From Pipelines to Professionals

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-08-24 09:29

future-educator-quoteDuring recent conversations about prospects for teaching, I’ve been struck by the emphasis on the teacher preparation pipeline. Of course we need to make sure that the United States has enough qualified educators in the right places and address the impact of changing expectations and demographics (for example, the recent finding that 17 percent of people who train as teachers expect to leave the classroom within the first five years). It would be great if teachers here had the esteem of those in Finland or Singapore and were paid accordingly.

But more importantly, we need to have bigger conversations about the future of teaching.

In fact, we need to broaden the conversation beyond teaching to consider what kinds of educator roles we need and want for future learning ecosystems. Then we need to consider what those roles might mean for current teachers and administrators and for the preparation of future educators.

In exploring possibilities for the future educator workforce, we need to think beyond staffing classrooms, buildings, and central offices to supporting flexible educator swarms that might form and re-form to reflect learners’ changing needs. Educator swarms could span organizational boundaries as well as the line that we draw today between the formal and informal or community-based learning sectors.

My latest paper, co-written with Andrea Saveri and Jason Swanson, looks to the future to inform today’s consideration of how best to cultivate an education profession that can effectively support learners for a rapidly changing world. “Exploring the Future Education Workforce:  New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem” explores seven possible roles that promise to fit flexible and rigorous learning ecosystems that enable both learners and the adults supporting them to thrive.

learning agents

For each role, the paper includes a job description, a fictional recruiting announcement, and a stakeholder quote demonstrating how the role might add value to future learning ecosystems.  It also explores potential promises and pitfalls that such a diversification of educator roles might present.

I think that exploring new educator roles can advance the country’s conversations about how to support learning for the coming era. It can also help us get beyond the pipeline conversation to a new level of exploration about what we want our education jobs to be and how to train and support the people working in them as professionals.


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Walking the Data Walk: Reflections on a KnowledgeWorks board meeting

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-08-21 13:32


The KnowledgeWorks board of directors talks through data with the communications and marketing team.

“Driven by Data” may be a decade old – school people may be tired of data rooms – but the power of data to drive great conversation and insights was abundantly clear at our quarterly KnowledgeWorks board meeting in Cincinnati this week.

The agenda carved out an hour for the board to engage with eight operating units, and each team presented about three posters of key outcomes data to us. We walked in pairs and trios from team to team, with less than 10 minutes with each group, actively reviewed the data and peppered the teams with questions. A lively exchange resulted.

Some of the things I learned:

  • KnowledgeWorks only claims to have influenced a state or national policy when it actually is involved in drafting language for legislation or regulation. In a sector abounding in white papers, this is a very rigorous definition of outcomes!
  • 30 percent of the students involved in the Ohio Early College High School project, which included 10 schools, obtain an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school. Imagine if we could replicate that success elsewhere!
  • Despite yearly fluctuations, the StrivePartnership in Cincinnati is showing strong gains in its collective impact work when looking at the data in a time series. I was particularly interested in the pioneering early childhood work they are driving, but also in the flat performance in 8th-grade math. Perhaps a program targeting digital math interventions will help them move those numbers up!

We gathering together as a board and debriefed the data walk. Several clear themes emerged:  we would love to tell the individual stories of our work better, so that we can encourage others to follow these bright spots. Secondly, we asked ourselves as a board about our resource allocation policy and how it was related to the outcomes.

KnowledgeWorks has long been known for its attention to data; it was terrific to have board members “walk the walk.” In this case, “the data walk.”


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Learning from the Fingerprints of our Children

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-08-21 09:30

Despite graduation and years away from the learning community, the fingerprints of our educators remain and  evolve with each child.

KnowledgeWorks submitted a proposal for a South by Southwest EDU session, which focuses on personalized, competency-based education. Learn more and vote for the session here!

As a father of a three-year-old son and a six-year old daughter, my propensity for wanting everything to be spotless often encounters set-backs. Tonka trucks, Legos, milk cups, lost sandals and various other miniature representations of youthful forgetfulness impede on my desire for cleanliness. The most difficult to clean and let sit idle for too long, fingerprints. They’re everywhere! I notice fingerprints on the counter, refrigerator, mirrors, windows, tech devices and anything else with a smooth surface. After a recent cleaning binge, I reflected on the items my children touched. Where were their fingerprints most prominent? How and why were they using that product? What were they thinking about at that time? What do these fingerprints tell me about what they are learning?

. After a recent cleaning binge, I reflected on the items my children touched. Where were their fingerprints most prominent?As an educator, I wonder who is leaving fingerprints on our learning communities and what the impact of each print may be.

Let’s begin with the outstanding educators that support our children. Their fingerprints, much like the physical ones in my home, can be found throughout the learning community. Educators’ prints can be found on everything from effective instruction and assessment practices to “ah-ha” lightbulbs of success experienced by our learners. Learning tools, processes and opportunities all contain the prints of highly effective educators. On many occasions, those fingerprints left by educators are recognized and celebrated with each professional and personal success of former learners. Despite graduation, and years away from the learning community, the fingerprints of our educators remain and evolve with each child.

Looking out my window past all of the little prints, I can’t help but reflect on the tremendous contributions of the community. From the neighbors that help explain photosynthesis while watering their gardens to the garbage man that took the short time to introduce the word “hydraulic,” all are leaving a fingerprint on our children. Our learning community has grown from the school-house to include the community at large. Each community member is leaving a lasting impression. Some prints may be large, faint, smeared and / or more noticeable than others, but all are a part of the learning community. Fingerprints: they’re everywhere.

How are our children taking ownership of the very objects, processes and systems provided to support them?The learning community is vast and great, but it is unidentifiable without the little impressions left by our children. What do those prints say about what our learning community stands for? How are we supporting those fingerprints in ways that impact the unique interests of each child behind the print? More importantly, how are our children taking ownership of the very objects, processes and systems provided to support them? Are their pint-sized prints as prominent and included as others’ within the learning community? Their prints are everywhere. Are we recognizing them or simply wiping them away?

For the future of learning I want for my children, competency education creates the personalized experience that makes learning exciting and meaningful. It doesn’t ask learners to leave their fingerprint on their own learning experience. It is an essential part of the learning process.

My KnowledgeWorks colleague Matt Williams and I submitted a proposal for a South by Southwest EDU session, which will focus on personalized, competency-based learning that is supported by many hands throughout the learning community. Learn more and vote for the session here.


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Delve into a New Era at SXSWedu

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-08-20 15:35

KnowledgeWorks submitted a proposal for a South by Southwest EDU session, which focuses on our next future forecast. Learn more and vote for the session here!


sxsw-futureRemember what work and school like in the 1990s?

I remember sitting at my desk in Baton Rouge on a lovely spring day back in 1994 and wishing that I could take my computer outside to work instead of being tethered to a desk. Now I carry my “office” around in my backpack as I work from home much of the time but also from local coffee shops, hotels, and whatever desk I can snag when at KnowledgeWorks’ office.

Or in 1996 searching through the University of Iowa’s library catalog from my desktop computer using command line codes and feeling grateful that, as a graduate student, I had my own computer and could connect to the library from home using a screechy dial-up modem. Now apps prevail and it’s hard to remember a time when we couldn’t simply turn to Google to track down the answer to a question.

Or in 1999 scrambling to drive client reports to the FedEx office on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto before the 7:00 cut-off for getting packages to the East Coast the next morning. Time doesn’t matter in that way anymore: for good and ill, I can circulate my work at any time of day or night.  And work just isn’t as material as it used to be.

Work and daily life have changed a lot over the last 20 years. In forecasting what might be on the horizon for education in 2025, KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight teams  projects that we are rapidly entering a new era of partners in code in which our economy, our institutions, and our societal structures – indeed, the very bedrock of our lives – are shifting at an accelerating pace.

We think that, in 10 years, the social and economic realities for which education prepares learners could look drastically different than they do today. Over the next decade, the learning ecosystem will continue to expand and diversify. Learning will keep getting more personalized. But the reasons why people pursue education and the ways in which we do so could change dramatically.

Some highlights from our forthcoming Forecast 4.0, “Learning in an Era of Partners in Code:”

  • New understandings of neuroscience, health, and identity will help people tailor learning to their needs in deep ways.
  • New machine partnerships will reshape the nature and structure of work, recasting what it means to be career ready.
  • Desire for meaningful engagement that aligns with personal value sets will drive people to seek educational approaches that fit their needs and outlook.
  • Significant economic and environmental turbulence will spur social experiments and require creative adaptations as people struggle to navigate volatile landscapes.
  • Smart transactional models and a growing open culture movement will reconfigure institutions, potentially bypassing layers of administration and helping to distribute educational resources more equitably.

Such drivers of change have tremendous implications for learning. We’ll need to steer them carefully to find the right approaches to learning for this new era and make the future of learning work well for everyone.

We’d love to explore educational leadership for this changing context at SXSWedu in March. To get there, we need your vote!

Please consider learning more about and voting for our workshop.  Thank you for your interest and support!


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Back to school: Taking time to #thankateacher

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-08-19 09:06

Twitter was a buzz last week when high schools in my community released the official class schedules. My kids were busily snapchatting, group texting and tweeting about who’s in whose class, and the run-down on teachers – “Oh, he’s awesome.” “She’s tough, but I learned a lot.” “I had to go to smart lunch every day – I didn’t understand anything in that class.”

Then I saw another tweet from a childhood friend about our own teacher.


I had to dig out my third grade class picture. Looking at our class photo made me laugh. There I was: sandwiched between a bunny and a chicken. Funny, right? But it was the perfect visual description of my class.

My third-grade teacher passed away. Clara Barefoot Sehorn. That was her name. And as third graders, you can imagine the smirks and the giggles when we learned her middle name. But she didn’t care. She was proud of her name; her heritage; who she was. At a time when, as seven and eight year olds, we were just learning about the world outside our own backyards, and for me, a first-generation Filipino living in a very homogenous community, she helped us embrace our differences. Learning and working with others was a lesson that I’ve kept with me all through life.

Our classroom smelled a bit earthy. The window sills were lined with drying clay pinch pots. Paint brushes saturated with purple, green, and yellow glaze were soaking in the sink. In the back, was our beloved “Nest” – a reading corner piled with big pillows and books, inviting for any student to read, or rest our eyes, or, as Ms. Sehorn always encouraged us, to sit in the nest and “day dream something wonderful, then bring it to life.”

We kept a chicken that laid eggs, incubated them and hatched them. We documented it all. We fed them from droppers, and learned about the cycle of life and where our food comes from.


Ms. Sehorn was different from the other teachers in the building. Lessons didn’t seem timed. The entire day seemed to flow. We’d take walks along the path in between the school and the neighboring property where they kept horses. Thistles lined the path. Mount Saint Helen’s ash was still present. We picked up earth worms, potato bugs, dug up rock, clay, dirt, and soil. We composted and created our own garden. Everyone contributed. Every student felt a sense of ownership: a sense of pride in the things we dreamed up and created.

That spring, President Ronald Reagan was assassinated… or so we worried. Our classroom gathered and watched in horror the news reports on the big roll-in tube-TV on a cart. There were very few TVs at our school, but Ms. Sehorn insisted the importance of understanding what had happened. She was emotional. She was concerned. She talked about the importance of the office of the President; I remembered she sadi, “Even if I don’t agree with him, I respect the position of leadership.” She talked about guns and mental illness. Ms. Sehorn was honest and forthright. She took every moment to help open up our minds, consider the facts, learn to voice our thoughts, and formulate an opinion.

I remember her beautiful smile; her energetic voice; her quick movements throughout the room. I can still feel the twinkle in her eye when she saw the spark in mine. Ms. Sehorn created a spark of curiosity with her experiential learning environment. She encouraged a creative spirit and desire to shine with bright colors amongst a sea of gray. She connected with us as learners. More importantly, she believed in us. She believed in me.

In celebration of passionate educators like Clara Barefoot Sehorn, go thank a teacher.


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Supporting educational transformation through supportive state policy

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-08-12 16:09

state-policy-framework-personalized-learningPersonalized learning.  Deeper learning.  Student-centered learning.

Call it what you want but some of the most innovative schools and districts around the country are making the shift to a learning environment where instruction is aligned to clear standards, informed by data, and customized to students’ interests; pace is varied based on students’ needs; and students and parents understand what is required to master the material.

How does KnowledgeWorks know this transformation is happening?  Because over the last two years, we’ve talked with, interviewed, and visited over 30 districts, organizations, and state education agencies and they’ve all said the same thing: personalized learning is the best way to educate students.  Unfortunately, we also found that districts are running into policy barriers, preventing them from implementing the conditions necessary to scale personalized learning.  The result is personalized learning that is stuck in pilot phase, begging this question: How do we build an education system, a learning system, with personalized learning at its core?

KnowledgeWorks’ answer to this question?  By giving districts the flexibility necessary to scale personalized learning.  Our extensive primary and secondary research has led to launch of our State Policy Framework for Scaling Personalized Learning. The framework contains recommendations on how districts should apply for flexibility, what states should expect from districts in exchange for flexibility, how states support districts implementing personalized learning, and what criteria should be used to measure the success of implementation.  Finally, the framework contains specific areas of flexibility states should offer districts including curriculum and instruction, assessment and student supports, learning environments and partnerships, professional and leadership development, and technology and data.

In the coming weeks, you will hear from thought leaders across our organization including:

  • Matt Williams, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy discussing the alignment between practice and local, state, and federal policy
  • Sarah Jenkins, Policy and Research analyst, explaining the research that supports the framework
  • Virgel Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer and former RSU 2 superintendent, on how these policies would enable districts to scale personalized learning

In the meantime, check out the framework, sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on our advocacy efforts, and connect with us on Twitter to learn more about all of KnowledgeWorks’ efforts to ensure every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that enables him or her to thrive in college, career, and civic life.


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From Butts in Seats to Minds on Fire: A Self Interview

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-08-12 10:27

Are you looking for an awesome session to attend at SXSWedu? Of course you are because you are clearly erudite, urbane, and hip. So, do we have a session for you: From Butts in Seats to Minds on Fire.

If jeans are not one-size-fits-all, why should learning be? Our education system advances students based on the amount of seat time, and not on their mastery of critical content knowledge and skills. From Butts in the Seat to Minds on Fire will explore what learners, educators, schools, districts and communities need to do to shift to a competency-based, personalized learning model. This is not a sit and get. Participants will collaborate to establish multiple learning communities that redefine how learning and proof of competency is determined. They will be given the tools to re-imagine systemic learning operations, while working within the confines of current finance and policy structures.

I want to provide even more information for you about our session, From Butts in Seats to Minds on Fire. So I will interview myself:

Matt Williams: Tell us a little bit more about your workshop and who should attend?

Matt Williams: The session fundamentally will focus on a full transformation of our educational system in the United States. In a global economy, driven by nimbleness and innovation, it is increasingly clear that our international success depends on the transformation of our education system. Our ability to compete as a nation—and for states, regions, and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs—demands a fresh approach to public education. The one-size-fits all approach of our past and present will not ensure our future success. Our nation must embrace personalized, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning that are on the rise in schools across the country. How can education capitalize on the disruption and reconfiguration that Amazon, iTunes, and Zipcar brought to their industries? Competency education is our best option to recast, realign, and redefine our educational system in the United States.

MW: Why should this be a priority for SXSW attendees?

MW: We all want to be part of something awesome, right? So much energy in education in our country has been focused on innovative pilots, or great learning management systems, or the new, cool approach to teacher PD. Personalized learning, broadly speaking, is stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless, isolated examples of personalized learning environments, models, and schools from coast to coast. We have all seen that great school or model and the world of possibilities it offers for the students that attend the school. But how are the other students in that district being educated? How do we reach a level of scale for personalized learning? How do we move from the isolated examples to whole systems that provide personalized learning options for all students? How do we build a school system, a learning system, with personalized learning at the core? How do we effectively scale competency education? This session will focus on the answers to those questions.

MW: What prior knowledge do attendees need to have to benefit from your session?

MW:  Only to be able to find the room. Once there, we will blow your mind.

MW: What are the key outcomes that you will answer during your session?

MW: Participants at our session will have their minds blown (I previously mentioned that, didn’t I?). That is the first outcome. More granularly, we will focus in on helping participants:

  1. Understand a personalized, student-centered approach to teaching and learning; how competency-based education empowers an equitable system for all.
  2. Explore a re-imagined system that redefines how learning and proof of competency is determined & how districts can scale CBE within current structures.
  3. Examine how policy structures support new innovative thinking and what state/federal government can do to catalyze and incentivize this shift.

MW: Why are you qualified to hold this workshop?  Because. Are you questioning me?

MW: From Butts in the Seat to Minds on Fire will explore what schools and districts need to do to shift from a traditional to a competency-based approach. KnowledgeWorks is working at all levels of the system to lead the shift to a flexible, competency-based system. We are working at the classroom, school, district, state and federal levels. Virgel Hammonds has led school and district transformation to Competency Education in California and RSU2 in Maine. He knows how to not only implement competency education but scale it as well. I’m just a guy that does some policy work at a state and federal level. We know a lot. Trust me, we actually filled up a whole website with stuff: http://knowledgeworks.org/schools/competency-based-education

So vote for our panel, From Butts in the Seat to Minds on Fire, via the panel picker: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/54198


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Come Play in the Future with Us at SXSWedu

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-08-11 16:17

south-by-southwest-eduIn June I wrapped up my 5th year of teaching middle school English and said goodbye to my students, my colleagues and the profession (for now). I left behind a supportive administration and teaching team, a great deal of autonomy in what and how I taught, and students—many of whom had to overcome a great deal just to be at school—who impressed me every day. Why would I walk away from that? Because on my best day, in the best situation a public school teacher could imagine, I still found myself asking: is this really the best we can do for these students?

I joined KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team because I believe the future is rich with more possibilities for learning and for kids than we often allow ourselves to consider. The immediate needs are so pressing and today’s challenges can feel all-consuming. But what might we discover if we allowed ourselves to step back from what’s in front of us and look at the vast number of opportunities the future might hold?

That’s what we hope to do with education leaders at SXSWedu in Austin next March. We’ll examine our assumptions, consider alternatives and play with possibilities. Perhaps in the future, “school” could be everywhere: a learner could engage with an apprenticeship at a local business one day, then travel via a safe, autonomous transportation system to an art class, using “learning record store” technology to track learning and build supportive social connections. Learners might interact with toys that grow and learn with them and use data to adapt a child’s learning experience, giving each child and family more of a voice in their own learning. We might even see algorithmic administration play a role, which could limit bias and structural barriers to learning. But what if these opportunities were only available to some learners, or if outside actors found ways to hack or co-opt technology-reliant learning systems?

None of these possibilities is inevitable, and each has implications that are both exciting and troubling, but each of them is backed by research and signals of change the KnowledgeWorks strategic foresight team has identified and should be part of the conversation about the future of education. As people who want to create meaningful and positive opportunities for all learners and help guide them through a rapidly changing world, we all have an obligation to pay attention to what the future might hold and to choose what efforts to prioritize and where to intervene. The future is coming; we decide whether we have a say in how it turns out.

At SXSWedu, we hope to present KnowledgeWorks’ forthcoming forecast for the future of learning –tentatively titled “Learning in an Era of Partners in Code” – and to offer education leaders the chance to explore the challenges and opportunities ahead and consider how they can navigate the significant transitions on the horizon in the coming decade. Learn more about our workshop and find out how to vote for us here. We appreciate the support and hope to see you in Austin; we’ll be looking at possibilities for the future to see how we can all help young people in thrive in our changing world.

Come play with us.

Learn more about KnowledgeWorks’ South by Southwest EDU proposals here.


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Building a more equitable future: Swanson joins Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-08-06 10:41

Jason Swanson WEBCongrats to Jason Swanson, our director of Strategic Foresight, on recently joining the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) as a fellow.

The RSA is a diverse network of individuals throughout the world who want to enrich society through new ideas and innovative projects. Based out of England, RSA was originally founded 260 years ago during the enlightenment. Now, the organization has three main focuses:

  1. Public service and communities
  2. Creative learning and development
  3. Economy, enterprise and manufacturing

Jason was invited to join RSA after co-writing “An Age of Stagnation,” a paper focused on the future of the global economy. Based on his current work with KnowledgeWorks strategic foresight team, a fellowship was a good fit.

“Both RSA and KnowledgeWorks want to shape the future to be more equitable,” Jason said. “Hopefully, my involvement can bring more people into the conversation about the future of education.”

For more information, visit RSA’s website and follow Jason on Twitter.


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A University Student Perspective on the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-08-03 09:00

As we enter a new era of communication and sharing, we have been given the tools to personalize and inject more customizability into education.

I sat down with Jason Swanson, the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, to discuss the implications for the future of learning on students like me. I am entering my fourth year at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, majoring in Marketing and International Business with a minor in Professional Selling. This summer I am intering with StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.


Jason: When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

Alec: The future of learning is absolutely wide open – as we enter a new era of communication and sharing, we have been given the tools to personalize and inject more customizability into education. It is exciting to see the easy access of data and information, making education and learning more and more accessible as a result.

Jason: From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

Alec: The idea of stagnation and continuation of “one-size-fits-all” mindsets. Sitting idly by would serve to stunt our growth as a country and hurt an entire generation, we must utilize the tools at our disposal and ensure that our posterity are given the utmost opportunity to succeed.


Jason: What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

Alec: As touched on earlier, it is whether or not we can evolve to make these incredible opportunities a reality. On top of this, if we do evolve, it’d be interesting to see what new setbacks and challenges would arise from a new way of doing things. As students rely more and more on our steadily improving technology, how will they learn differently? While this change would no doubt be a good one, any type of overhaul will come with a great deal of uncertainty around potential faults that would eventually have to be addressed.

Jason: We are currently exploring the implications of artificial intelligence in education, such as a wearable device for students that has built in AI. How do you think this might change education?

Alec: This opens up a whole world of opportunity – my first thoughts are AI tutors that provide instant feedback for students in class when answering questions, that can pick out weaknesses and what the student can do to improve. This serves to offer the student a personalized education based on their own specific strengths and weaknesses.

Jason: What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Alec: It’s the elimination of “one-size-fits-all” in education. Fully adapting a course to a student based on the way they think and solve problems. It gives students the chance to interact with the subject matter in a way they feel is beneficial and enjoyable.

Jason: What will personalized learning be like in the future?

Alec: In the future, we will have the technology and the capacity to personalize education based on individual student need. We will have students independently studying, learning the way that works best for them and in general being happier. Students will be more apt to choosing their future careers and discovering exactly what they are passionate about.

future-learningJason: What is your own vision for the future of learning?

Alec: Much like I was saying before – a learning environment of passion, optimism and diversity. Having the ability to study the subjects that interest you no matter what the budget constraints of your school are, or being able to explore career prospects BEFORE going to get a higher education. The future could see our students naturally learning in a more efficient and generally better way.

Students – we want to hear from you! Are you a student who would like to do a guest post interview with Jason Swanson discussing the future of learning? Contact us!


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Moving away from ‘one size fits no one’ to learner-centered ecosystems

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-07-30 16:47

learning-ecosystemMore and more organizations and communities are taking an ecosystem approach to supporting learning. For example:

  • Chicago’s Digital Youth Network fosters supportive learning ecosystems that help youth cultivate learning as a lifestyle, with the goal creating an equal platform for all to be digitally literate.
  • Cities of Learning is a national effort to surface and connect cities’ many resources to help youth of all backgrounds develop curiosity, resilience, and 21st century skills.
  • The STEM Ecosystems Initiative is supporting communities across the country in cultivating STEM learning ecosystems and in connecting with others in the network to build a national community of practice.
  • Six Next-Gen Learning Hubs are building off cities’ assets and bringing together partners to create innovative student-centered education ecosystems.

As Andrea Saveri, Jason Swanson, and I explored in “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” ecosystem participants can address learners’ needs in the context of their particular geographies and future trends by cultivating webs of services and learning experiences comprised of many kinds of organizations and resources. Some ecosystem participants will do well to act as concentrators that provide core infrastructure, aggregation, and brokering services at scale.  Others should as creative niche specialists, or fragmenters, that target user needs and customize services. Still others should act as catalysts that mobilize cross-boundary initiatives, bridge ecosystem gaps, and forge shared goals.

No organization will be good at filling all three of these roles. But if many organizations work together, they can build effective value webs that create new possibilities for meeting learners’ needs and responding to local realities.

Ecosystem approaches such as those listed above begin to illustrate the power of fostering ecosystem interconnections as a core strategy for the future. Scaling impact through the diversity of relationships and connections in a single community rather than by replicating a few strategies and programs across geographies promises to help communities develop resilience, put learners at the center, and work to achieve equity for all young people.

As Jason and I have begun sharing these ideas with education stakeholders through conference sessions and other engagements, we’ve been excited to see how prototyping possible ways of combining diverse roles and services can open up conversations about what is possible for learners and learning. There’s a lot to consider as we move away from one-size-fits-no one to learner-centered ecosystems. But stepping back from today’s approaches to consider new possibilities for the future can help surface possibilities, tensions, and strategic opportunities.

You can explore the potential of ecosystem interconnections for your own community through the “Strengthening Learning Ecosystem Interconnections” activity at the end of our paper.


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A Student’s Perspective on the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-07-20 10:12

Personalized learning means education that accounts for the fact that every student is different and tailors learning experiences to an individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

I sat down with Jason Swanson, the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, to discuss the implications for the future of learning on students like me. I am a rising senior at Loveland High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and an INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati intern with KnowledgeWorks.

Jason: When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

Hannah: I’m excited to see all of the new ways that technology will be implemented in learning environments. In my opinion, more and more educational websites like Khan Academy will start to pop up on the internet, allowing everyone to seek out information and learn new skills under their own initiative. There’s also a lot of opportunity for classrooms to use digital tools like online games and tutorials to engage students. Although personal interaction and physical school assignments are important, I think that a greater shift towards leveraging technology could really benefit the education system.

Jason: From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

Hannah: One thing that worries me about the direction that education is moving in is the possibility that over time, students will spend more and more of their time on school and lose the ability to pursue outside interests. During my time in high school, I’ve noticed that the competitive nature of applying to colleges has led students to pack their schedules with as many AP classes, college courses, and outside learning opportunities as possible. Although I’m grateful that there are so many opportunities to prepare yourself for higher education, I also believe that we need to measure the amount of pressure put on students and ensure that they can still live well-rounded lives.

Jason: What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

Hannah: One aspect of learning that I’m interested in observing as it changes is our society’s attitude towards education. At the present time, many students don’t understand how what they’re learning in the classroom lines up with their goals in life, and supporting schools and teachers isn’t a strong priority in the general public’s minds. I hope that society moves towards concentration on the importance of education so that learning environments have the support and resources they need to be successful.

Jason: We are currently exploring the implications of artificial intelligence in education, such as a wearable device for students that has built in AI. How do you think this might change education?

Hannah: I think that making artificial intelligence available to students could cause schools to shift from classes learning together to individual students seeking out information on their own with the help of an AI. In this environment, teachers would guide students and help them to establish goals for their education rather than distributing information. I believe that incorporating more technology into learning environments will almost always be beneficial, since most students in the education system at this point in time spend their lives immersed in digital environments.

Jason: What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Hannah: To me, the phrase “personalized learning” means education that accounts for the fact that every student is different and tailors learning experiences to an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, it means recognizing that not every student has the same educational goals or interests.

Jason: What will personalized learning be like in the future?

Hannah: In the future, I believe that students will begin customizing their class schedule even before high school to prepare for an increasingly competitive job market. There will also be a greater emphasis on career readiness, which could manifest itself in more resources and support for students looking for job opportunities in high school and beyond. Teachers will hone in on individual learning abilities and styles by giving assessments to determine how each student can best be instructed, then put this information into action by giving out different materials such as videos, papers, or infographics depending on a learner’s needs.

Jason: What is your own vision for the future of learning?

Hannah: I hope that in the future of learning, schools take a greater role in preparing students for the real world. Students would receive education that applied to their future lives and careers, and rather than simply regurgitating memorized facts during a test, they would take meaningful assessments of the skills they’ve gained through their learning. In this future, educational opportunities would be equal for everyone, and all students would leave school prepared to use their talents to benefit society.


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Reflecting on an Internship with KnowledgeWorks and the Opportunity to Work in a Business Environment

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-07-17 13:37

Exactly one month ago, I wrote a blog post reflecting on the beginning of my internship with KnowledgeWorks, and today, I’m looking back on my experiences as my internship comes to an end. My name is Hannah Matuszak, and I’m a rising senior at Loveland High School. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of the KnowledgeWorks Communications Department, where I’ve done work involving graphic design, social media and web design.

I’d like to think that I’ve changed a lot since the first time I walked into the office, nervously clutching my laptop bag and feeling like I was adrift in a sea of new people, new experiences and new expectations. One of the most important things that this internship has given me is a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. Before this summer, I would have never imagined that I could take charge of the INTERalliance career camp visit and lead students as they competed to design a new kind of educational environment. With the help and mentorship of KnowledgeWorks team members, I was able to make the visit a success. In addition, as a part of the communications department, I learned a lot about different ways of getting a message across. Writing blog posts, tweets and PowerPoint slides required me to tailor content to different audiences and find ways of expressing information both concisely and effectively. Designing posters and email headers led me to learn to balance my creativity and ideas with brand guidelines and outside input.

Most importantly, I gained something invaluable that I think every student should have access to: the experience of working in a business environment. Interacting with coworkers professionally, collaborating at meetings and discovering the unique culture of a workplace are things that you simply can’t learn while sitting at a desk.

One thing that I hope to take away from this internship is the ability to provide other students with advice that might help them on their career pathways. The most important piece of guidance that I’d like to share is that you should never underestimate how much you can gain by reaching out to professionals in a field that you’re interested in. During the past few weeks, I’ve met so many amazing people who have been happy to teach me what they know and help me with anything I might need. This leads into my next point—always be willing to try new things. My interests are mostly focused on writing and graphic design, but I’ve enjoyed learning about subjects like marketing software and competency-based education because in the year before I go to college, I’m trying to explore all of my options and keep an open mind. Lastly, don’t overlook the skills that you bring into a new situation. Today’s teenagers are completely immersed in a digital environment, and that means that we acquire abilities that are useful in the technology field without even making a conscious effort—we’ve grown up surfing the web, so these things are second nature to us. Do you have hundreds of followers on Twitter? You’re using social media marketing. Do you edit pictures to post on your Instagram? You’re learning the basics of graphic design. Understand the skills that you already have and build on them to further your goals in life.

I’ve had an amazing time discovering what it’s like to be a member of the KnowledgeWorks team. Although I’m sad to leave, I can’t wait to see where this experience will take me in the future.


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If students re-imagined school, this is what it could look like.

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-07-16 15:31

interalliance-high-school-studentsWhat could an innovative learning system look like through the eyes of 20 current high school students?

Yesterday, KnowledgeWorks hosted a career camp with the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati, an organization dedicated to providing students with knowledge and opportunities needed to enter the technology field and become a part of Cincinnati’s IT workforce. Throughout the week-long camp, 20 local high school students visit businesses and compete in problem-solving challenges that leverage technology solutions.

Of course, because of our work, we created a design challenge around 21st-century learning.

The Problem: KnowledgeWorks supports personalized learning that enables every student to thrive in college, career and civic life. How might Cincinnati change the world by becoming a learning destination through the evolution of innovative learning structures within its schools to ensure personalized learning for every child?

The Challenge: Your team is given $15k per student to create a learning structure to empower and motivate students in ways that are meaningful to each student. How would you utilize this money to design your ideal learning environment?

Things to Consider: You are working with a population of 29,000 students, grades K-12. Half your money will go to administrative costs, leaving you with about $8k per student. ALL students must reach their learning goals, and students must be accounted for at all times.

Four teams presented their solutions to a panel of KnowledgeWorks employees, offering ideas from online platforms to track learning progress to community-wide educational opportunities.

While the ideas were creative and insightful, the most inspiring part of the day was listening to students re-imagine the very system in which they currently learn.

Here are some of our favorite insights into their newly reimagined learning structures:

  1. Cater to all types of learning. INTERalliance students recognized that not all of them learn in the same way. If they were to create a new system, they would consider all learning styles so everyone can thrive.
  2. Measure mastery in other ways, besides high-stakes testing. Team members wanted choice in proving their mastery. Rather than only testing, their systems would give learners the chance to show mastery through presentations, portfolios, essays or projects.
  3. Expose students to career opportunities. By creating partnerships with professionals from Silicon Valley to New York City, team members wondered if they could schedule video calls to allow learners to explore different fields and think more about future professional careers.
  4. Put students in charge of their own learning. While the teams recognized the importance of teachers, guidance counselors, parents and guardians, they wanted to offer learners more control over their education experience. In their new systems, learners would have the opportunity to build individual schedules and explore interests.
  5. Use technology as a tool to enhance learning. The teams suggested technological ideas beyond individual devices. They suggested using video calls to talk with students in other countries to learn about different cultures or study languages. They talked about an online platform to track subjects mastered, learn ways to improve learning, and choose classes.
  6. Allow for learning throughout the community. Considering outside-the-classroom learning opportunities, teams wondered how to build community-wide educational opportunities. One team imagined a system that would allow learners to shuttle throughout the city to different learning venues, ‘checking in’ to each location through an ID card that links to their online profile.
  7. Build personalized learning for all students, regardless of zip code or ability. During the design challenge, teams were particularly concerned that their new learning structures consider all students, especially those who are first-generation or low-income, as well as those who have special needs.
  8. Create different levels of mastery for each subject. Team members wanted to offer the opportunity to “level up” in subjects based on learning pace. Learners could be at “Level 5” in math, “Level 7” in science and “Level 1” in Spanish.
  9. Get rid of traditional grades based on age. Instead, team members said they’d like to move through learning based on when students excel and master subjects. See No. 8.
  10. Teachers can help students through more than instruction. All teams included teachers in their plans, not only as instructors, but also as guides and coaches to help students throughout the system. They wanted to be in charge of their own learning, but also wanted teachers to help them with community learning opportunities, career exploration and subject mastery.
  11. Tailor learning to students’ interests. One team specifically talked about learning different subjects through their own interests. For example, if a student really likes extreme sports, such as skydiving, he could study math, physics or meteorology through those activities. This would make learning more fun and relevant in their re-imagined system.

What do you think? What would an ideal personalized education system look like to you?



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Reflections on an Edu-Adventure in Finland

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-07-13 13:45

finlandOver the past couple weeks I have been blogging about my time in Finland in late June. I first want to thank EF and EdLeader21 for providing me with the opportunity to view the Finnish education system. It was an insightful and rewarding experience.

As a review, my first post was a pre-trip post examining expectations and biases, the second focused on the Finnish concept of  Well-Learning, and the third post delved into the shift from a teacher-centric to student-centric approach to education.

As a way to wrap up my trip, I wanted to share 10 additional insights I gained while on my edu-adventure in Scandinavia:

  1. Teacher Prep: As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the high water marks of the Finnish system is their teacher preparation program. The teacher prep programs have an expressed focus on field-based research and data-analysis for all teachers regardless of grade level focus. Can you imagine how powerful that could make a kindergarten teacher?
  2. Education and Culture: Another powerful element of the Finnish system is the link between education and the country’s culture and citizenship. This is certainly a component in our system as well. The movement towards Finnish autonomy in the 1860’s hard-linked the Finnish language (as an equal to Swedish), national railways and currency, and a national education system. These reforms all occurred under Russian Tsar Alexander II who to this day is called the “Good Tsar” in Finland. 75 percent of Finns believe that their education system is one of the great achievements in Finnish history.
  3. Breaks: There are a great many breaks in the Finnish education system, something I learned while observing the Finns. Typical lessons for Finnish children are 45 minutes with 15 minutes of break. Also, lunch breaks are much longer allowing for eating and play. For adults there are many, many coffee breaks involving very small cups of coffee. Finland leads the world in coffee per capita consumption – one tiny cup at a time – which takes some work. One word, venti.
  4. Funding: In discussions with Helsinki City Schools, I was struck by the funding mechanisms in place in Finland. Helsinki City Schools receive what amounts to a block grant from the state (read as national body). This funding, approximately €9300 per student, is used to provide public and private school options for all students in the city free of charge. Most students go to public schools as they are universally seen as the better educational options.
  5. Well-learning: I wrote at length on the Finnish concept of well-learning in my second blog post. This concept remains not only compelling but opens many questions about our own commitment to our children. I ask this after a weekend of violence in my hometown including the shooting of a six-year-old girl. I ask this as debate begins of the reauthorization of ESEA. I ask this in the aftermath of Charleston. I ask this at a time when 20 percent of our nation’s children live in poverty. Are we losing our commitment to true access, equity, and safety for all children? My hope is that we renew our personal and national commitment to our children in a real, focused, and tangible way.
  6. Trust in the System: One clear strength that I see in the Finnish system is a significant amount of trust within the system and between the levels of the system. They aren’t wrought with the political issues that have inflamed the edu-policy debates in our country. There is also a willingness to allow autonomy (and thus trust) down the system from school system to building leader to teacher. Trust and alignment allow for a strong foundation to build a world class system upon.
  7. Personal Perspective: As I mentioned in my first two blogs, I have a Finnish friend that I reconnected with while in Helsinki. In talking to her about her experience in high school in Finland and her boys’ experiences, she has a very critical take on the Finnish system. Riina moved back to Finland after spending three years in an American school in Dubai. She, as I’ve mentioned, was incredibly bright and artistic and thrived in our little American school. When she returned to Helsinki she was promoted one full grade level as she was so far ahead but she still complained of feeling bored and contrived in a one-size fits all educational experience. Because of her experience she has chosen (to use our term) a magnet opportunity (English Language School) for her sons to allow them to be challenged and to better prepare them for our interconnected world.
  8. Teacher Manuals: One of the more illuminating moments came at the end of the afternoon at Helsinki City Schools with Pasi Silander. He leaned in and promised to offer the secret to the stellar Finnish results on PISA. He said the secret was teacher manuals. Our group, of district leaders, was stunned. Did Pasi mean tight, “teach-by-numbers” daily teaching manuals? In fact he did. The secret, from his perspective, wasn’t the much discussed teacher autonomy but the direct opposite in prescribed teaching manuals and pacing guides. Over dinner one evening our group had the opportunity to discuss this issue with an American teacher who teaches in Finland and he said it is very much frowned upon to deviate from the manual. This revelation leaves me scratching my head somewhat. This sounds like a very American way to try to achieve higher test scores and, as I stated before, is clearly incongruent to the vision of Finnish teacher autonomy being sold by so many both in the States and in Finland.
  9. EdLeader 21: I want to give a shout out to some of my travel companions. Ken Kay, Valerie Greenhill, and Alyson Nielson have built something truly special in EdLeader21. For those that do not know EdLeader21 is a professional learning community (PLC) for district leaders to enhance the implementation of the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) in schools and thus preparing students for citizenship in a changing economic landscape. This is a special group of thinkers and doers. The district leaders that are part of this PLC are some of the most thoughtful, insightful, committed, change agents that I’ve met. Ken, Valerie, and Alyson are the right leaders at the right time for this important, emerging national network. It was a pleasure to travel with them and learn from them. I’m grateful for the journey.
  10. District Innovation: Lastly, I want to revisit my hypothesis that the Finnish system could bear great fruit for districts in the United States. As I’ve written before, districts are at the right level of the American system to focus on alignment, implement a strong vision, culture, and to engage all stakeholders (transparency). Districts have the ability by implementing the aforementioned to drive trust and autonomy into the system and thus sustain and scale innovative practice. Districts can help ensure a student centered, personalized approach by connecting content, skills, creativity, and aligned, customized student supports. Some of these elements we clearly seen in the Finnish system. Other elements are present in the most innovative districts in the United States.


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Innovative Assessments Earn First Class Seat in Senate’s K-12 Education Bill

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-07-10 08:15

After years of debate and countless failed attempts to reauthorize the nation’s federal K-12 law, Congress finally appears ready to give the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) its best shot. Skeptics quieted as ESEA legislation passed the House Wednesday and took center stage on the Senate floor for an amendment process that will carry into next week. Hopes are higher than ever that a conference committee will finally have the opportunity to negotiate a compromise to replace the nearly decade overdue law.

While most of the debate in the Senate will center on a handful of highly controversial issues, others have earned a first class seat to conference thanks to broad support from committee leadership. Among the favorites is a new innovative assessment pilot that would give states the opportunity to design new, competency-based assessment systems in place of the current federally-required assessments. This pilot would enable states to build better, flexible assessments that enable educators and students to improve teaching and learning in real-time and to demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills when students are ready.

KnowledgeWorks and its partners, iNACOL, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and America Forward, worked closely with committee staff as well as Senators Angus King (I-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to strengthen the proposal in preparation for the Senate floor. Our primary goal was to design a workable program that would enable states to produce the next generation of high quality assessments.

We are grateful to our Senate champions and committee staff for their leadership in making a number of critical improvements to the proposal in the new substitute bill currently under consideration on the Senate floor.

Highlights of these changes include:


Instead of the initial three-year demonstration period with the possibility of a two-year extension, the substitute would allow states to propose their own timeline for implementation as long as the timeline does not exceed five years. States would still remain eligible for an additional two-year extension as long as they continue to meet their application requirements and can demonstrate that they will be able to scale statewide by the end of the additional two-year window. This improvement would provide states with a more workable timeline to scale the assessment system statewide.

State Participation

The substitute would permit up to seven states, or a consortia of states (not to exceed four in partnership), to participate in the program in the first three years of the demonstration authority. This cap was increased from a cap of five states in the committee-approved proposal. The substitute also replaces a required evaluation of the assessment system’s impact on teaching and learning indicators at year three with a non-binding progress report meant to provide transparency around a broad range of indicators. The Secretary would use this information to improve technical assistance for participating states, but the information would not impact whether additional states could participate in the demonstration authority beyond the initial three-year cap.

Demographic Similarity

The substitute amendment would ensure that states are thoughtful in their application about how to scale to a demographically similar group of districts by the end of the demonstration period and to report progress annually toward this goal. This approach would replace the original requirement that states demonstrate at the outset that participating school districts are demographically similar (“as a group”) to the state as a whole. While well intentioned, the original approach would have restricted states from launching the pilot in their most innovative districts and leveraging the success to build capacity in districts that require additional support.

Peer Review

The substitute would require the Secretary to either approve or deny a state’s application within 90 days of submission and give states the opportunity to revise and resubmit their application within 60 days after an initial decision has been made. The amendment would also ensure that the peer review panel consists of individuals with experience implementing innovative assessment systems.


Rather than require an evaluation of participating states at year three, the substitute would evaluate a participating state’s assessment system at the end of the demonstration authority to determine if the state is ready to transition to the innovative assessment indefinitely. The substitute clarifies that the baseline year for comparison is the first year of the demonstration authority to ensure comparisons are accurate and fair.

Comparable vs. Equivalent

The original proposal permitted the Secretary to withdraw demonstration authority from a state if the state was not able to demonstrate that the innovative assessment system was “equivalent” to the federally-required statewide summative assessments in “content coverage, difficulty, and quality.” The substitute would change the standard to “comparable” to clarify that states are not expected to develop assessments that are nearly identical to their previous systems.

These improvements represent a significant step in the design of a program that has the potential to redefine the way our country thinks about and implements assessments of student learning. While there is still more work to do before the language is perfect and ready for the President’s signature, we should all rest comfortably knowing that really thoughtful bi-partisan conversations unfolded in Washington, D.C., to craft a high quality proposal that responds to the growing national demand for better assessments that empower continuous improvement of student learning.


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How Might Education Help Inmates Contribute to Their Communities?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-07-07 12:14

Operating within the San Francisco County jail, Five Keys Charter School is the first comprehensive charter school to operate within a correctional facility. Founded by the Sheriff’s department according to the principles of restorative justice, the school is fully accredited and seeks to support the education of inmates during and after incarceration in order to help them rebuild their lives and strengthen communities. Five Keys recently initiated a tablet-based program using cordoned-off online curriculum and resources to provide incarcerated students the opportunity to access broader resources and personalize their learning. The school also includes a network of micro-schools embedded in 18 workforce development agencies across San Francisco so as to follow students post-incarceration and support the re-entry process.

This signal of change provides one example of how education stakeholders are beginning to find new ways of addressing the needs of incarcerated learners. As Jason Swanson, Andrea Saveri, and I explored in our recent paper, “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” learners living in incarcerated settings can face particular challenges in addition to the common challenges described in the opening post of this series:

  • Access to learning content that is customized so as to help build a bridge back to society
  • Access to technologies and media that are tailored for use in restrictive settings
  • Pronounced stigma and isolation both during and after incarceration
  • Societal narratives saying that learners in such locations cannot learn and that being incarcerated has little to do with education
  • Help developing new relationships to learning
  • Intensive remediation

Looking ahead to 2025, our paper imagines that a restorative justice network would facilitate classroom- and community-based learning opportunities for inmates through social entrepreneurship. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles regions, RestorED would catalyze flexible learning environments through an interdependent web of educational, workforce, and social service organizations that were available to incarcerated students from their time within correctional institutions to their re-entry into their communities. RestorED would help change the cultural narrative around incarceration by linking inmates’ learning experiences in jail to productive work and projects in local communities. Learning pathways that began during incarceration would extend beyond that time, connecting to opportunities afterward.

This story from the future represents just one way in which ecosystem participants might address the needs of learners in incarcerated settings by bringing in some resources from large concentrating platforms and tailoring other resources to help students customize their experiences. Where else do you see possibilities for using new community-level approaches to support incarcerated learners?

Interested in learning ecosystems? Read more:


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What Might Expand Learning Infrastructure in Rural Communities?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:20

Eagle’s View Learning Center is located in Seward, Pennsylvania, a rural town of 486. It offers a learning environment whose curriculum is diverse and personalized despite scarce local resources. Eagle’s View has an onsite staff of three adults but uses online lesson content developed by the 200 teachers at the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School to bring diverse perspectives and material to its rural learners.

This signal of change provides one example of how education stakeholders are beginning to find new ways of addressing the needs of learners in poor rural communities. As Jason Swanson, Andrea Saveri, and I explored in our recent paper, “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” learners living in them can face particular challenges in addition to the common challenges described in the opening post of this series:

  • Lack of social and economic infrastructure
  • Limited access to high-quality educators and place-based extended learning opportunities
  • Limited diversity of perspectives and interest
  • Focus on meeting basic, immediate needs
  • Lack of access to basic health services

Looking ahead to 2025, our paper imagines that a rural learning commons might provide a new layer of infrastructure that seeded educator development and expanded access to cross-cultural learning experiences. The Rural Oklahoma Learning Ecosystem would use a co-presence technology platform and a global matchmaking platform to enable teachers and students to connect with classrooms in other locations. In addition, it would develop educator capacity through a resident teaching program that seeded educator development, hosted a robust open education resource platform, managed an integrated data warehouse for rural school districts, provided training in data analytics for school leaders, and coordinated a quarterly educator Collab MeetUp that rotated across rural communities. Educators would have access to a mentor cloud so as to access expertise that was not available locally and would also be able to enhance their local learning geographies using customized augmented reality software.

This story from the future represents just one way in which ecosystem participants might address the needs of learners in poor rural communities by extending local infrastructure and fostering educator development. Where else do you see possibilities for taking new community-level approaches to support learners in rural communities?

Interested in learning ecosystems? Read more:


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No room for innovation: Finland’s barrier to educational progress

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-07-01 09:46

photoOne of the key issues that is always discussed when talking about the Finnish education system is the elevation of the teaching profession and teacher pre-service training. These are, most assuredly, aspects of the system that should be discussed. Finland has elevated the profession on par with doctors and lawyers. In so doing, they have reserved the slots in teacher colleges for elite students.

Part of this process was reducing the number of teacher education programs by 80 percent to allow for better alignment, consistency in instruction capacity and practice, and allow for more uniformity in Finnish classrooms. Teachers are trained to use and analyze data, to do their own field-based research, and implement research-based practices in their classrooms.

The pre-service system is heavy on theory and content. Over the first three years, students build that foundation before entering the classroom to student-teach in their last year in college. All Finnish teachers have a master’s degree. This sort of uniform and rigorous training allows teachers to have greater autonomy. Every discussion that I had with higher education and education officials focused in on this key issue of teacher autonomy. This is obviously something that American teachers crave and feel that they do not have because of the constraints of NCLB and in particular our current testing regimes.

The Finnish system, for lack of a better compound word, is teacher-centric. This is an important concept. This teacher-centric focus on high-quality training, pedagogy, research-based instruction, and elevation of the profession has helped Finland become one of the highest performing systems in the world. Couple the teacher-centric focus with the culture, vision, and transparency I wrote about in my last blog and it creates a powerful equation to drive results. This is all true and should be celebrated.

Now comes the but…

My observations and my conversations with key stakeholders also began to expose a barrier to moving the Finnish system forward. It is a rigid system that does not support innovation well.

There have been movements towards a more student-centric model. Helsinki schools are leading this charge with the creation of e-campus. The cornerstones of e-campus are portfolio-learning, a culture of creative and collaborative learning, and an approach called phenomenon-based learning (think interdisciplinary project-based learning). This movement in Helsinki comes on the cusp of a new national curriculum in 2016 built on the notion of student-centrism. These new approaches to learning are supported by the business community and economic forums and to some degree being met with resistance by teaching professions that see it as an assault on their autonomy. This must all sound ever so slightly familiar, correct?

In so many ways the movement in Finland is directly analogous to the push in the United States around personalized learning. Finland, to their own admission, lacks the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the United States. Their economy is still relatively flat post the worldwide recession post 2008.

They know that to stay on top of the educational rankings and more importantly, to prepare their children to propel their economy, they need to shift their system from the teacher-centrism of the last several decades to a student-centric, student-driven system. Again, does this sound familiar? It was startling and fundamentally interesting to me that Finland and the United States were struggling with many of the same issues. The want to move to a student-centered approach but the difficulty in making that shift from providing the right capacity-building for teachers, engaging the right stakeholders, engaging parents, and empowering students to take control of their learning.

Systems perpetuate themselves, and each country, Finland and the United States, are trying to break out of the constraints of legacy, history, and inertia. I do have to fundamentally give Finland credit for proposing a shift from a teacher-centric national curriculum to a student-centric curriculum and aligned approach. This is a difficult shift and particularly difficult if you are on top as Finland is. We, too, can make this shift. We need to in order to be an economically viable leader in the future.


Read more about Matt’s trip to Finland:


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Why I’m scared of the future of education

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-06-30 09:49

scared-of-future-educationWhen I started at KnowledgeWorks almost a year ago, “strategic foresight” was a new concept to me. I had seen the KnowledgeWorks future forecast and thought through what the future of learning could look like, but my understanding of “forecasting” was limited to the Weather Channel telling me whether it was supposed to rain.

In May, I had the opportunity to learn more about strategic foresight when I took a leap out of my comfort zone and attended the Institute for the Future’s 2015 Ten Year Forecast Retreat. I’ve sat through plenty of conferences discussing how to tweak our education system to push it toward improvement, so trying to wrap my head around the education implications of Application Program Interface (API), block chain, and the seven economies that give structure to our world was mind-bending to say the least.

As much as I wish I could write a clear piece on how the corporate, consumer, creative, collaborative, civic, criminal, and crypto economies are going to be shaping education in 10 years, I still haven’t really wrapped my head around what those words even mean. I highly recommend looking to Katherine Prince’s reflections for deeper insight on the educational implications.

Along with major brain overload, I left the retreat with a revelation that I can fully comprehend and that I hope all involved in education and policy will start to take note of, as well.

First of all, our world is advancing very quickly, and while that can sound a little scary, that kind of fear is misdirected. The real scary idea is that our system of education – and the politics surrounding it – is not innovating even close to quickly enough to keep up with the reality of today, let alone the reality of 2025.

A lot has changed in the education world since 2005, regardless of whether or not we see it when we walk into a classroom. Most, if not all, of the students have always known smart phones, the internet, and social media and probably never had to use those things called Encyclopedias on research papers. There are innovative programs and schools that have popped up in the last 10 years that keep up with the reality of what it means to be prepared for tomorrow’s careers. Students are encouraged to focus on STEM classes to be competitive in the job market.

However, when I flash back to my time in high school, compared to my recent teaching experiences, I don’t see those changes in the education system.

When I walked into my first kindergarten class, an overhead projector was the most advanced piece of technology students could interact with (and by interact with, I mean look at). Students were leaving that K-8 school for high school without knowing how to type, let alone use the internet for research. Sure, my students were learning math and reading, but so were students in the 80s. Technology, progress, and future education’s potential weren’t even an option for my students.

And while there are future-ready schools that are willing to break from tradition to push children’s potential, they are often only available to students from well-off families. Game-changing innovation is happening and technology is advancing exponentially, but for the most part, it is reserved for the privileged and wealthy. Schools similar to the one where I taught are sliding farther and farther from the cusp of innovation.

I’m left frustrated with the system that too many students are being pushed through. As long as education conversations are dominated by the constant fights over the same controversial topics, we stall progress in public education, and the wealthy are able to race ahead with students prepared for the jobs of the future. Without the education community’s investment in the drastic transformation required to prepare all students for the future, education in 2025 looks devastatingly inequitable.

My experience at the IFTF retreat grounded me in the fact that my work in education is not about responding to the squeaky wheel, helping the rich get richer, or creating more stability for those with power. This work has to be about addressing the desperate reality that if our system doesn’t change soon, this country will continue find that the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to grow until it is insurmountable.


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