The ‘Education’ Debate Tally

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-14 15:10



So far, there have been five Republican and three Democratic presidential debates. Most of them were at least two hours; a few even lasted upwards of three hours. There were more than 175,000 words spoken between candidates and moderators.

Yet only 64 of those words were “education.”

And only 58 of them were “college.”

Only 4 of them were “graduation.”

1 was “preschool.”*

It’s time to start talking about education. It’s time to start talking about how to best prepare our students for life beyond high school – a life where many of them will be competing for jobs that have yet to be created.

175,000+ words spoken in debates, but ‘education’ has only been mentioned 64 times. @knowledgeworks.
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That’s why we launched EducationPlaybook.com. To get the ball rolling. We know it’s just the beginning. We know there is real, grassroots work to do. We know there are endless challenges in ensuring that all children have access to quality learning that supports their needs.

But we also know that we need a leader who’s not afraid to stand up to those challenges.

Join us by starting the conversation in your network. Share EducationPlaybook.com with on social media or through email. Tweet to the candidates to ask your #EdDebate questions.

Let’s join together to put education where it belongs – in the center of the debate.



*Based on keyword searches of debate transcripts thus far. The word counts include all mentions of education, while most were included in anecdotes, in minimal discussion of higher or vocational education, or in mention of the Department of Education.

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Campaigning 101: How Obama’s Education Agenda Will Impact Future Presidencies

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 10:10

Last night’s State of the Union address was unusually short, setting the tone for what it sure to be an underwhelming legislative year. But before we hit pause until Election Day, it’s worth a quick look back on President Obama’s two terms in office to see how it will forever change education policy in our country. What have the past seven years taught us about the next four?

Productivity is Possible with a Little Creative Interpretation of the Law

When Congress could not agree on a path forward for reauthorization of the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Obama Administration decided to write its own script. Tired of sitting on the sideline, U.S. Department of Education staff took advantage of a loosely written ESEA provision to create a comprehensive waiver opportunity that helped states circumvent many of the law’s onerous provisions. While the outcome was a mixed bag, everyone can agree that this strategy represents a new way forward for future administrations.

Trust Your Team, The Bully Pulpit is Overrated

While the President and Secretary of Education hold coveted positions, they are by no means the only players on the team. State and district leaders hold equally important positions that come with their own set of political challenges. Future administrations must respect their role, trust their input, and let them lead when it makes sense. The Obama Administration learned this lesson the hard way as it faced battles over issues such as common core standards and teacher evaluations.

Innovation is More Than a Buzz Word

The Obama Administration was remarkably successful right out of the gate with its series of competitive innovation programs including Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation program. States, districts, and education organizations catered to federal requirements in hopes of securing resources to advance their agendas. Although most of these competitive programs fell victim to politics, the spirit of innovation remains strong across the country. States are now following suit with a flurry of education innovation bills, programs, and even innovation divisions within state government. The next President should capitalize on this energy.

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Americans care about the future of their children.
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An Idea is only as Good as it’s Evidence

The best messaging and communications specialists in Washington, D.C., are no match for education media and advocates that are eager to find fault with an education proposal. The past two presidential terms are marked by negative headlines pointing to lack of evidence for key education initiatives including Obama’s teacher effectiveness proposal and his infamous school improvement models. Even recently the media is quick to point out that his victory lap over record high graduation rates is unfounded as scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) fell for the first time in two decades. Candidates and elected leaders must backup ideas with solid evidence of success.

Education is the Great Uniter

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Just ask Congressional leaders who finally passed a bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA late last year at a time when political leaders could agree on nothing – and I mean nothing. Americans care about the future of their children, the state of the economy, and their national security, and they seem to get that it’s all tied to the strength of our education system. Presidential candidates should raise the level of debate in this country by talking about education issues on the campaign trail. We encourage them to start with a quick read of KnowledgeWorks’ presidential playbook at www.educationplaybook.com for ideas and concrete recommendations to strengthen our education system for the challenges of tomorrow. A strong education platform will pay dividends in the voting booth.

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Raising the Level of Education Debate

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 09:27

It’s time to raise the level of education debate throughout the country. It’s time to discuss how to best educate students for life beyond high school as they enter an ever-changing, increasingly innovative, interconnected workforce where many of their future jobs have yet to be created.

It’s time to think forward. It’s time to close achievement gaps and help all students succeed. It’s time for America’s students to once again compete on an international stage.

And it’s time we ask those running for President to rise to the challenge.

This is why KnowledgeWorks created the Education Playbook for the Next President of the United States. This set of policy proposals was developed with a lens towards transforming our education system and not just tweaking the status quo. With that lens, we believe by using strategic foresight and partnering with educators in both traditional and innovative environments, we have developed five key policy proposals which drive innovation and results:

  1. We encourage support and flexibility for States that want to voluntarily develop and improve systems of competency based education. These systems, will allow students to learn and master the skills and knowledge they need to be successful through a personalized learning approach that is geared toward the needs of each and every individual learner.
  2. We recommend support for States to develop digital registries of personalized learning opportunities that utilize innovative partnerships with business and postsecondary institutions. This effort would spur educational innovation by accessing the learning and instructional power in schools, higher education, and out-of-school organizations to develop and validate successful learning opportunities and pathways to college and career readiness.
  3. We recommend support for partnerships of States and institutions of higher education to improve certification and develop a new pipeline of educators that can implement personalized learning approaches. This will harness the educational power across the spectrum, from community volunteers to full-time classroom teachers.
  4. Our nation’s federal student aid system should be redesigned to pay for the actual acquisition and demonstration of knowledge and skills, not simply covering the costs of credit hour courses that may not lead to any actual learning. This approach would allow students to access their total amount of Federal aid at any time during their academic careers, allowing them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the workplace at a pace that works for them.
  5. We recognize the need to support a new approach to investing in education technology through a competition to spur new ideas and approaches. This support can incent technological innovation away from simply digitizing print media, and instead focus on new ways to impact learning.

I invite you to engage with us and with our Education Playbook and spread the word if you’d like. Join the conversation using #EdDebate and visit www.educationplaybook.com to learn even more.


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Beef with Grit(s)

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-08 13:35

I have to admit, I came up with the title “Beef with Grit(s)” before I came up with the content for this post. I actually came up with the title about a month ago, when I decided it would be great to write about why I struggle with prioritizing student “grit” in the classroom. But then I got distracted, forgot to write the post, and was left nothing but a catchy title.

Does that mean I don’t have grit? Let’s check. As published in a recent Atlantic article, a student’s level of grit is often gauged by using prompts like “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones,” “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one,” or “I finish whatever I begin.”

If the quality of my grit is based on the first two questions, I severely lack it. I’m easily excited by new ideas, as evidenced by the 27 tabs I currently have open on Chrome to read.

I’ve always considered myself a rather driven person, but I’m never quite sure where that drive is going to lead me… in other words, I change my mind. Is that so bad? To some people, it is. But this is where I have privilege. I would argue that because of my race and class, society is set up for me to succeed, which allows me some leeway. I have grown up with support systems that keep me moving ahead, who understand that, though I may come up with a title and forget about the post for an entire month, I am adding value to work and relationships in other ways Not so coincidentally, this same privilege and support has enabled me to develop grit over time. (More exploration on that in a future post.)

When we talk about having grit, or not having grit, in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept. We are imposing middle class, “bootstraps” values for diverse student bodies that include student with myriad abilities, some of which don’t include sitting still at a desk and completing a project start to finish no matter the struggle.

When we talk about grit in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept.
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We also easily leave behind children who come from different cultural perspectives. For instance, some cultures value community over individuality. If a student wants to work in a team and let others lead, they may not have “grit” the way it is defined now. Does that mean they are a poor student? (Spoiler alert, I don’t think so.)

Many students work to overcome obstacles even before they get to school. The grit they display may look completely different than the grit prioritized in the classroom. Does the student who had to cook breakfast and dress their four younger siblings every morning, but can’t quite finish that report have less grit than the student whose mom drove them to school today and finished the report in a week? Absolutely not. So then why are we assessing them that way?

Tyrone Howard, PhD, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA, offers alternative scaling questions that expand what student engagement means in a classroom and views the whole student at a deeper level. Some of his scaling questions include, “I always have bus fare to get to school.” “Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.” “I have at least one teacher who cares about me.” Dr. Howard argues heavily in favor of an academic climate that is as mindful of the prompts in the second category as much as those in the first grit scale.

As schools begin to focus more on social emotional development, it seems to me that we need a careful review of what type of social emotional learning we prioritize in the classroom. (And what policymakers determine classrooms should prioritize.)

Districts should consider perhaps personalizing social emotional development and assessment. With the reauthorization of the ESEA, schools are now measured on performance that can include school climate or engagement. There is a tie between the soft skills students learn and how they engage in school, so social emotional development should be culturally competent and personalized to reflect each student’s development.

Social emotional development and trauma-informed teaching / learning are extremely important topics to me. Here are some questions I’ve been considering as I start this blog series on the topic, and I hope they make you stop and ponder as well.

What kind of “grit” are students showing by simply coming to school? What type of resiliency are they already showing? How can practitioners (teachers, social workers, other students) show empathy around each student’s experience?

What other social emotional skills and qualities can we teach students in the classroom that help a student succeed and become an independent learner? How does grit still fit in?

How can we adjust our thinking to include a more trauma-informed approach to a student’s education? How will that affect our view of grit?

How does social emotional learning intersect with accountability systems? Is it “good” to quantify and scale social emotional development?

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Learning, CryptoEconomics & the Open Culture Movement

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-07 14:50

Imagine if students, teachers and parents could track experiences throughout the learning ecosystem, using cryptoeconomics and new blockchain database technology to continuously improve. Or if students could have access to their own universal record with comprehensive data on their educational experiences from preschool through college and beyond. And imagine if learners could use smart contracts with transportation systems, food service, and other community supports to enable them to pursue learning beyond the walls of the traditional school.

And with new encryption technology, student-level data would be protected through mathematical proofs that provide high levels of security.

KnowledgeWorks’ newest forecast, “The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code”, marks the organization’s fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning. Our new forecast explores what learning might be like as we transition into a new era wherein our economy, our institutions, and our societal structures continue to change at an accelerating pace.

Our new forecast seducation-blockchaineeks to imagine what learning might look like as part of this new era by exploring the future through the lens of five drivers of change:

  • Optimized Selves: Discovering new human horizons
  • Labor Relations 2.0: Negotiating new machine partnerships
  • Alternate Economies: Finding the right niche
  • Smart Transactional Models: Creating self-managing institutions
  • Shifting Landscapes: Innovating in volatile conditions


All of these drivers are equally important, with each serving in its own way to shape the future in general and the future of learning specifically. However, one driver in particular, Smart Transactional Models, feels as if it has been receiving a lot of press as of late.

In our forecast we describe Smart Transactional Models as follows:

As part of a growing open culture movement, the authority to distribute assets, access permissions, and gain rights to resources is shifting from hierarchical institutions to communities. At the same time, innovations in encryption technologies are ushering in more transparent and distributed models of structuring transactions. Together, these developments promise to reconfigure institutions by enabling both the development of flexible value webs comprised of many organizations that operate with minimal, if any, management. Smart contracts that automatically execute the terms of agreements once specific conditions are met promise to bypass layers of administration and expand possibilities for true local control of schools, school districts, and other institution.

It’s hard to read the news and not see this driver throughout the headlines.  Looking at the open culture movement, we are seeing the desire for increased transparency and access to data as reflected by sites such as Data.gov, a central repository for U.S government data and part of President Obama’s effort to create a more open government. We also see the desire for openness through concerns about data ownership  and surveillance, both at the governmental level, as witnessed by the reaction to domestic spying, all the way to the consumer level, with recent headlines about privacy fears in connection with the the high-tech Barbie, which records  the conversations that children have with the toy and sends them to the cloud, where algorithms orchestrate responses. We see similar fears about Amazon’s in-home robot, Alexa, centering on concerns about what Amazon might do with the data generated from the interactions between Alexa and its owners.

Encryption technologies, more specifically the blockchain technology being used to power the crypto-economy, are also receiving a lot of media attention. Blockchain, the digital ledger that supports bitcoin, can be thought of as a chain with many links. When a transacation is made with bitcoin, the blockchain records the transaction, creating a new link in the chain. The algorithms that run blockchain operate on thousands of computers, creating a distributed database. Because the transactions are recored as a chain, the data is unmutable. Blockchain has been the subject of countless articles ranging from speculation to its use in voting; to the creation of self-managing organizations which require minimal, if any, human guidance;  to actual use cases of blockchain being used to verify and authenticate academic records and to create self-executing wills.

Looking across these trends, what might the Smart Transactional Models driver of change mean for the future of learning? Our forecast highlights several possibilities:

  • Learning ecosystems could make use of blockchain technology in conjunction with new data flows to allow ecosystems to improve themselves automatically and continuously.
  • A universal student record consisting of comprehensive student data could follow the learner through the education lifecycle.
  • Smart contracts that connected learners with distributed transportation systems, food service, and other supports could enable them to pursue learning experiences beyond the walls of traditional school.

As these images of the future suggest, Smart Transactional Models has the potential to make a significant impact on the future of learning by changing the ways in which we struture and manage institutions. In fact, we think that blockchain has such potential to disrupt education that we are taking a deep dive into the topic for a publication due out later this year.

In what ways do you see Smart Transactional Models affecting education? Do you think the open culture movement and innovations in encryption technologies have the potential to change learning in significant ways?


Photo credit (top): Perspecsys Photos

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5 Necessities for an Ideal High School, According to College Freshmen

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-06 09:31

If you ever want to be amazed; if you ever want to challenge your perceptions; if you ever want to think differently about learning… talk to students about what they think and wish “school” could be.

We had the opportunity to talk to some college students and pick their brains about their educational journeys so far and what they wish for future students. Specifically, we asked them questions about how they learn, what challenges students are facing today, what their ideal high school would look like, and how adults and local community members could play a role in learning.

Here are some of the ingredients for an ideal high school, according to college students:

  1. A welcoming environment. “If the school has a loving, respectful environment, chances are that the majority of students will be respectful too. I’ve seen low-income students bullied for wearing the same clothes every day, and I’ve heard teachers talk about those students and make fun of them, as well. Even though high school students are close to being adults, they still follow by example. Building a welcoming environment is one of the first and more important things a school could do to foster students who will passionately serve their community.”
  2. A focus on students’ futures beyond school. “A school should help students realize their values and guide them through their transformation into adulthood. Everyone involved needs to work to help students get where they want to go. That’s really all schools need to do. … I would want a school not to have a ‘just-get-them-out-the-door’ approach, but instead have a ‘set-them-up-for-success’ mentality toward student learning.”
  3. Opportunities for real-world experiences. “School should value opportunities beyond the classroom. In an ideal learning experience, one half of the day would be spent in the classroom learning core material and the second half of the day would be spent in the field, at an internship, co-op or something that applies the concepts learned in the classroom. I feel like this would be the best approach to fully master something.”
  4. Less importance on testing; more importance on comprehension. “We should have greater value on understanding the material than doing well on standardized tests.”
  5. Greater emphasis on working as a team. “Ever since graduating, all the work I’ve done has included teamwork. There’s a need, not only to foster this type of environment in the classroom, but also to build value and understanding for teamwork throughout the school and student body.”

What do you think? What would an ideal high school look like to you?

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Designing for Education — TapTapSee

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-01-05 09:26


Could your mobile phone be a learning tool for the blind and visually impaired? Absolutely.

KnowledgeWorks’ Jordan Crone interviews Julia Gallagher, the Community Relations Associate at the aptly named TapTapSee, a mobile camera application designed specifically for blind and visually impaired iOS users. The app utilizes the iDevice’s camera and VoiceOver functions to photograph objects and identify them audibly for the user. Just double tap on the device’s screen to photograph any two or three dimensional object at any angle, have it accurately analyzed, and defined within seconds. The iDevice’s VoiceOver then speaks the identification audibly to the user.

Read the full interview to find out her thoughts on the future of learning, designing for education, product development in the education space and the company’s roadmap.

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Working for what is right for students in Lindsay, California

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-01-04 11:34

“We don’t want a better version of bad. We want a good version of right.”

Jaime Robles said that during a recent visit to Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California. “That’s what people do. They try to improve the traditional system. As good as you can make it it’s still a flawed system. This is not about improving the traditional system. It’s about completely getting rid of it and creating a system that truly meets the needs of all learners.”

There’s been a lot of positive attention focused on Lindsay because of the changes they’ve made over the last five years to move from a traditional education system to a performance-based system, or competency education model.

This shift started with school and community leaders acknowledging what we all inherently know. Kids learn at different paces and in different ways. The traditional education system doesn’t allow much flexibility for that.

“We don't want a better version of bad. We want a good version of right,” said Jaime Robles from the Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California.In Lindsay schools, work is evaluated by performance and mastery of a subject. Students get to take ownership of their education. They move at their own pace, select projects that best fit their learning style as well as display subject mastery and know at all times not only how they’re doing in school but also what they need to do in order to make it to the next level.

“We know that ensuring that the rest of their life is the best of their life begins right there, while they’re still curious, while they still love learning, while their brains are still able to capture the growth mindset concepts, while they still can be taught to dream big,” said Robles, former Principal of Lindsay High School and currently the Executive Director of Human Resource for Lindsay Unified School District.

And so he, along with other Lindsay community leaders, parents and school staff have been working to ensure happy, successful futures for their kids.

“Whatever you choose, we’re going to make sure you have the skills to make it,” said Robles.

Learn more about Lindsay Unified School District. Find out how KnowledgeWorks can bring personalized learning and competency education to your school district.

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Designing for Education — MATH 42

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-12-28 11:24

What if there were an app that could help with math homework? K – 12 and college level math test prep? One that offered elegant, intelligent approaches to solutions presented step-by-step to accommodate every learner? These are the aims of MATH 42, an app available on iOS and, hopefully, on all platforms in 2016.

KnowledgeWorks’ Jordan Crone interviews one of MATH 42’s founders, Maxim Nitsche, who was just 15 when he and his team began development. Interested in the full story? Explore Nitsche’s thoughts on the future of learning, product development in the education space, and the company’s roadmap.

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Winter break reading list for every mood

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-12-22 10:55

The best part about lazy vacation days? Reading. If you disagree, I will somewhat accept Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime/name-your-favorite-platform marathons, but for the most part, I will still think you’re a little wrong. In light of compromise—hello, upcoming presidential election year—I’ve added one mini-series to my list of winter reading. While last year’s list focused heavily on education reads, this year’s list takes a broader, social policy approach and includes options for the whole family. Finally, from one book lover to (hopefully) many others, do what you do best and send me your recommendations.

If you want an education drama.

the-prizeThe Prize, Dale Russakoff

A little more than a year and a half ago, The New Yorker published a fascinating piece by Dale Russakoff on the attempt at reforming Newark’s schools, supported by Superintendent Cami Anderson, Senator Cory Booker, and Governor Chris Christie, and bankrolled by Mark Zuckerberg to a tune of $100 million. I was thrilled when I learned that she went on to publish a book on the topic earlier this year. If it’s anything like the New Yorker piece, it’s a deep dive into the background of Anderson, Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg and the circumstances that led to what many see as an epic failure.

Read if you need a refresher on how money and good intentions alone don’t transform complex systems.

If you want to challenge yourself.

between-the-world-and-meBetween the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I first heard about Ta-Nehisi Coates when I began my long and unfinished journey into better understanding cultural competency, identity, and institutionalized racism, three areas that, interestingly enough, I anticipate are likely drivers behind the struggles seen in numbers one and three on this list. Coates’ work has challenged me and led me through some powerful self-reflection, not to mention lively dinnertime conversations. In fact, I recommend taking a time out from reading this immediately to Google any of his work. Written as a letter from Coates to his son, this National Book Award winner arrives at a timely moment in our country’s history.

Read if you want to better understand how race and identity shape our experiences.

If you want to learn about something new.

Show-Me-A-HeroShow Me a Hero, HBO

Nearing the top of my list of shows to binge watch is the six part miniseries Show Me a Hero, a miniseries set in Yonkers, New York, based on Lisa Belkin’s non-fictional book (See? Books really are where it’s at.) about the tension between a white middle-class neighborhood and a newly mandated public housing development. While I spend my days neck-deep in education policy, I also know that there are so many social policy issues that are directly linked to this field. I don’t often have the luxury of digging into the stories behind those issues, so even though this will only begin to scratch the surface of the complexity of housing policies, it’s a good step out of my edu-comfort zone.

Watch if you never thought you would willingly learn about housing policy (because if you would, you’ve probably already seen it).

If you want a feel-good story.

zen-shortsZen Shorts, Jon Muth

The last two on my list take a significant turn to the light-hearted. What’s better than a story about a panda named Stillwater gently imparting life lessons on his new neighbors? That’s right, nothing. Don’t shy away just because it’s a picture book! Back when I was teaching, I loved reading this one just as much as, if not more than, my students.

Read if you want a story about the importance of kindness and generosity that won’t get the Grinch’s theme song stuck in your head.

If you want something adorable. 

the-mittenThe Mitten, Jan Brett

Let’s be honest, this needs no explanation; The Mitten is the perfect book for winter. If you’ve read it, I’m willing to bet just seeing the cover gives you warm fuzzies. If you haven’t, just wait for the excruciating cuteness and the surprise twist at the end.

Read  if…seriously, just read it. It takes less than five minutes.


Cue the countdown and get those library holds ready for some lazy (and hopefully at least a little snowy) vacation reading!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Top 5 Things Schools Can Do to Implement Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-12-21 10:32

When the way we’ve done school hasn’t changed for more than a century, implementing a system as revolutionary as competency-based education, just one of the many avenues for personalized learning available to schools, can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

I caught up with Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks’ Chief Learning Officer, formerly a superintendent of RSU 2 and a principal in the Lindsay Unified School District, to pin down the five things communities can do to get started.

  1. Define what the picture of a graduate looks like in your community. Are they a collaborator? A leader? Prepared academically but also civic-minded? Chances are communities want their graduates to be all of these things, which is why it’s important to get everyone at the table to have this conversation.“Even before we start talking about competencies, we need to talk about how we’re going to support our vision for the future of education in our community as a community,” says Hammonds. “And the conversation doesn’t end there. We don’t want a strategic design binder we’re going to put on a shelf. How do we make our vision something that we live, eat, and breathe each day?” The picture of a graduate should stand behind every learning decision.
  2. Look at what’s working in the community now, and amplify it. While many districts are understandably weary of new initiatives, every district is bound to have something new working somewhere. Thinking about what’s a good fit for your community and expanding those practices will benefit everyone in the long run. Initiative fatigue is real and present in every learning community.  But  focusing on what works is critical for success. Any learning initiatives that aren’t resulting in  desired outcomes should be reflected upon, learned from, and dropped.
  3. Forget what you think you know about education. Okay, maybe not all of it. But, according to Hammonds, we all think we know what we need to know about education because we’ve lived the system. “Our traditional education model has not allowed us to think differently about how we support children, let alone do anything about it,” says Hammonds. “When we live in a world where vendors are customizing their processes to appeal to consumers, when technologies adapt to users, it’s past time to think. It’s time to act.”
  4. Develop transparent learning outcomes. Can you clearly define what learning outcomes you want each graduate to have, and at what depth of knowledge? Though Hammonds knows that this is “the hardest part” for many communities, holding your picture of a graduate accountable is vital – and holding individuals within the community accountable for supporting them is, too. Ensuring each student is held to the same standards and providing them a personalized path to achieve mastery is the key to an equitable education.
  5. Believe that a highly personalized, mastery-based education system is possible. “If we continue to think that it doesn’t exist and it’s not possible, it won’t,” insists Hammonds. “We’re surrounded by people who think it’s possible, because it is. Though it is difficult redesigning our century-old learning system, our children are worth the investment.” A majority of states allow for personalized education and flexible assessment, and powerful states where it’s happening now are engaging policymakers to see it implemented on a larger scale.

Hammonds is optimistic about the work. While he knows there are some big hurtles to overcome, the writing’s on the wall. “When push comes to shove with community members who aren’t ready to take the plunge into highly personalized learning, I ask, what do you want for your kid?” Hammonds says. “If we know that kids tie shoes and ride a bike all in their own time, why don’t we structure schools that way?”

Why, indeed.

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Discussing the Future of Learning on EduTalk Radio

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-12-17 12:59

KnowledgeWorks’ new Future Forecast was the focus of today’s interview on EduTalk Radio. Host Larry Jacobs spoke with Katherine Prince and Jason Swanson on the Strategic Foresight team at KnowledgeWorks about changing trends in education.

“Every few years we step back and say, ‘What are the emerging trends in the world and what they might mean for education?'” said Prince. “We really offer our forecast to the field to help education stakeholders of many kinds of roles look ahead and decide how they would like to [spearhead] the trends to shape the future, as well as be prepared for the many possible futures that could unfold.”

Some of the changes the Forecast explores are changes in teacher training, where learning occurs, how technology and humans interacts and more.

Explaining the title of this Forecast, “The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, Swanson said, “We took the position with this forecast of really exploring the changes that are happening outside of education. The idea of “an era of partners in code” really stems from this thinking that one of the big drivers is this kind of exponential acceleration of technology, especially digital technology. This text era of human and digital co-evolution is really leading us into a whole new era of living and working.”

To learn more about the Future Forecast and the future of learning, listen to the complete interview on EduTalk Radio and download the Future Forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code.

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May the Forcecast Be With You

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-12-17 09:30

There’s less than twelve hours to go before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and we’re all pretty excited around here. But the continued saga of our favorite Jedi, droids and intergalactic diplomats isn’t the only launch we’ve anticipated this December – just a few weeks ago, KnowledgeWorks released our latest future forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code. Rather than looking back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the forecast looks forward to a possible future bright with the promise of personalized learning, machine/human partnerships, revolutionary wearables, and more.

But we couldn’t help but draw some very real parallels between the future of education and the world of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's mentorship skills are invaluable.

In the future, mentors may play an even more significant role in our education system. Much like Obi-Wan Kenobi plays a critical role in shepherding a young Anakin Skywalker and later his son, Luke Skywalker, through an understanding of the Force, the learners of tomorrow, especially those who don’t have the traditional supports at home or in the community, will rely tremendously on the guidance of knowledgeable, invested adults.

Luke Skywalker benefits from a personalized learning approach.

Teachers will be prepared to meet students where they are and anticipate their individual needs, providing personalized education that challenges every learner. It’s pretty easy to imagine Luke Skywalker in a modern-day classroom, faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of writing a five paragraph essay or solving a quadratic equation – all right on par with lifting an X-wing out of a swamp – and ready to give up. But he keeps at it, and his teacher, Yoda, is right there with him, refusing to let him surrender to defeat and finding new and innovative ways to explore problems together. Anticipating changes to education funding models and teacher certification and professional development, our latest forecast asks us to consider what positive influences these kinds of changes could bring to the future of education.

Luke Skywalker craves adventure, challenge, and involvement.

The learner of the future wants options. Luke Skywalker craves adventure, challenge and involvement, and he’ll do almost anything to get it. He’s not content to do things the way that they’ve always been done or follow in his Uncle Owen’s footsteps. Our latest forecast looks at the rise of homeschooling and alternative schooling as a signal that the way we approach traditional education must change, must adapt, or risk leaving many learners behind. Very few kids want to grow up to be moisture farmers these days.

C3P0 is more than just a tool, he's a friend.

Digital helpers may think, learn, anticipate our needs and wants, and even create art. R2-D2 and C-3PO are more than just droids – they’re individuals who are relied upon not only for their usefulness and technical capacity, but also for their reliability, their friendship, and their humor. Given our increasing attachment and integration with our many devices and their variety of uses, our latest forecast wonders at a future when we may regard our machine partners as more than just tools, and instead regard them as companions. C-3PO was specifically programmed for etiquette and protocol, to help humans to be better humans.

When one of the key challenges outlined in our latest forecast is to “define how people [can] foster productive relationships with technology that leverage, elevate, and celebrate the unique contributions of our humanity,” I can only hope that our future will look a little bit like Lucas’ fictional past.

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This Could be the Moment

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-12-15 14:24


This could be the moment we’ve been waiting for, when we can really move forward with personalized learning.

So observed one of the participants in Education Commission of the States’ Winter Commissioners Meeting, at which I had the pleasure of sharing The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code with my colleague Matt Williams. KnowledgeWorks’ new forecast highlights the need to help all learners thrive amid intensifying complexity and rapid change.

Much of the conversation focused on the potential for increasing customization, both within and beyond the public K-12 system. What educational structures might come to the fore? Will they be public, private, or charter? How might people navigate both macro-level choices, such as where their children attend school or other learning experiences, and micro-level choices, such as how an individual child orients a learning journey around his or her interests?

We need to explore such structural questions and will likely have new ways of answering them in ten years’ time. Those possibilities include more fluid school structures and more varied learning ecosystems. In considering them, participants emphasized the need to find new ways of counting students’ work effectively, no matter where it takes place. They also raised the possibility of using our current school infrastructure to create customized microcosms of learning, since many parents will still need somewhere safe for their kids to go while they work.

The conversation also focused on the need to redefine readiness as new machine partnerships and employment structures rapidly change where, how, and how much people work. In light of such change, enabling new learning structures won’t be enough. We must also reexamine the purpose and outcomes of learning. We must ask big questions about where the world is heading while also challenging our assumptions about how we organize education and support learning.

As one participant said, “We do school well. We do education less well.” With a myriad of possibilities on the horizon, how might we enable personalized learning for all students, in many shapes and forms? How might we put students instead of institutions at the center?

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Fighting the Institutionalization of Mediocrity with Access and Opportunity

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-12-14 13:03

“There are—there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a … slower track school where they do well,” he said. “I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer.”

That quote is from Justice Antonin Scalia in response to Fisher v. University of Texas earlier this month.

I didn’t write down my reactions immediately to that statement because I wanted to give myself time. Time to gut check. Time to cool off. Time to see if my initial reaction was the same one I had a few days later. It is.

I don’t take issue with the fact that Justice Scalia and I don’t agree with each other. I don’t agree with lots of people, but differing opinions and healthy debate are a cornerstone of our country. What I take issue with is this:

When you say it’s okay for an entire demographic to go to less competitive schools, you are making an case for the institutionalization of mediocrity.When you say it’s okay for an entire demographic to go to less competitive schools, and argue that those less competitive schools may be better matched to their ability, you are making an case for the institutionalization of mediocrity.

I don’t accept that. I think the challenge is to make sure that we, as a country, don’t accept that either. EDWorks Early College High Schools have shown time and time again that by creating a culture of high expectations with supports in place to help students, all students can succeed.

Harold Brown, Senior Officer for the Advancement of Underserved Learners for KnowledgeWorks and former President of EDWorks, says, “The expectation that every student in the school will be successful in college – emphasis on every – makes students and the adults in their lives move mountains. I have come to believe that the so called ‘soft bigotry of low expectations. is the most fundamental of our challenges in education. All that we plan, do and implement is based on what we expect of our young people.”

This. Because while not every student may choose to go to college, I want that to be an option for every student. While not every student may have the opportunities to go to the most prestigious schools in our country, I don’t want that to be because I took away that option. Not every student maybe be able to handle the rigors of higher education, but I don’t want that to be because we didn’t to our part in making sure they were ready for college.

The Fisher v. University of Texas case will continue on for several more months. In the meantime, can we all work towards creating a culture of high expectations that helps fight the institutionalized of mediocrity?

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Taking time to celebrate before rolling up our collective sleeves to get to work.

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-12-10 15:07



Yesterday, the United States Senate passed a reauthorized version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And today, President Obama added his signature, making the reauthorized version the law of the land.

The new version called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced the now dearly departed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. The bill passed the Senate 85 to 12, mirroring the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 359 to 64 in the U.S. House of Representatives late last week.

I first want to commend the leadership of Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House of Representatives and Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) on their tremendous leadership and determination to not only see the process through to a positive conclusion but to do so in such a bipartisan way. Watching the last week has been a fascinating example of how our government can work when people take off the partisan blinders to move the important work of the country forward. In a time when politics feels more partisan and hateful than ever it was a beautiful reminder of our best selves.

Now, is it a perfect bill? Nope. But the bill does take a large step forward to allow states and districts to develop more innovative systems. It allows for greater flexibility to improve schools and scale innovation. It allows for fundamental game-changers for personalized learning and, in particular, competency education to better grow and prosper without as many structure impediments. The bill is a critical step forward – and a much needed step forward – to transform our system of education in this country.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act makes significant improvements to the assessment requirements. These improvements will lift the barriers in current law to systems of assessments that can support personalized learning and competency education and support our ultimate shared goal of college and career readiness for all students.
  • A growing number of states are developing new, student-centered systems of assessments designed to support competency education. These systems include statewide, standards aligned banks of performance assessments, entry and exit benchmarking, and annual summative validation. Federal law should provide a clear path to approval for these states, and ensure rigor and quality of these new, innovative systems of assessments. We are excited that ESSA establishes an Innovative Assessment Pilot to allow states to apply for permission to develop rigorous systems of assessments that better align with student-centered, competency-based learning models.
  • I am pleased that ESSA permits all state systems of assessments to measure individual student growth; use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores; and use adaptive assessments that can measure students where they are in their learning.
  • ESSA provides more flexibility to states and local education agencies to implement innovative strategies like early college high schools and other dual enrollment programs that improve rigor in secondary schools and help students effectively transition to post-secondary education. For example, states and local education agencies will be able to use some federal Title I funds to support college-level coursework in schools in need of improvement and can use some Title II funding for professional development to promote early college high school and dual enrollment. The bill also incorporates student access to college-level coursework in local school system plans and report cards. Early college high schools and dual enrolment programs are also allowable uses of funds through a new consolidated grant program to states called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant. Finally, the bill includes, for the first time in federal statute, a definition of early college high schools and dual enrollment programs to establish a quality standard for this work.

Lots of work lies ahead on developing the regulations to support the implementation of this law. There will be significant work done by states to develop new systems and calibrate current, effective systems to this new law. There will be key questions around issues such as turning around our lowest performing schools, how to effectively evaluate teachers, and how to pilot and scale new, more innovative approaches to education. These are important and essential questions.

But before we collectively roll our sleeves up, let’s first raise a glass to the leadership demonstrated by our Congress. Cheers.

Top photo by Amanda Tipton.

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The Essentials of Competency-Based Education

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-12-09 11:33

What do we mean when we say competency-based education? It’s a big concept, but there’s an even bigger payoff for everyone involved – students, teachers, and community leaders alike.

Competency-based education relies on four essential things: transparent learning outcomes that everyone can understand, a focus on student mastery rather than seat time, making learning real and relevant for the student, and bringing everyone to the table – a strategic design plan for personalized learning that everyone has a say in, both educators and non-educators, is essential. You want everyone on the same page, working for the success of every student, and you want everyone to be operating under the same definition and pathway to success, too.

In a conversation with Mirjam Dekker, KnowledgeWorks’ Project Manager of our competency education initiative, she cited a brief exchange with a student at RSU2, a Maine school district that champions student-centered learning. She asked the student what she was working on, and she was able to cite the measurement topic, her current level, and what she needed to do to achieve mastery. The student in question? She was in the third grade.

If your typical 9-year-old can understand and talk about where they are on a learning continuum, then so can a parent, or a community or business leader. Transparent learning outcomes make it possible not only to make sense of learning experiences that might not look like the traditional test, but they also make it possible to hold everyone to the same standard. You don’t get a pass with a 60 percent – if the goal is that every child is able to identify and understand symbolism in a story or calculate the circumference of a circle, then every student has to demonstrate that they are able to do just that before moving on. Each competency builds on the previous one, bridging potential learning gaps and allowing students to advance with a stronger understanding. And because the objective is so specific and so clear, teachers aren’t the only ones who are able to help children reach their goals – everyone has a stake in students’ successes.

Because some students may master some topics more quickly than others, a focus on mastery rather than seat time is essential. The current school day and school year is built around getting children home to help bring in the harvest. Whether they’re ready to move on or not, a teacher must press through a curriculum to cover as much as possible in the time allotted. But with competency-based education, learning is the constant and time is the variable, rather than the other way around.

Assignments that students can get excited about, that feel real and relevant to their world, are the future of education. When students don’t just repeat facts, they have the opportunity to demonstrate true understanding through projects that might encourage them to take a more active role in their community, to show how their hobbies contribute to their learning, or explore how a family trip to a historical site gives them a new and deeper perspective.

Ultimately, all of this is made possible by a strategic design plan that involves everyone in the community who will be impacted by a new approach to education – and who stands to contribute to the success of that approach. This isn’t top-down implementation. Competency-based education isn’t just about tailoring learning to each student, it’s also about recognizing that each community has unique needs, too. It requires deliberate, meaningful conversations about what learners need, and what leaders in the community can do to meet those needs. What are the core values driving your approach to education? What do you anticipate and hope for every graduate? Identifying these critical ideas creates guiding principles for every decision that’s made, and that makes the work of teaching and learning possible.

Competency-based education doesn’t work in a vacuum. Voices within the community matter, teachers matter, the voices of students matter.

Because when everybody buys in, everybody wins.

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Looking Back at the Future: Part Six

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-12-08 15:41

Hello and welcome to Looking Back at the Future!  For those of you who are just joining us, Looking Back at the Future is a blog series revisiting KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast on the future of education, the 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education.  This post marks the 6th and final installment in the series. For this installment I will be looking at the key area of “Tools & Practices,” considering where our first forecast might have landed in terms of images of the future as we approach the forecast’s time horizon of 2016. Each scenario or future image will be reviewed using the following scale:

1) Already happening: scenario is happening

2) Needs a boost: not currently tracking but still plausible

3) No longer tracking: no longer plausible

For more information on this series and the forecast, please visit here, and for more information on the scoring metrics, please visit here.

Now let’s see how we imagined the future for our final key area, “Tools & Practices.”

designTechnologies of cooperation leverage the open economy

An emerging set of social technologies – from mobile computing and reputation systems to open, collective knowledge repositories and peer-to-peer production – is greatly expanding our human capacity to cooperate. These technologies will drive experimentation with new forms of economic production, social organization, and civic governance. Specifically, cooperative technologies facilitate group formation, network building, transparency, aggregating distributed resources, and leveraging self-interest to create broader social value.

Already happening: Technologies of cooperation are being leveraged in the open economy (an open economy is defined as an economy in which participants are permitted to buy and sell goods and services with other countries) and are actively changing the world.  Social media was instrumental in the Arab Spring, Bitcoin and crypto currencies are creating new peer-to-peer models of finance, and information sharing platforms such as GitHub are allowing for groups of people to come together and cooperatively write programming code and improve on existing programs.  New forms of cooperation have indeed emerged and promise to continue to develop.

Smarphoto 1t mobbing becomes a primary social-networking skill

Communities and families will become differentiated by their ability to catalyze action and mobilize resources for specific and targeted priorities. Smart mobs, self-organizing swarms, and other hybrid ad hoc groups will become familiar social forms that guide civic action and change communities.

Needs a boost: The idea of using smart mobs to improve communities is still rather novel though there are signs that smart mobbing may gain momentum beyond the 2016 time horizon. Current signals include the hacker group Anonymous’s working to fight terrorism and the website Reddit’s forum for solving crimes, aptly named the “Reddit Bureau of Investigations.”

Media becophoto 2me personal and collaborative

As economic identity shifts from consumer to creative producer, digital technology will turn the world of media into a very personal world. Increasingly, people will take advantage of simple tools and a worldwide platform to express themselves in everything from blogs (personal Web pages) and wikimedia (Web pages that can be edited by anyone) to podcasting (sharing audio or video files for downloading to iPods), machinima (remixed animated computer games) and mashups (video, music, or graphic media that are re-mixed). The social nature of these tools will encourage sharing, appropriating, and reinventing others’ inventions in a rapid stream of collaborative innovation. The impacts of this innovation will run deep in our social and economic systems.

Already happening: The world of media has become increasingly personal, with iTunes reporting 1 billion podcast subscriptions in 2013.  While solid numbers on blogging are hard to come by, a 2010 report by Technorati estimated that there was a new blog post created every 7.4 seconds, and Hattrick and Associates estimated that there were 450 million active English bloggers during that same year. The size and market for mashups are also notable, with the record industry generating more revenue from fan-made mashups than on official music videos. The impacts to our social and economic systems are already being felt. Socially, these innovations have created new ways for creating and sharing information that have in many ways sped up the rate of social change, with recent examples including the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage and the public outcry over police brutality. Economically, these outlets have disrupted print journalism, radio, and the music industry, yet have given rise to new revenue models such as digital advertising and even created paid Youtube celebrities.

photo 3Toolkits drive a do-it-yourself culture

The prevalence of DIY toolkits will grow among media and information exchanged in the burgeoning sharing economy. Whether they are instructions for hacking your TiVo, managing your glycemic level, or designing a lesson on the solar system, DIY toolkits will support a society of home producers and locally grown value.

Already happening: Do-it-yourself culture and an appreciation for home production and locally grown value have entered the mainstream. The maker movement typifies the DIY or maker culture. Signs of DIY or maker culture can be seen in the form of online platforms for information sharing, maker spaces in schools,and even 3D printers in libraries, while the appreciation of home production and local value can be seen in examples such as the local food movement  and small business Saturday.

photo 4Disciplines of readiness focus on building resilience

A VUCA  (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world demands preparedness and clarity for unexpected futures. Personal life skills such as re-scripting a coherent, meaningful narrative of one’s personal path outside of traditional social family and lifecycle norms becomes critical for navigating the surprises of VUCA. Communities will respond to VUCA with participative forms of governance, such as the bottoms-up, participatory budgeting practice in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which has lifted the city to one of the best places to live in Brazil. Developing a culture and practice of readiness for students, families, and communities becomes a core function of public schools in VUCA communities.

Needs a boost:  Resilience and a culture of readiness are hot topics for many communities but have not yet become a part of mainstream education. Despite not hitting the time horizon, there are signals of change that a shift is taking place. There is a move towards competency-based education, which could lend itself to a culture of practice. There is also a growing recognition that the students of today need to be trained to be in a state of continuous career readiness, echoing the need for increased readiness in a VUCA world. While this scenario needs a boost, I remain hopeful that public schools might one day serve as centers for community resilience.

photo 5Life and learning become serious games

As the barriers between physical and digital spaces come down, people will move seamlessly between digital game spaces and urban neighborhoods. The intermingling of world building (alternate reality) games and real-life interactions in physical-digital space will create a culture of layered realities where strategies from the worlds of gaming and simulation will increasingly be employed in non-game situations. For learning, this means that the cooperative, critical thinking, and problem-solving practices encouraged in digital games will make serious games a key form of pedagogy.

Already happening:  Video games have become a major form of pedagogy, with the Department of Education holding its first “Games for Learning” summit this year and the White House holding a “White House Educational Game Jam” in response to the President’s call to action to create compelling educational software. Both of these events are strong indicators that video games have moved from a fringe form of pedagogy to the mainstream.


Reflecting on the forecast elements in the key area of “Tools & Practices,” I was somewhat surprised at the level of acceptance that video games have garnered as a form of pedagogy. Gamification in education is not a new notion and its use in school registers little surprise. However, to have both the White House and the Department of Education recognize them as a valid form of pedagogy says a lot. I am also curious to see how smart mobs continue to develop and affect education as I feel that they hold substantial promise by broadening the scope of who might participate in solving problems as well as generating tangible examples of change that their efforts created. This could influence cultures of learning in that learners might take more ownership of their learning to be more effective contributors to such smart mobs.

In looking at the scenarios for the key area of “Tools & Practices,” how do you feel we did in terms of the future as imagined in 2006? In terms of what has developed in those past nine years, what about our current reality surprises you? What issues or developments mentioned in the forecast elements do you feel might still be pressing?

Reflections on this retrospective

In having a chance to write this retrospective on KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast, I feel it should be noted that many of the key shifts that were imagined back in 2006 are still taking place. Throughout the forecast elements, we see shifts such as moving from hierarchical structures to hybrid networks, from centralized control to an empowered periphery, from consumer culture to a do-it-yourself culture.  All of these shifts have implications for not only how we live, but also for how we learn.

By thinking about the future, we create a safe space to think critically about these shifts and about what they might mean for the choices that we make today. In many ways, thinking about the future and using foresight has very little to do with the actual future. Instead, strategic foresight helps us imagine what might be in order to make sense and respond to the changes that we are experiencing today.

My hope is that, in reading this retrospective on our first forecast, you were able to imagine where some of the current changes that our world is experiencing might be headed; and that, in looking back at the images of the future as written in 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education and considering what issues might still be salient or what developments might have changed the trajectory of certain scenarios, in some small way you may have been inspired to think about the future of learning and, more importantly, about how you might begin to create the future of learning you desire.

Thank you for joining me in looking back at the future.

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Imagining the future: Check out our brand new forecast

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-11-30 11:34


It’s here! KnowledgeWorks’ fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning launches today!

The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code forecasts an era shift, not just for education but for society as a whole. With exponential advances in digital technologies changing our world at an unprecedented pace, our lives are becoming inextricably linked with our digital companions. In 10 years’ time, we expect to find ourselves living as partners in code, creating the next generation of human-digital co-evolution.

Amid this broad trajectory of change, our new forecast highlights the potential for five drivers of change to cause significant shifts in education. It explores how:

  • Educators and learners might re-imagine their roles and interactions
  • Teaching and learning systems could morph to achieve resilience
  • Alternative value sets and diverse perspectives might transform education.

At its core, 15 provocations suggest possibilities for what learning might look like in 10 years. To highlight a few:

  • Designing for Flow: Educators will use new tools and practices informed by neuro- and emotion science to help learners engage in high-performance flow experiences that optimize learning.
  • Fluid Schools: School formats will shift from fixed structures largely organized around administrative convenience to fluid network- and relationship-based formats reflecting learners’ needs, interests, and goals.
  • Readiness Redefined: The changing nature of work cause our notions of college and career readiness get redefined, with education at all levels preparing learners continually to reskill and upskill and to partner constructively with machines.
  • Autonomous Administration: Education administration will shift from managing discrete organizations to facilitating seamless collaboration across diverse learning ecosystems, with algorithms matching services with learners’ needs and helping to maximize the use of resources.

The forecast also highlights issues facing education during this time of foundational change. Above all, it emphasizes the importance of unleashing our imaginations, considering new possibilities for learning, and exploring how we might create a better future for all learners.

To delve into the forecast, download a print-friendly version or order hard copies free of charge. As you grapple with the possibilities that it presents, we invite you to consider what role you might play in shaping the future of learning.


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Brains Over Age: The Promise of Competency-Based Education

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-11-30 10:29

My first daughter was maybe a year and a half old when my husband began working with her on the alphabet in the tub. I remember thinking that she was too young, that it wasn’t appropriate, but it beat chewing on the foam letters we’d gotten for bath time, so I didn’t say anything. We flew to San Francisco a few months later, when she was still a few months shy of two, and kept her busy on the flight by taking turns drawing letters for her on a travel MagnaDoodle. She’d happily chirp the correct answer a shockingly high percentage of the time.

She turned three in August, and we’ve moved well on from the alphabet. Last spring she was reciting Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, and she has many of her picture books memorized – don’t bother trying to skip the bits you’ve read so many times you could repeat them in your sleep, because she can, too, and she’ll correct you.

We’re working on phonics now, and if her proficiency and speed with identifying the sounds the letters make is any indication, she’ll be ready to move on to sight words and vowel families soon.

I still worry that she’s too young, and that it’s inappropriate, but for different reasons. We’ve kept on with teaching her and giving her the space to learn because she’s just so into it and we wanted to honor her interests, but now I’m thinking about kindergarten in two years and wondering, what if she’s already reading? What will she do? Will she get bored? Will her school be able to provide her with the challenges she’ll need for her language skills to keep growing? And it’s really only language where she excels – she’s right on track with other children her age for most of her other skills.

In a recent interview with EduTalk radio, KnowledgeWorks’ Chief Learning Officer, Virgel Hammonds, explored why competency-based education is the real future of equitable education. Demonstrated skill mastery, rather than seat time in a particular grade level, will provide my girl the opportunity to stretch out in reading and early writing, but be right where she needs to be with numeracy and early science experiments. And yours, too.

Children won’t be moved along to the next grade level just because it’s time for them to be. Teachers will have the opportunity to tailor their support to each child’s specific needs, rather than teach to the middle and hope for the best. And when all children are held to the same transparent standard and provided the resources they need to achieve it in their own time, outcomes are improved across the board.

According to Hammonds, with competency-based education, “we’re not just hoping kids are prepared for higher education. We’re guaranteeing that they are.” For my children and yours, where they are intellectually and cognitively will matter more than their age, and their education will reflect that. That’s my kind of kindergarten.

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