Nine recommendations for an applied science to support working learners

Supported with funds from the National Science Foundation, over 180 researchers and educators assembled virtually over four weeks in July 2021. Together we developed a framework for applied research program in the service of improving educational and mobility opportunities for the millions of employed Americans who do not have college degrees.

Our report synthesizes the work of that assembly in nine recommendations for government agencies, academic institutions, philanthropies and businesses. 

Scroll down for a summary, read the full report, or view our 19 January launch event featuring Katherine Newman, Luther Jackson, Sarah Turner and The Job‘s Paul Fain.

The applied science of working learners should be defined and built as a civic project
  • A well-educated citizenry is essential to a healthy democracy and a flourishing economy.
  • The provision and improvement of lifelong learning deserve sustained public investment.
The learning sciences and the sciences of educational progress are different but complementary. They should be better connected and reciprocally informed
  • We should revisit core concepts of learning and educational progress with attention to adults.
  • We should design inquiries for longitudinal / lifelong observation
The heuristic of pathways can enable accumulation and integration of knowledge about working learners
  • Pathways is a popular but poorly specified concept.
  • Researchers should develop a shared vocabulary and toolkit to observe and compare pathways as features of learners, organizations, and social ecologies.
Data infrastructure to support this science should be built collaboratively among government agencies, education providers, employers, and philanthropies
  • We should build it to serve education providers, policymakers, researchers – and learners themselves, who are seeking to make wise investments in their own futures.
The science must include systematic attention to employers and should be built collaboratively with employers
  • Hiring and promotion are crucial parts of opportunity pathways. The science must include systematic attention to these processes within firms.
  • The business case for employer collaboration will be made by more diverse and productive workers, enhanced retention, and affirming workplace cultures.
Leverage a plurality of providers
  • Conventional schools are hardly the only sites of adult education / lifelong learning. The science should be pursued by and within workforce development agencies and other civil-society organizations, business firms and for-profit providers, as well as traditional colleges and universities.
Build the science regionally and across sectors
  • Those most in need of new learning and employment opportunities are the least likely to be geographically mobile.
  • Regional collaborations can leverage the impact of existing local institutions.
  • Research universities can be strong anchors of regional collaborations.
Incorporate a life-course perspective
  • Frontloading formal education into the first 20 years of life will not provide people with the knowledge or skills they need to remain productive over ever longer working lives.
  • We must create accessible, enjoyable, rewarding ways for workers to keep learning across multiple careers and life stages.
Adults without four-year college degrees should be a focal target for the science
  • Only a third of American adults have four-year college degrees and access to the job opportunities and social status that go with them.
  • Creating new forms of opportunity for the other two-thirds should be a national priority.