate innovation, informed risk-taking, and accountability.

The big picture? Globalization, automation, artificial intelligence, and the reality of lifelong learning are changing the way we acquire knowledge. In Trend, you’ll read differing perspectives on these topics, including fresh insights from accomplished biomedical scientists and dedicated teachers. I hope you will be energized and informed by their research and learn more about the latest policies that are shaping the future of learning.

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Data-driven policymaking is not just a tool for finding new solutions for difficult challenges. When states serve their traditional role as laboratories of innovation, they increase the American people’s confidence that the government they choose—no matter the size—can be effective, responsive, and in the public interest.