Launching the ACT Foundation Legacy: Part 1
Posted: November 1st, 2016
During ACT’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2009, the organization announced plans for the development of a foundation to expand its mission, focusing on learning that extended beyond traditional classroom instruction. During the announcement, ACT signaled that it wanted to address the need for better educated and skilled workers in a way that opened up pathways to intellectual, career, and life fulfillment for everyone. In October 2012, ACT named Dr. Parminder Jassal executive director of the forming ACT Foundation. Dr. Jassal’s novel work linking learning with needed workplace skills was of particular interest to ACT, who were looking to create a nimble idea incubator which could act quickly and create and share new information regarding the knowledge people would need to succeed in a rapidly changing global marketplace.
A year later, in October 2013, ACT Foundation officially launched. With a $25 million endowment and support from ACT, led by then-CEO Jon Whitmore, it aggressively began advancing its vision of an America defined by a “National Learning Economy,” where an individual’s skills and abilities are celebrated to increase life satisfaction. In the New Learning Economy, workers are valued for what they can do rather than for unrelated credentials earned and time spent in classes. From the beginning, the foundation focused on what Jassal called “working learners,” the nearly 50 percent of high school students and 70 percent of college students who acquire knowledge from a range of formal and informal sources while they weave opportunities to learn around their work schedules and family and living demands. Jassal insisted that the Foundation pay special attention to the needs of young working learners. Especially in underserved communities where financial needs are greatest, the socio-economic mobility of these workers requires a balance between immediate employment responsibilities and longer term knowledge and skill development.
Jassal aimed to test the premise that working and learning were becoming inextricably linked, and set forth Foundation goals to make learning uber-accessible and worthwhile by “reengineering education and talent development so individuals can access a portfolio of learning options anytime, anywhere.” In the new economy, she argued, “performance is valued more than knowledge attainment alone.” Jassal believed there would be a need to simultaneously invest in increasing acceptance of competency-based hiring practices and to invest in informing working learners of the coming changes in the economic and educational environments.
“Work is much more than just simply getting paid for something,” Jassal said. “It’s the experiences, the ethics that you build, the understanding that you gain, the familiarity of how things work, and the contacts you make. It’s something much greater.”
To accomplish its objective, the Foundation needed to examine the connection between learners, learning systems, employees, and employers. It planned to conduct its work in three parallel strands. It would gather together researchers and a cross-section of stakeholders who could work together to build evidence to support our country’s move towards a national learning economy, and identify synergies between the needs of working learners and employers. It could then identify, create, and advance solutions to the challenges of succeeding in the learning economy, and finally help mobilize stakeholders in the marketplace. At its inaugural meeting in Austin, the Foundation announced plans to create a national council of working learners, a national applied research network, a national network of business and industry associations, and to support learning technology innovators.