Advances in technology and increased skill requirements are changing the workplace at an ever-increasing rate. Added to this, there is a growing divide—digitally and educationally. We need a national strategic plan for how to upskill, and continuously re-skill, the US workforce to remain competitive in local and global markets. We also need a solution that empowers all organizations, helping each person acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed. A coordinated national effort is needed to provide the infrastructure so that today’s disjointed (and, for some, inaccessible) training, education, and certification programs can better support lifelong learning.
Developing a national plan for building capability, increasing performance, and achieving economic security and competitive sustainability could be accomplished through a national learning ecosystem. I propose development of the technical and organizational infrastructure for a national learning ecosystem—a common set of technologies, processes, and standards that can be used by talent development functions in public and private organizations.
This future learning ecosystem reflects a transformation—away from disconnected, episodic experiences and towards a curated continuum of lifelong learning, tailored to individuals and delivered across diverse locations, media, and periods of time. Improved measures and analyses help optimize this system of systems and drive continuous adaptation and optimization across it. Its technological foundation is an internet for learning that not only allows universal access to learning but provides pathways for optimizing individual and workforce development at an unprecedented pace.
This ecosystem would use digital learning technologies driven by data to provide more effective, equitable, and modern learning opportunities across America. This cross-cutting initiative supports all four of President Biden’s Day One priorities and will enable the fulfillment of various national, state, and local government goals.
1. COVID-19: The pandemic has shown that social distancing and technology can make the public safer. The national learning ecosystem will support ongoing social distancing and be available to help America adapt to future crises without diminishing access to, or the quality of, training and education experiences.
2. Economic Recovery: While the economic engine of the American people is key to recovery, this engine needs fuel (knowledge), lubricants (skills), and a spark (abilities). The national learning ecosystem will open new opportunities for Americans—especially small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the underemployed—to build their capabilities and upskill into emerging disciplines. Ultimately, this will help America become more competitive, particularly in disciplines (e.g., STEM, cyber, medical) that we currently rely on foreign entities to fulfill.
3. Racial Equality: The national learning ecosystem will allow Americans to be hired, promoted, paid, and advanced based on their personal capabilities—and not the color of their skin, location, or financial status. This will help close wealth and opportunity gaps. Providing more flexible and ubiquitous access to advanced training and education is also a unique and additive way for this administration to foster more equity in advanced skills training, higher education, and in the future jobs.
4. Climate Change: Climate challenges based on fuel emissions and waste can be mitigated by limiting the need for excessive travel. The digital-learning backbone created by the national learning ecosystem can be a catalyst for moving toward a better climate future.
Many steps need to happen to make this a reality. Issues of common technology, shared lexicon, acceptance of learning data, mutual security practices, and general interoperability are among major areas of interest that keep the ecosystem from moving along more quickly. Pockets of activity exist that have already started moving in the right direction. One very promising ecosystem example is found within Department of Defense (DoD) and their Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization (EDLM) efforts. The time has come to move everyone in the same direction with government, industry, and academia.