the-price-of-freedom-is-eternal-vigilanceA recent PWC survey found that above all else, millennials value training and development from their employer. Interestingly, appropriate training and professional development equates to higher job satisfaction. Additionally, improving your skills will not only ensure you are a more productive employee, but also a more fulfilled individual overall. While milestones like high school and college graduations are worthwhile to celebrate, they should never be an end date for learning. Lifelong learning — the kind that goes beyond what is needed in the moment or to perform well at a specific job — is essential.

Yet the U.S. tends to put a time stamp on learning and often assumes that individuals’ learning and education halts at age 18 or 22, when they enter the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average person born toward the end of the baby boom typically holds 11.7 jobs by the time they turn 48. That means those job-specific skills learned in college classrooms, while still valuable, aren’t as relevant when the next job or career comes along. With technology changing so drastically, it is now even more imperative to continue learning in order to be the most well-rounded, productive worker possible.

So what are some ways that the education and ed tech community can foster this spirit of continued learning while children are still in classrooms?

1. Teach basic tech literacy

Regardless of what they hope to accomplish in their careers, kids need a basic technology skill set that simply did not exist a generation of K-12 students ago. This tech literacy must happen early and be fostered in ways that also are feasible from home. A good example of a foundational tech initiative is Code.org’s Hour of Code program. It focuses on children’s involvement in computer science and coding, and offers lessons for students as young as kindergarten. Likewise, President Obama’s K-12 Computer Science for All program also concentrates on providing students with the computer skills necessary to thrive in today’s job market. Just as learning to read opens countless doors throughout the rest of life, learning coding and other tech basics will serve this generation of K-12 learners well for the rest of their lives.

2. Cultivate a “learning for learning’s sake” atmosphere

The climate of our classrooms today is one of strict adherence to a set of benchmarks. If a topic isn’t on a standardized test or in that year’s outlined curriculum, it matters less or not at all. It’s not really the fault of the teachers. Educator accountability, after all, is tied to test results. Whenever possible, though, teachers should look for opportunities for learning that will not be tested later. Maybe it’s unplanned visits to a school garden or a related lesson that won’t be on any graded or tested materials. Show students that learning is not just about answering test questions later on; sometimes it is just about gaining more knowledge.

3. Offer accelerated learning

The job market is evolving rapidly, and our education system hasn’t caught up. The weight of large undergraduate student loans means that it isn’t feasible for workers to take 2 to 3 years off to pursue higher education. Accelerated online learning programs that cater to working individuals fit the bill here. Several startups including One Month, Codecademy and General Assembly use varying methods, but all aim to address the same issue: getting students on track in a flexible, affordable and fast way. New skills, such as computer programming, can be taught online via specialized learning platforms to people on their own time and won’t interfere with their full-time employment. The K-12 community can take a cue from these higher education initiatives: Find ways to offer learning that goes outside the traditional school hours and shows students that learning can happen on a flexible scale.

Becoming a lifelong learner truly is invaluable, both personally and professionally. Instilling this trait in our students is important for their own sake and for ours. The next generation of graduates must value learning simply for its inherent greatness — not just the knowledge that lets us accomplish a simple goal.