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The Future of Work: Technology and Robots and Digital Literacy… OH MY!

Q: When will robots be able to do my job?A: Not yet… (at least not all of it).

I’ve been thinking about how technology is and will impact the world of work. Thanks to NPR’s Planet Money calculator: Will Your Job Be Done By A Machine? and perhaps an empirical search on automation in teaching literature I’ve been reviewing for George … I might have robots on my mind. The calculator says my professional role is not likely to be fully replaced, but I have my doubts.

I can see ways we are already automating instruction, grading, peer review, etc. So career planning for many occupational roles will shift over time as technology is infused into the labor market. As I instruct a career planning course, Personal/Professional Development (#LTEC3010), I am quite concerned with how we are preparing (or not preparing) learners to thrive in an evolving career economy.  To support occupational preparation of the unknown, I have been picking up a few books on the future of work to add to the course– here’s what  on my book #shelfie that I read/reviewed (again) this past summer:

Although robots and technology will not take over ALL jobs in the future, the working economy will need new skill sets and agile employees. We know an increasing number of curricular and co-curricular programs in higher education are striving to include “Nonacademic Skills” and some programs are attempting to prepare learners for jobs that may not even exist yet. We hope the value of a postsecondary degree goes beyond a transcript; however, we have rarely looked ahead to align occupational preparation with the six driving factors and the needs for future work skills 2010 (Davis, Fidler, Gorbis, 2011):

  1. Life longevity: By 2025, the number of Americans older than 60 will increase by 70%.
  2. The rise of smart machines & systems: Technology can augment & extend own capabilities & workplace automation is killing the repetitive job.
  3. Computational world: Increases in sensors & processing makes the world a programmable system; data gives us the ability to see things on a scale.
  4. New media ecology: New communication tools require media literacies beyond text; visual communication media is becoming a new vernacular.
  5. Superstructure organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production & value creation; social tools allow organizations to work at scale.
  6. Globally connected world: Diversity and adaptability are at the center of operations–US and Europe no longer hold a monopoly on job creation, innovation, and political power.

Based on these changes to the world of work, a degree and employment experience will NOT set anyone apart from the competition in the new job economy. You will have to continue to improve upon your skills, adapt to the changing environment, and plan for ongoing professional development throughout your career. Here are the top 10 skills needed for the workforce of 2020 identified by Davis et al., 2011:

  1. Sensemaking: The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed. 
  2. Social intelligence: The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions. 
  3. Novel and adaptive thinking: Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.
  4. Cross-cultural competency: The ability to operate in different cultural settings.
  5. Computational thinking: The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based. 
  6. Digital literacy and information fluency: The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication. 
  7. Interdisciplinary mindset: Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines. 
  8. Design thinking: The ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes. 
  9. Cognitive load management: The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functions. 
  10. Virtual Collaboration: The ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team. 

As I review/edit materials in my courses, I am thinking more about digital literacy that encourage my learners to PRODUCE, CREATE, and SHARE before they graduate.  Much of HOW we prepare our learners TODAY, will impact how they function in the future job economy.  Are we thinking beyond the requirement of a course? Can we apply learning to occupational environments or non-academic settings? What ways have we been encouraging digital literacy and information fluency at our campuses? What have you required your students to create, produce, and share using different mediums or platforms? These are just a few questions I have been thinking about for course design, and I am pondering even more after drafting the latest New Media Consortium (@NMCorg) survey/report over the summer. Read more here:

2017 Digital Literacy Impact Study An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief  [Download: nmc.org/digilit-impact]

The 2017 Digital Literacy Impact Study: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief uncovers the learner’s perspective of how digital literacy training influences work life after graduation. As a complement to the definitions and frameworks outlined in the 2017 strategic brief on digital literacy in higher education, this study examines digital literacy in action as learners enter the workforce. More than 700 recent graduates from 36 institutions responded to an NMC survey that addressed the experiences they gained at colleges and universities, and how their proficiencies or lack thereof have affected their careers. Funding for this independent research endeavor and publication was provided by Adobe.


Adams Becker, S., Pasquini, L. A., and Zentner, A. (2017). 2017 Digital Literacy Impact Study: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief. Volume 3.5, September 2017. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

5 thoughts on “The Future of Work: Technology and Robots and Digital Literacy… OH MY!”

  1. One aspect of your post Laura that’s causing me to reflect is related to the “10 skills needed for the workforce of 2020.” In particular, I’m thinking about which of these I’m currently focused on versus ones I need to spend more time with (both personally and in regards to educational support).

    I’m also considering which of these 10 suffer the most from the current polarized political climate like “Cross-cultural competency” versus “Computational thinking” (which I presume to be less likely impacted).

    Anyways, thanks for this post Laura. It’s got me thinking this morning.

    Also, I’m curious which was your favorite book of the 11 listed from your book #shelfie?


    1. I have been meaning to post about this one for a while… what we are developing in formal/informal learning in higher ed and as professionals for a while. I’ll continue on this thread for a while… but this was just a start. I think we can do better to evolve our pedagogical methods for learning and development.

      As to your question, I would say the social scientist in me loved reading the Gerson (2017) book based on her anthropologic research methods approach and I know that it has helped me consider how and where I encourage learners to engage online for their occupational goals and career planning. The Muse.com authors, Cavoulacos & Minshew (2017) offered some practical employment development and job search advice that is more relevant for today’s job economy/planning.

      Nichols (2017) book on the death of expertise is another one of my favorites, as I think our society seems to care less about those who might be in the know. I blogged about what this means for higher ed: https://techknowtools.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/on-expertise-in-higher-ed/ And Brinkmann (2017) identifies how we might need to think more collectively vs. individually for improvement in society. That’s my Canadian socialist bias there…

      I should probably blog more about each one or ideas that resonate specifically within each book (if I have not done so already)… thanks for asking about my #shelfie. Any recommendations I should read on this future of work and learning topic? Please share!


      1. Sweet, thanks for the suggestion(s). 🙂

        The book that’s stuck with me the most this year is “Paying the Price” by Sara Goldrick-Rab (2016). That would be my first recommendation. Currently reading (as part of an online reading group: https://gll.keeganslw.com) “What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy” by James Paul Gee (2007). I’m loving that but I recognize that my tastes are slated in that direction.

        Have a wonderful weekend Laura!


        1. Nice! Sara’s book is on my list… along with Cathy Davidson’s “The New Education” — I will take a look at the gaming one. That sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation and sharing your reading list!


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