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Universally Designing for the Future

K.C. Knudson
K.C. Knudson
October 18, 2022

How UDL prepares students with the necessary skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce.

Back in the fall of 2020 as schools faced the daunting task of restarting school under the cloud of Covid, a critical report by the World Economic Forum fell unnoticed from our printers and settled in the dark shadows of our copy rooms.  That report was the Future of Jobs Report that identifies the top 10 future job skills that will be in demand in the year 2025. It is time to reach down and bring that report back into the light.

Why? Because the clouds are lifting and because our goal as educators is not to create students that are good test-takers, but expert learners who are prepared to contribute and equipped with the tools they need to succeed.

The 10 future job skills identified in the report fall under the skill-type categories of Problem-solving, Self-management, Working with people, and Technology Use and Development. If those are sounding familiar to you, then you probably have some familiarity with UDL. The table below (word doc) shows the congruence between the 10 skills and the expert learning outcomes from the UDL guidelines.

The congruence between the Future jobs report and UDL

More important than how these skills are organized is the question of how we develop these skills in our learners.  How do we?

  • We do it by creating classrooms that position students as co-learners, co-generators of information and learning.
  • We do it by ensuring that students have voice and choice in their learning experiences.
  • We do it by creating opportunities for students to choose, engage, invest, and reflect on their choices.

The top 10 future job skills, no matter how you organize them, reflect skills that require agency and responsive, effective decision making.  Employers don’t need human automation any more.  They have robots for that.

The top 10 future job skills are based on fundamental assumptions about human behavior and human learning. Originally forwarded by Douglas McGregor in his book the Human Side of Enterprise as Theory Y assumptions versus Theory X, these assumptions are beliefs that must drive the learning designs in our classrooms and schools.

If employers need workers that have agency, make effective decisions, use tools wisely, take initiative, and think strategically and creatively, then we must develop those proficiencies in our classrooms.

Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles, a framework, and a process for designing learning that is accessible to all, appropriately challenging to all, and fundamentally changes the role of learner in the classroom.  We need to make the shift from traditional, transmission-based, compliance-driven classrooms to universally designed, learner-centered, learner-empowered spaces of co-learning.

As we continue to see an evolving landscape in schools and in the job market, it is important to note that these skills not only affect our learners and the future workforce of tomorrow but also ourselves and the future of education.

In looking at the 2022 report on the Jobs of Tomorrow - the #1 growing field of work by 2030 is educators.

“There is a crucial need to increase investments in future-proofing our education systems. The higher the student-to-teacher ratio, the more workload for teachers, which can lower the quality of education. Improvements to the student-to-teacher ratios have been shown to benefit disadvantaged students, especially in the lower grades. Each of these roles must be supplemented with additional roles in education leadership, specialists and complimentary education support roles, providing additional opportunities for job creation in the sector.”

While we plan for the future - it is important that we take necessary steps today. 

The skies are clearing and the future is bright for our students, as long as we start universally designing for it!


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