STEM learning is part of foundational literacy in the 21st century
To some, the news will seem shocking: 60% percent of all jobs will be transformed by the year 2030 due to recent advances in automation technologies, including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and robotics (Manyika, et al, 2017).
In fact, this statistic is so stunning that it could obscure a hopeful story: that the demand for work and workers is projected to increase over this time period due to greater productivity, rising incomes, growing consumption, and greater spending on infrastructure, energy, and health care for aging populations.
Jobs will never be the same again, but today’s learners have an unprecedented opportunity to carve out solid careers in the workforce of the future.
Basic literacy and numeracy are no longer enough to guarantee employability. Scientific literacy and ICT (Information and Computer Technology) literacy are now also recognized as two of the six foundational skills for 21st century workers by the World Economic Forum (2022).
For educators, the key takeaway is that STEM skills are not just for STEM careers anymore.
Most professionals in today’s evolving economy will require some of the skills previously thought to be needed only by scientists, healthcare workers, and engineers. To underscore this, projections made by the US Department of Labor show that many of the fastest-growing, most-desirable occupations for the period between 2016 and 2026 will require backgrounds and skills related to math and science (World Economic Forum, 2022).
“Many of the most desirable jobs will require a healthy understanding of math and science.” (World Economic Forum, 2022)
Workers who advance their skills and specialize in STEM careers will continue to enjoy some of the highest salaries in the US economy. STEM workers earn a median salary of $89,780, more than double the $40,020 salary for those with non-STEM occupations (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
Jobs in STEM are not just high-paying - they are also plentiful. Demand for workers in STEM occupations is expected to grow by 10.5% between 2020 and 2030, while the demand for healthcare workers alone will grow by 13%. In comparison, the national average rate of growth is projected to be just 7.7% (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).
Although jobs in STEM are attractive and available, getting STEM students to persist in STEM programs has been a challenge within higher education. A study at Texas State University reflects this trend. “While 67% of 2nd-year students are retained in their chosen field of study, only 56% of 2nd-year STEM majors are retained in their chosen field of study” (Ortiz & Sriraman, 2015).
Mastering STEM course material is a challenge, often one of a student’s greatest academic challenges. How can educators help them overcome their discomfort, capture their interest, and get them excited about STEM?
Recent research into pedagogical methods used to teach STEM strongly suggests that teaching with a constructivist, active learning approach is more conducive to students’ academic success in STEM than traditional teaching methods.
Significantly, active learning methods were found to raise average student outcomes in STEM courses by half a letter grade in a meta-analysis of 225 studies of STEM learning and course performance (Freeman et al, 2014). The same study found that the traditional method of teaching through front-of-class lectures increased student failure rates by 55% (Freeman et al, 2014).
This finding was supported by another study of STEM students at a large university who self-reported that they developed higher levels of STEM-specific skills when active teaching and learning methods were applied in their courses rather than passive, lecture-based teaching methods (Lavi et al, 2021).
We believe Labster can play an important role in supporting student engagement, learning, and the development of confidence in their own abilities to succeed in STEM.
Learning outcomes from instructors who teach with Labster are that student grades increase by as much as 19-20% when Labster immersive science simulations are used as part of an active learning approach. In a recent survey of educators who teach with Labster, 96% agreed that it had a positive impact on student learning outcomes.
A student’s sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy help them develop the grit and persistence they need to succeed in a challenging course of study like STEM. A recent study in Higher Education Pedagogies found that students build confidence in their STEM skills with Labster (Coleman & Smith, 2019). A study in BMC Medical Education found that learning with Labster virtual labs increased students’ sense of self-efficacy about their capacity to perform a task (Makransky et al, 2016).
Another important way Labster impacts self-confidence is by allowing students to make mistakes in a physically and psychologically safe environment. Getting comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them, a notion known as productive failure, is another important element of a student’s persistence in STEM learning.
“Tackling problems, failing as you work them through, and using what you’ve learned to try again helps you build the muscle of resilience. It’s important for students to develop comfort with productive failure so they don’t get rattled when a really big challenge comes along - and the world is full of big challenges for them to tackle.”
- Maaroof Fakhri, Labster
Helping students develop scientific literacy will be fundamental to their lifelong employability throughout the 21st century. Labster immersive science simulations give educators the flexibility to teach STEM using the proven strategy of active learning.
Educators who integrate Labster with active learning techniques have found that their students are better able to engage and learn STEM skills, retain knowledge, build resilience, develop a sense of self-efficacy, and feel more confident in their abilities as STEM learners.
It’s our hope that fostering these workforce-ready competencies will prepare them for a lifetime of satisfying employment and financial stability.
Coleman, S. K., & Smith, C. L. (2019). Evaluating the benefits of virtual training for bioscience students. Higher Education Pedagogies, 4(1), 287-299. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23752696.2019.1599689
Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1319030111
Lavi, R., Tal, M., & Dori, Y. J. (2021). Perceptions of STEM alumni and students on developing 21st century skills through methods of teaching and learning. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 70, 101002. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191491X21000286#bib0080
Makransky, G., Bonde, M. T., Wulff, J. S., Wandall, J., Hood, M., Creed, P. A., Bache, I., Silahtaroglu, A., and Nørremølle, A. (2016). Simulation based virtual learning environment in medical genetics counseling: an example of bridging the gap between theory and practice in medical education. BMC medical education, 16(1), 1-9. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12909-016-0620-6
Manyika, J.., Lund, S. Chui, M. Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, R., and Sanghvi, S. (2017, November 28). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsey & Company Report. Retrieved from
Ortiz, A. M., & Sriraman, V. (2015). Exploring faculty insights into why undergraduate college students leave STEM fields of study- A three-part organizational self-study. American Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE), 6(1), 43-60. Retrieved from https://clutejournals.com/index.php/AJEE/article/download/9251/9307
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, September 8). Employment in STEM Occupations. [Table]. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/stem-employment.htm
World Economic Forum. (2022). Education, Skills and Learning: Digital Fluency and STEM Skills. Technical University of Munich. Retrieved from https://intelligence.weforum.org/topics/a1Gb0000000LPFfEAO/key-issues/a1Gb00000015QnVEAU
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