The Next Level Lab is currently engaged in the following research projects:

Next Level Learner Moves Project: Acting Like Fast Fish

What if learners had a user’s manual for their minds? How might it change their learning and performance—in life, at school, and on the job? What if they could modify these contexts to support their best learning? This project seeks to help learners, as embodied in social and emotional beings, understand the cognitive architecture of their minds to bring their learning and work to the next level and to function effectively in a dynamic and complex workforce landscape. Research has demonstrated persuasively that effective thinking can be taught. However, the teaching of thinking has failed to produce the broad benefits to society that one might expect. This work seeks to align the skills of thinking with cognitive neuroscience findings and to make the resulting approaches more accessible and relevant to the most vulnerable populations.

The NLL Moves Project is developing and testing moves that Next Level Learners can engage in to support their most effective learning and work performance. Using a mixed methods approach, we are studying pre- to post-intervention changes in how learners frame and process tasks involved in thinking, learning, and workforce performance. For instance, in one study, we designed two versions of a reflection survey to be used as part of a summer internship program for opportunity youth at a large consulting firm. We are examining how the interns' reflections changed over time and how their reflections varied depending on whether their version of the survey explicitly emphasized elements of contextualized agency.

Mapping the Components of Green Jobs Skills

Participating fully in the future of work requires developing skills related to green jobs. As existing jobs become greener and new green jobs emerge, the workforce will need skills related to understanding complexity, innovation, and problem-finding and -solving. We are developing an inventory of green jobs skills by researching relevant component skills, vetting the inventory with practitioners in Workforce Development, and engaging in a testing and validation study with learners ages 16-24.

Project LIFTUP: Leveraging IA for a Future of Turbulence, Uncertainty, and Possibility  

As artificial intelligence and machine learning become more prevalent, it is essential for workers to cultivate judgment and decision-making skills complementary to the reckoning skills of machines in order to meet the needs of and thrive in a 21st-century labor market. Examples of human 'judgment' skills include decision making and negotiation under conditions of uncertainty, deliberation, and ethical deliberation. The specific goal of the project is to enhance current workforce training and to identify possible ways in which employers can best support jobseekers from diverse backgrounds in honing job-related negotiation skills through an asset-based approach. Using interviews with diverse workers, the study will analyze the interaction of culture and negotiation, and then leverage the findings to develop authentic materials and curriculum for negotiations training in a workforce development context. The investigators are currently submitting proposals and seeking funding for the next stage of this work.

Project HIRE: Helping Inclusive Recruiting Efforts

Immigrant workers represent a key priority population for the United States labor market: Between now and 2035, growth in the labor force will be driven entirely by these newcomers. As organizations equip themselves to recruit, retain, and support these immigrant workers in a new culture, they need to ensure that their employees involved with hiring know how to properly interview multicultural candidates. However, much of the existing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) trainings that help train human resources professionals and hiring managers in sub-skills such as listening with empathy or using respectful language focus on the behaviors and practices that should be adopted, but not on how to actually adapt one’s own behavior through ample opportunity to practice and hone these new skills in authentic contexts similar to those in which individuals will eventually leverage them (Molinsky, 2015). Thus, in this project, we plan to develop a structured training to equip hiring managers and HR professionals with the appropriate skills to conduct interviews with job seekers from diverse ethnocultural backgrounds. Currently, the researchers are seeking funding to carry out this work into its next stage and to build out the curriculum.

Using Interactive Skills Visualizations to Promote Analogical Reasoning in Job Seekers

Traditional approaches to workforce development in adult job seekers are falling short. Many assume job-displaced workers need to learn a new skill set to be relevant and fail to prepare learners to develop enduring understandings that will set them up to thrive in an uncertain and constantly changing future of work. And while sometimes reskilling through workforce development programs is absolutely the right thing for a job-seeker to do, it should not be a ubiquitous and uniform response. As we look to the learning sciences, we can see a viable alternative in supporting job-seekers to analogically reason and transfer their skills to new and different types of work. 

This project is an extension and attempt at validation of a prior study that found individuals who created a computer-based skills visualization were three times more likely to attain an internship than those who just reviewed their resume during a workforce development job-seeker program, and used 250% more skills to describe themselves and their fit to the job they were being interviewed for even thought it was in a different field than they had previously worked. This project will include redesigning the skill visualization technology based on learnings from the prior study, and adding in a co-construction aspect to the visualization. The study will then be conducted in real world contexts with workforce development partners who are supporting individuals to attain new and different types of work.

Measuring Students' Dispositional Learning Through Self-Reflection (with a text classification algorithm)

While Machine Learning and Qualitative Research methods are both actively used in the Education academic and practitioner fields, very little research has been conducted on what happens when they are brought together. At the same time, while the importance of dispositions in a 21st century education is evident, very little research has been conducted on how to measure them. This project explores both of these intersections and brings them together to see what happens when we use qualitative coding and qualitative ethnographic methodologies to train a text classification algorithm for the purpose of measuring dispositional learning in student self reflection.

Leveraging Immersive Technologies for Next Level Learning

Digital technologies present a multitude of opportunities for workforce development to support Next Level Learning. As we described in our research brief, immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) are especially promising to give learners the opportunity to become adaptive experts and foster dispositions they need to excel in the future of work. But VR remains nascent in workforce development contexts, and more research is needed on how the technology can be best designed and used to reach some of the more vulnerable populations they serve. To contribute to the evidence base on learning with VR, we conducted a study of Project OVERCOME, a VR application by Accenture piloted at Goodwill Industries International sites in 2022. Project OVERCOME helps jobseekers impacted by the criminal justice system learn about reentering the workforce and practice interviewing in a simulated job interview. Our mixed methods study looked at how different learners navigated the program, and to what extent it affected their emotions and beliefs related to the job search. We found that the application is promising for decreasing negative emotions about the job search, but only some learners were able to make full use of the application, which may be influenced by their identities and experiences or how the program was facilitated. A full report of the findings is forthcoming and will be linked here upon publication.