A free online learning program from Microsoft is helping middle and high school students think about careers they might like to pursue and the skills necessary to attain those careers. Called CareerForward, the course has students examine their skills and interests as they investigate potential career paths and other aspects to independent living, such as financial management skills. Its four components address specific aspects of 21st-century careers. Throughout the course, students are asked frequently to reflect on what they¹re learning, to write their thoughts down as a continual refinement of their thinking, and to discuss their thoughts with other students, either in person or online. The course, which takes about four to six weeks to complete, is designed to be facilitated by a local teacher and can be used independently or as part of an existing face-to-face course in career planning, business, or global studies. CareerForward launched in Michigan two years ago when the state became the first in the nation to require students to have an online learning experience before they graduate from high school. Alabama recently became the second state in the nation to adopt an online-learning requirement for high school graduation, and in May the Alabama Department of Education announced plans to implement CareerForward statewide for the 2009-10 school year. http://nroc.careerforward.org/careerforward

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