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Navigating the creative tension of education innovation

CAPS card

The creative disruption needed to transform the process by which our children are prepared for life after education is a challenge, but one stakeholders are embracing.


With the announcement of each new technological advance comes the realization that the innovation will be creating new jobs, requiring new skills, and potentially displacing old jobs and old skills. That’s the nature of disruptive innovation: The relentless drive to meet consumer demand for products and services of higher quality and lower cost requires new business models, and workers with the training and abilities to meet the demand.

You’ve probably also read headlines reporting that our existing structure of education, designed more than 100 years ago, is not well-suited to produce workers with the necessary new skill sets. That’s because the education system we have now was created to respond to the first industrial revolution, and was built to transition people from the farms to the factories. To move people from typical factories, to the more complex computer integrated manufacturing models of today, will require a completely new vision of education.

We need to navigate the creative tension that’s being brought about by the needs of innovation on one hand, and the need to rebuild education on the other. This unfolding drama means we need to create ecosystems that promote “creative destruction” within existing industries, but also transform the process by which our children are prepared for life after education. It’s a challenge for which many stakeholders – including teachers, now embracing new ways of educating students – are actively engaging.

Initiating innovation

Participants at each stage of the education to employment value chain have moved from awareness to action. Employers are not just vocalizing their needs for a skilled workforce, they are partnering with local economic development organizations and the educational institutions themselves to more directly develop talent. The entrepreneurial community is working to create disruption to improve the outcomes of education through the development of new tools. Other intermediaries, including philanthropies, are marshalling resources and developing change models not achievable by schools themselves. The Kauffman Foundation’s work on Real World Learning is a great example of that effort.

There are five core values that guide the design and implementation of each CAPS Program. Each principle must be built into each strand for it to achieve the goals of the innovation.

  • Profession-based Learning: Instructors develop real-world, project-based learning strategies through collaborations with businesses and community partners. These interactions enhance the learning experience, preparing students for college and career.
  • Professional Skills Development: Unique experiences allow students to cultivate transformative professional skills such as understanding expectations, time management, and other essential business values. These skills are critical to providing students a competitive advantage in their post-secondary education and professional careers.
  • Self-discovery and Exploration: Students realize their strengths and passions by exploring and experiencing potential professions. This allows them to make informed decisions about their future, while learning to exhibit leadership.
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset: Instructors create an environment where creative thinking and problem solving is encouraged. An innovative culture is key to fostering entrepreneurial learning and design thinking.
  • Responsiveness: CAPS supports high-skill, high-demand careers through ongoing innovation in curriculum development, programs, and services based on local business and community needs.

Educational institutions have responded to the call by creating their own disruptions in an effort to close this gap between the outcomes of education and the needs of employment. The growing awareness of the changes faced in the future job market has led to schools adjusting what they teach and how they teach it. The Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) and the CAPS Network, where I work, represent a growing movement of self-disruption.

CAPS is a high school innovation that creates professional learning experiences where students can explore potential careers based on knowing their passions, purpose and strengths while working with practitioners on real-world problems and projects. CAPS Five Core Values framework provides schools a way to give students experiences that lead to college and careers.

The CAPS Network, now comprised of 100 diverse school districts across the nation, uses a form of experiential learning called Profession-based Learning (Pro-BL) to bridge the gap between education and employment. Instead of focusing on content alone, delivered in traditional one-directional lectures, this emerging approach requires a dedicated team focused on design learning immersive experiences that embed students in the professions they seek to explore.

Supporting the teacher of the future

The design of these Pro-BL experiences requires instructors to work with business and community partners to create situations where students are active participants in their learning, rather than passive observers. This differs significantly from the formal training most current teachers receive through schools of education. To prepare students to be successful in the new economy, we’ll need not only changes in the way new teachers are being educated, but ways for current teachers to “retool” mid-career – and we’ll need to do both at scale.

One emerging form of professional development for educators, the “micro-credential,” can be a great avenue for teachers to seek new skills without having to seek expensive and time-consuming forms of development.

Micro-credentials provide educators with the opportunity to gain recognition for skills they master while teaching. Educator micro-credentials can enable our education system to continuously identify, capture, recognize, and share the best practices of America’s educators so all teachers can hone their Experiential Learning teaching skills.

The CAPS Network’s creation of five profession-based credentials through our partnership with Digital Promise enables any educator, anywhere, to develop skills necessary to design and deliver lessons for Real World Learning. As an example, our Designing a Profession-Based Learning Experience micro-credential supports educators in the design of a rigorous, full-scale learning experience by doing joint planning with an industry partner to help students build 21st-century skills in a real-world work environment.

Micro-credentials provide an opportunity to develop and demonstrate a set of skills required for this new economy. As the profession transforms from lecturer to facilitator and coach, making these a part of educators personal practice not only prepares them for the future of education, it prepares their students for the future of work. It is our hope that by supporting teachers, more students will have experiences that improve their pathway from education to employment.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.