Are you aware that smart robots and other smart machines have skills that we used to think of as exclusively human? Machines powered by artificial intelligence are reading MRIs and writing news articles; robots are helping the elderly perform daily tasks; and driverless vehicles are being deployed in the mining industry. It might sound like science fiction, but it's actually science nonfiction. And the next five to ten years are expected to bring yet more stunning technology advances. Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the University of Oxford predict that 66 percent of the current U.S. job force has a medium to high likelihood of being replaced by technology over the next decade or two. Good jobs could well be in short supply.
This reality has me concerned about my granddaughters' future. What skills and abilities will they need in order to flourish? Will they be prepared? Will your children be prepared?
According to research teams at MIT, IBM and Oxford, the skills that today's young people need to develop in order to compete for the jobs of the future are higher-order critical and innovative thinking and high social and emotional intelligence -- skills that technology can't easily replicate now.
But research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, computer science, behavioral economics and education reveals that acquiring those higher-order thinking and emotional skills is hard. Moreover, many schools do not explicitly teach them, and many parents -- and grandparents, for that matter -- did not learn them in school or on the job. Put another way, although many of us have acquired a body of knowledge in the classroom or at work, not enough of us have developed the cognitive and emotional skills that enable us to think critically and creatively and -- most important -- to learn.
My granddaughters need to learn how to learn, because they will need to be lifelong adaptive learners. Knowledge is advancing at such a fast rate now that knowing how to learn is far more important than memorizing lots of content that is easily accessible and likely to change. Learning how to learn involves having the right motivation, redefining what "being smart" means, and knowing how to use good critical and innovative thinking processes and how to do experiments.
My granddaughters probably won't become lifelong learners unless they are intrinsically motivated. Instead of focusing solely on extrinsic rewards -- grades, ribbons, prizes, or the praise and love of others -- they must want to learn for learning's sake. Knowledge and understanding must be their own rewards. Why is this important? Because if their motivation comes from within, they will be better learners; they will be less likely to get discouraged if a task is hard or if they make a mistake. They will also be more cooperative than competitive in their learning, which is important for collaborating and working in teams on the job.
My granddaughters need to stay as curious as they were when they were younger. When they were four or five years old, the word "Why?" was their favorite. Now, just a few years later, they rarely ask "why?" Why?
Developing a sense of self-efficacy,as described by the renowned psychologist Albert Bandura, is important. If we believe that we are capable of doing things, Bandura found, we are more likely to try. Learning often involves trying new things, persisting in the face of challenges, exploring, taking risks, and rebounding from failures or mistakes. A sense of self-efficacy helps us do all that. We can help children develop an intrinsic love of learning and a belief in themselves by encouraging them not just to earn good grades but to have the courage to try, to work hard, to learn from mistakes, and to not get discouraged if learning is hard.
To become better learners, my grandchildren need a different understanding of what being smart means. Being smart is about much more than getting A's. Smart people are the ones who know what they don't know (and recognize that they don't know a lot); know what they need to learn; and know how to learn it.
When challenged, smart people do not automatically defend, deny or deflect. Instead, they consistently ask themselves "Why do I believe that?" "How do I really know that is true?" "Am I defending my position because I have credible evidence to support my position or because I am afraid of being wrong?" Smart people are open-minded and intellectually humble, willing to consider the viewpoints of other smart people and to change their minds in the face of better evidence. They are capable of managing how they think and managing their emotions so that they can think and learn more effectively.
Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement, stated that an individual would engage in learning "to the extent that he is not crippled by fear, [and] to the extent he feels safe enough to dare." Smart people do not fear failure. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has weaknesses. What makes smart people smart is that instead of automatically saying "I didn't do it" or "It's not my fault," they take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them so that they are less likely to repeat them.
My granddaughters need to know how toexperiment.Of course, I am not talking about dangerous or harmful experiments, but about learning by doing. Young people are faced with lots of choices, and one good way to decide on the best course of action is to conduct a fast, small, low-risk experiment--to try something out and learn from the results.
Where are some good resources for learning about and teaching your children some of these skills?
The Microsoft Educator Network has good YouTube videos on "Critical Thinking for Children" prepared by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Google has put together good materials on "Exploring Computational Thinking" that teach children how to solve problems. Harvard University 's Graduate School of Education Project Zero has very good work on "visible thinking" for children.
You can search for other materials to help children develop critical and innovative thinking skills and social and emotional intelligence on the websites of outstanding education and psychology departments, such as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia. Other good resources are CASEL.org, the National Math and Science Initiative, Plato-Philosophy.org and the Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Get involved in your local schools. Talk with the principals, teachers, and school board members about how they will develop the needed skills throughout your children's K-12 education. Understand the development plan at each grade level and learn how your schools measure their effectiveness in teaching young people to become lifelong learners.
By the time today's young people come of age, many workplaces will be staffed by a mix of people and smart machines. Our children and grandchildren must be equipped to prosper in that world. They must be able to adapt to continual change. They must know how to work with an impressive array of non-human workmates. And they must be ready to compete against them, to think in ways that even the smartest machine is not likely to master anytime soon. We can see the big changes that are coming, and we know the skills young people must acquire. Let's help them start learning now.