The future of jobs and education: a new Pew study

How will education prepare learners for the next generation of employment?

A new Pew Research Center study surveyed more than one thousand people, including myself, and recently published the results.  It’s a rich report, and I recommend you work through it, at least the highlights page.

In this post I’d like to draw out the elements which seemed most important for the future of education.

Lee Rainie (a recent Future Trends Forum guest) and Janna Anderson derived five themes from an awful lot of responses:


Note that 4+5 contradict 2+3, and especially 1.  That’s because respondents really covered a wide range of opinions and emphases: automation will outmode humanity, or humans will work with machines; education will productively transform, or it will fail in key ways; technical skills are most needed, or human knowledge is; there will be many or few self-motivated learners; politics will become neo-feudal or will organize good responses to technology-driven chaos.

There was little sign that education would be seen as primarily about something other than jobs.  That’s unsurprising to many of us, but is definitely a political statement.  Many faculty I speak with oppose this view.

Related: most responses expect that employers will have a great deal of influence over curriculum and pedagogy.

Some respondents expected a change or expansion to today’s credentialing system.  Few (if any) seemed to see otherwise.

Educational technology was broadly embraced.  The consensus seems to be that a mix of educational experiences will occur, including face to face, wholly online, and blended.  There was some hope for newer technology, including VR and AI.

Although I’m quoted, I take issue with some findings.  (That’s what happens to studies like this.  They’re polyvocal.  Not realizing this is a major flaw in most Horizon Report critiques, btw.)

  • The emphasis is on jobs primarily about technology, or relying heavily on tech.  This may come to pass, but today’s labor market is instead about service.  As one (anonymous) respondent darkly claimed, in the future “[w]e will see training for the jobs of the past, and for service jobs.”  We could easily see a labor market dominated by very badly compensated service workers, very well trained in human relationships.
  • I couldn’t find any mentions of the library, or of information/digital literacy.  Yet many respondents called for some of the skills associated with them.
  • Inequalities due to income, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion didn’t play much of a role.

Despite my grousing, Lee and Janna generously quoted me:

There are plenty of forces coming together to make [successful training of large numbers of workers for jobs of the future] happen. Businesses continue to demand more training of new employees, and charge the education system with making it happen. Governments are frantic to boost training in what they often see as a knowledge economy, seeking to spark their own version of Silicon Valley. New alternatives to traditional education keep appearing, from coding academies to MOOCs (still happening, especially beyond the U.S.) to automated tutors (think Duolingo). Depressed salaries and wages combine with anxieties about students’ loans to drive students into focusing like lasers on economic payoffs from learning. Countervailing forces are not strong enough to oppose these drivers. … Technical challenges are falling, especially as mobile devices continue to grow and the populace is increasingly comfortable with distance learning as one part of online life. We should watch for new forms of online learning at scale.

This is a broad and deep topic, with a great deal of moving parts and intellectual domain crossing.  The variety of responses I gestured at above, and what I saw as missing, point to a great deal of much-needed work.

Liked it? Take a second to support Bryan Alexander on Patreon!
This entry was posted in future of education, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The future of jobs and education: a new Pew study

  1. Some of these issues about what college is for (workforce preparation versus personal development) were captured pithily by former academic Josh Fruhlinger over at the Comics Curmudgeon blog: “[O]ver the last 75 years or so and without anyone exactly intending it to happen, a set of institutions that had for centuries existed mainly as intellectual finishing schools and networking opportunities for the elite were transformed into producers of the credentials necessary for just about anyone to enter the modern economy, despite the lack of a fundamental transformation of how they work, with any number of unintended negative consequences (out-of-control student debt being at the top of the list).” (Source:

    • That’s true, although I think a rising # of people *did* intend for it to happen.
      -college leaders: it’s a boon to enrollment
      -businesses: a degree becomes a proxy for achievement and employability; also, this helps offload some training to campuses
      -policy leaders in the 1990s on: convinced we were shifting from manufacturing to a knowledge economy

Leave a Reply to Bryan Alexander Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *