How to Prepare Learners for an Uncertain Future: A Conversation with Dr. Tony Wagner

By: Nick DiNardo 

Our children’s’ work future is more uncertain than ever before.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65% of grade school kids will end up at jobs that are not created yet.

In an article titled “The Case for 21st Century Learning”, Andreas Schleicher, the deputy director for Education and Skills at the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), eloquently writes, “How do we foster motivated, dedicated learners and prepare them to overcome the unforeseen challenges of tomorrow? The dilemma for educators is that routine cognitive skills, the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitize, automate or outsource.”

What are we preparing our children for right now?  Will they be ready to get a job, create jobs, and become socially responsible global citizens? Dr. Tony Wagner believes it is our moral and civic responsibility to radically shift our focus in schools, and create an environment where we are creating and cultivating young innovators.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Wagner when he was a guest on my podcast series, Meet Education Project. As most know, he provides a unique perspective to the topic of education “transformation” (much more palatable to me than reform).  Tony currently serves as an Expert in Residence for Harvard’s Innovation Lab, but his amazing experience ranges from high school teacher, K-8 principal, university professor in teacher education, and founding director of Educators for Social Responsibility.

To listen to the podcast, click on

Over the course of the 25 minute conversation, Tony and I dig into:

  • (7:59) What is an innovator, and how are they made?  Taking a look at takeaways from Tony’s interviews with young innovators and the parents and teachers who helped shape them.

  • (11:30) Content as a commodity and cultivating intrinsic motivation

  • (17:16)  What can we actually learn and apply from Finland success?  From Tony’s research?  ALOT.

    • State level changes

    • Innovations in teacher preparation

    • (20:20) “Trust through professionalism”

“Content today is a commodity.” says Wagner, “Growing exponentially, changing constantly, and available for free on every internet connected device.  Well the world simply no longer cares about what you know.  What the world cares about, what the competitive advantage is, is what you can DO with what you know.”

I was struck by how far away the U.S. public school system is from holistic change.  Especially from a school culture perspective.  There are pockets of innovation, but that innovation is still being led by the outliers.  How do we accelerate this much needed change?  Should we?  It seems we are doing a disservice to our kids if we don’t.  Let’s do this.

Stay tuned to Meet Education Project because next week’s guest will be Getting Smart’s Tom Vander Ark- talking about what he is most excited for in the upcoming year and more.


Show notes:

1:30:  Tony’s journey

7:25:  Consistencies between high performing learnings & young innovators

11:30:  Content as a commodity and cultivating intrinsic motivation

14:15:  How do we apply these concepts, on a wide scale, in schools?

17:16:  What can we actually learn and apply from Finland’s success?

21:53:  If you could have dinner with one person you admire, past or present, who would it be and why?

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 10.16.30 PMNick DiNardo is the founder and host of the Meet Education Project, a podcast series focused on deep conversations with the teachers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders taking action on the future of learning.  Subscribe on iTunes to Meet Education Project, Subscribe  to the Meet Education Project newsletter, Follow on Twitter or leave an iTunes Review:  Helps to make sure like minded folks stumble upon the conversations.

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Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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