I recently had the pleasure of sharing KnowledgeWorks’ latest future forecast, Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem, with the Union Institute in Cincinnati. In applying the forecast’s insights with a higher education institution with a long history of innovating to make higher learning accessible to working adults, I found myself particularly intrigued by the question of whether small liberal arts institutions can expect to continue thriving.
It looks as if current models of higher education will crumble in the face of freely available, blockbuster-quality content (for example, Gautam Kaul’s Introduction to Finance course and other MOOCs) and do it yourself credentialing (for example, Degreed). Some of today’s universities will probably survive intact. Some will probably close their doors. Many will be faced with reinventing themselves.
They, and other learning providers, will have to think anew about what makes them special. About what particular value proposition will draw students to them instead of other options. As learners exercise more and more agency in seeking out precisely what they need and want, there will be many answers to such questions. Where tuition is high, the need to distinguish value beyond what is freely or inexpensively available will be especially pronounced.
These same questions will apply at the K-12 level. Probably not as soon. But Recombinant Education forecasts that education is facing the same kind of deep disruption and reconfiguration that Amazon brought to bookselling, and then to retail more generally, and that iTunes brought to the music industry.
We expect to see learning resources and experiences fit together in a much more modular way than we are used to thinking of it, the way we now purchase individual songs more often than whole albums. To see learners develop what we might think of as individual learning playlists to meet their specific needs and goals. Some learners’ playlists will mainly or only involve a brick and mortar school. But the range of choices will go far beyond today’s spectrum of in-person, blended, or digital. So far that some learning playlists might involve learning agents accessed directly from the talent cloud but no formal organization.
For an institution to remain viable in a world of free-flowing learning experiences, the question of value will critical. Quality could be part of the answer. So could specialization. Opening boundaries might be necessary too. Because even for those students who say “yes” to a particular value proposition, their engagement with it might not be an exclusive learning relationship.
The digital revolution has been a key lever in opening possibilities for education beyond what seemed possible when KnowledgeWorks published our first forecast on the future of learning in 2006. Our latest forecast, Recombinant Education, indicates that digital technologies, along with the social innovations that they enable, will continue to disrupt the education system such that the best of today’s solutions will combine with new components to meet learners where they are.
Digital learning will be part of a modular and nimble learning ecosystem in which learning agents, learners, and families create many different learning combinations that reflect their needs, interests, and goals.
Ten Insights from the Future
- Interactive tools such as online brokerage services and learning resources maps will be essential in helping learners and their parents choose from a rich array of learning resources and experiences.
- Learning agents who specialize in advising learners and their parents will play a critical role in helping learners find the particular mix of learning experiences that’s right for them.
- Meaningful data about learners and their learning will need to flow seamlessly across many different learning experiences and providers.
- That data will go far beyond logging academic performance data to provide rich insights into learners’ social and emotional conditions, predict performance, and suggest individual strategies for success.
- For data to follow individual learners across their learning experiences, technical systems will need to be interoperable, spanning organizational and geographic boundaries.
- As digital learning gets more and more sophisticated and as digital technologies increasingly support and complement place-based learning experiences, many forms of hyper-focused “schools” will operate across media and platforms.
- Learners will expect all learning experiences, regardless of format, to be highly personalized and relevant.
- School and district administrators will manage portfolios of learning resources, combining digital learning experiences and other assets to meet the needs of all learners.
- As extreme career mobility and ad hoc work become the norm, strong digital networking skills will become a critical aspect of career readiness.
- Digital portfolios and credentialing systems will help both learners and workers demonstrate their accomplishments and manage their personal brands.
It’s impossible to envision a future learning ecosystem without digital learning playing a critical role in delivering learning and without digital learning services providing essential supports for learners, families, and learning agents.
Let’s hold the future of learning in mind as we shape digital learning today.
Last week, Michael Robbins, Senior Advisor for Nonprofit Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, wrote a thought-provoking post on the Department’s blog titled Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution. In it, Robbins outlined four key areas of collaboration that community organizations can undertake to advance the digital learning movement:
- Expanding access and digital literacy;
- Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
- Service and volunteering in education; and
- Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.
As Digital Learning Day approaches, I am taken back a couple of years to when I was working on the launch of the 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning. I was still very new to the K-12 space; up until then I had worked in higher education, and was enamored with all the super-cool stuff contained in the forecast, especially around anytime, anywhere learning. One day, someone reminded me that while the 2020 Forecast might articulate some “super cool” things about learning being unhitched from traditional schools, there was also a good chance that this could lead to a widened achievement gap – specifically because of a lack of access to the proper edtech tools for underserved students. Needless to say, I hadn’t thought about this and was fairly disheartened as I wrapped my brain around the idea.
As I read Robbins’ post, my optimism about anytime, anywhere learning got a boost. Whether it’s Connect2Compete working “to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families,” or HIVE Learning Networks using, “new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers,” the partnerships he described made the 2020 Forecast super-cool again.
It is becoming increasingly clear that complex social issues, like education, cannot be improved by one sector alone. Cross sector collaboration; whether it is community or faith-based organizations, non-profits, businesses, or families; is a non-negotiable if we are going to, as Robbins says, “…ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.”
Publications referencing Forecast 3.0: Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem continue to bubble up in the education space.
“Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem,” by Joe Nathan, Director of the Center for School Change, asks if recent inventions or discoveries are changing the way we learn? Focusing on changes we have already witnessed in our lifetimes, Nathan explores some of the disruptions outlined in the Forecast.
Leslie Wilson, CEO-One-to-One Institute, outlines each of the five projected disruptions in “Charting the Future!”
Dive deeply into the future of learning – visit our new Learning in 2025 resources page.
After months of work with partners around the country, I am delighted to announce the release of KnowledgeWorks Forecast 3.0, Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem.
With our first two forecasts, we anticipated that teaching and learning would become uncoupled from traditional educational institutions. Beginning in 2005, we saw the possibility for a vibrant array of learning experiences, resources, and tools to be available to nearly anyone, anytime, anywhere, for any purpose. In 2012, that future has certainly arrived!
Due to five key disruptions, we expect that the coming decade will bring experiments with the novel recombination of this array of unbundled resources, talent, and technology. We will have the opportunity to put the pieces – some long-established and some new – together in new sequences to create a diverse and evolving learning ecosystem that ensures that each and every child is prepared to thrive in a dynamic future.
Of course, Forecast 3.0 is but one thread in a rich tapestry of the current education conversation. We hope you will be interested in weaving in your ideas by engaging in challenging, inspiring, and disruptive conversations in your own communities, organizations, and schools or here online with us.
Over the next few months, the Organizational Development and Foresight team, along with our KnowledgeWorks colleagues and partners, will continue to elaborate on the disruptions on this blog. We will also use the forecast’s “20,000 foot view” as a starting point for engaging in more practice-based conversations. We expect to examine questions about what the disruptions and opportunities to recombine components of the learning ecosystem might mean for topics as diverse as learning outcomes, curriculum, pedagogy, leadership, governance, teachers’ roles and preparation, professional learning, funding, assessment, partnerships, community involvement, and even the very purpose of education.
Please look for future discussions here or, if we can support your efforts to catalyze new conversations in some other way, please contact us. You can also engage further by ordering hard copies of the forecast free of charge or download the forecast if that is of use to you.
We look forward to creating the future with you!