Course Information

This course ran as a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) offered by MITx on the edX platform.




7 weeks


3–5 hours per week

Course Overview

At this time, there aren't enough good jobs or educational opportunities in the U.S. or globally to meet the aspirations and needs of all who want and need to work or to deliver on the expectation that every generation should achieve a higher standard of living for themselves and their families than their parent's generation. This is a fundamental ideal that drives people all over the world. In the U.S. we call it the American Dream.

If we take the right actions we can shape the future of work in ways that meet the needs of workers, families, and their economies and societies. To do so we first have to understand how the world of work is changing, how firms can compete and prosper and support good jobs and careers, and how to update the policies and practices governing the world of work.

In this business and management course, we'll start by tracing the history of work and employment that has made the economy work so well in the past. And we'll uncover what's gone wrong, in order to figure out new solutions that fit today's workforce, economy, and society. We'll also take you on a personal journey. You'll learn what employers expect in today's world of work—the skills, flexibility, and knowledge that are crucial for success in the contemporary workplace. We'll examine what has to happen in order for employers, workers, governments, and regulators to come together to forge new policies, rules, and understandings for governing the world of work in the twenty-first century. We'll make this all come alive by highlighting the experiences, contributions, and aspirations of real people who are working right now to address these challenges.

What You'll Learn

  • A historical perspective and overview of work and employment policy in the United States and around the world.
  • How the roles of firms, employees, and public policy have changed and created the labor market we see today.
  • The status of the current labor market in more detail: What does it look like? What types of jobs do we have, and what skills are required? What are emerging trends in how firms organize work, and in the role of labor market institutions such as unions?
  • Resources and tools you can use to plan your own career paths in the workplaces of the future—those of the next generation.

Motivation for the Course

I am offering this course because, while I am very worried about the current state of work, I also believe we are at one of those rare moments in which we can build on the many innovations underway to create more meaningful and rewarding work for the next generation while building an economy that works better for all of us—business, workers, and our communities and societies. So this course is a call to action and a forum for us to ask what we need to do to create a better future—one in which businesses and employees and their communities and society thrive together.

I have three primary audiences in mind in offering this course. First and foremost it is aimed at young people. My goal is to provide an understanding of the great challenges and great opportunities they face as they begin careers and start families and what they can do about them.

Second, I want to engage all of us who share a concern about the current state of our economies and communities that have too much inequality and not enough good jobs to build the successful careers and strong families we all want for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren.

Third, I want to partner with Business Leaders, Human Resource Professionals, Labor Leaders, Public Policy Officials, Educators, and Entrepreneurs who share a concern for shaping the future of work in ways that work for all of us. A central theme in this course is that all these stakeholders need to work together to make sure we build strong, successful and innovative businesses that also provide good jobs and careers. So some of the modules developed for the course are designed to speak directly to these different stakeholders—to provide them with actionable steps they and their peers can take to achieve these objectives.

And we will offer a lot of personal advice to and provide tools for young people to shape their own future. For example, as the course moves along students will develop their own Personal Career Planning Guide for use now and over the course of their careers.

While we will focus primarily on the challenges and opportunities in the U.S., young workers around the globe face equal if not more difficult challenges. So I welcome participants from across the globe. We will work with you to create learning communities in your region, and our MIT Sloan Management students will help facilitate and support your discussions. Each week we will have a special "Around the World" segment illustrating how some of the issues we discuss are playing out in different part of the globe. In this way we hope you will use the course to assess how you can meet these challenges wherever you live, study, and work.

The course is part of a larger social media-intensive project aimed at achieving a broader understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing next generation workers and families. The materials for that project supplement this course and can be found at the Speak Up for Work website.

A short book Shaping the Future of Work (Business Expert Press, 2016) covers much of the material presented in this course and draws on ideas and data from students who took an early version of the course last year.

Course Plan

We bring a historical perspective to bear in the course by examining what made it possible for workers in the twentieth century to realize a rising standard of living throughout much of their careers and then focusing on what changed, why conditions changed, and the relevance of this history for shaping the future of work. We introduce the concept of a Social Contract at Work to capture this history and then end the course by negotiating the terms of the "Next Generation Social Contract" you believe will work for you, your peers, and the economy and society you will lead.

Each weekly section contains the following elements:

  • Short video lectures covering the key topic for the week.
  • An introductory poll to gauge your views on the issues for the week and to let you see how your views compare to those of your peers and a follow-up poll to see if your views change after you view and read the materials and discuss the issues.
  • Discussion questions and forums that serve as both course assignments and provide the basis for engaging your peers on the issues covered in the readings and videos.
  • Supplementary resources that provide more data on the issues, commentaries on the topics via blogs, interviews, and other materials from subject experts and peers from around the world.
  • Specific assignments to complete for those seeking the course certificate. These include comparing your career interests and aspirations to those of your parents, building your career plan, rating your current job, and completing the simulated social contract negotiation with your peers.


Student grades in this course were based on attentiveness questions and peer-reviewed assignments. Attentiveness questions were worth one point and were based directly on the content of the videos they followed (2 incorrect attentiveness questions were dropped). The peer-review assignments required students to submit their work to fellow classmates, who graded them based on criteria provided. Students were also asked to grade the work of five classmates each week.

Attentiveness questions 40%
5 assignments 60%