As avenues for learning expand, it is essential that we reach outside the traditional learning paradigm to meet the needs and expectations of tomorrow’s students. Since 2005, KnowledgeWorks has studied the trends shaping our world and helped education leaders plan for the future of learning.
Join us at Transforming the Learning Ecosystem, a one-day event, in collaboration with Grantmakers for Education and their Out-of-School Time Funder Network.
This event on June 30th in Washington, D.C., will give participants to opportunity to:
- Learn more about future education trends;
- Imagine how formal and informal learning environments can connect in transformative ways, creating learning ecosystems that put students at the center;
- Discuss how ‘personalized learning’ can support youth voice and achievement, not just in niche programs, but at scale, with attention to equity and access for all;
- Confront financial and policy challenges to realizing this new vision for future learning; and
- Consider how grantmakers can spark transformation of the learning ecosystem.
Date: Monday, June 30, 2014
Time: 9:30am – 5:00pm
Location: The Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.
Admission to this event is free to GFE members.
Register and view the full agenda.
Join us for this unique collaboration between Grantmakers for Education (GFE), KnowledgeWorks, and the GFE Out-of-School-Time Funders Network.
Last week I had the opportunity to engage in Grantmakers for Education’s 2014 Education Grantmakers Institute at the Harvard School of Education, which aimed to “get all of us thinking about how education and our learners are changing, and, as result, how our organizations need to change to have the kind of impact our missions demand.”
The conversation ended on a broad note, with emphasis on the need to cultivate large-scale systemic change to help the current education system transform into a vibrant node within the expanded learning ecosystem that our forecast on the future of learning projects. Of course I was pleased to hear this call, as I’ve been speaking and writing for some time now about how we’re facing much greater disruption, and much greater need, than incremental improvements within the existing educational paradigm can address.
But the conversation when beyond emphasizing the striking need to redesign our education structures to focus on learning for and in a world of anytime, anywhere access to knowledge and the continuous remaking of the conditions in which we live and work. It also explored the equally strong imperative to create new cultures of learning. Without them, my fellow participants observed, people operating in new structures will risk simply rubber banding back to the cultures we have always known.
The need to cultivate new cultures of learning has arisen in other recent conversations as well. In collaborating to design Grantmakers for Education’s June 30 event, “Transforming the Learning Ecosystem: Putting Personalized Learning Within Reach for All Learners,” I learned of Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning. It argues that we need to design learning – even more flexible learning experiences than characterize today’s typical public school – not around specific learning objectives but around a process of inquiry that fuels a broader set of skills and dispositions for lifelong learning.
During a tour of MIT’s Media Lab, Mitch Resnick, who leads their Lifelong Kindergarten group, described that group’s focus on fostering creative learning for the world. In so doing, they create learning cultures characterized by projects, peers, passion, and play. As he put it, “Learning particular content is not the answer; people need to find creative solutions to the problems we know they’ll encounter.” Within our current education system, he said, kindergarten comes the closest to embodying this kind of learning, although it is increasingly becoming more regimented and more like the rest of the school system.
I hope we can reverse that kind of trend and strengthen the trends that are opening up learning to include many more possibilities for how, when, and what young people learn. That we can open ourselves to exploring fully not just new structures for learning such as competency education but also new cultures for learning that can support truly personalized learning. Learning that is not just paced to the individual but which is driven by his or her interests in meaningful collaborative contexts.
A while back, I wrote about a study that examined the implementation of the proficiency-based (or competency-based) diploma system in Maine. That study focused on school-level implementation. The same folks published another study that focused on district-level implementation in the state. I am going to quickly run through benefits, challenges, and recommendations in the study because I think the overarching challenges identified are most interesting.
- Improved student engagement
- Continued development of robust interventions systems for struggling students
- Collaborative professional work to develop common standards, align curriculum, and create assessments
- Collective and transparent monitoring of student progress and needs by educators, administrators, and families
- Developing clear, common definitions of key system components
- Local implementation practices consistent with intentions of legislative policy
- Building parent understanding and support for the new practices
- Creating job-embedded, sustained professional time for collaboration
- Understanding the unique needs and approaches of various grade spans or developmental levels, especially the stages of early childhood, the high school level and the population of students with identified special education needs
- Developing comprehensive, sustainable learning management systems
- Finding resources to assist with the predicted cost increases
- Preparing students for post-secondary systems, specifically college and career readiness
- State should provide greater guidance in developing common definitions, and greater consistency in standards and assessments
- State should continue to develop the technical assistance plan it outlined in the law and expand their assistance to include more support for district-level professional development
- State should take a greater leadership role in helping school districts develop and implement learning management systems that support a proficiency-based system
- Consider establishing an expanded system for continuous monitoring of both the Maine Department of Education and individual districts as implementation continues
As I said, the overarching challenges are most interesting to me. The first overarching challenge is systems thinking, specifically making sure you pay attention to all elements of the system and how they interact with each other as you’re working to improve the system as a whole. In systems thinking terms, this is called a crisis of fragmentation. The video below does a great job of explaining what the crisis of fragmentation is. This is tricky though. Because while this crisis is very real, there is also a system thinking axiom that says in order to optimize the system, you are required to sub-optimize some or all of the parts of the system. Vice versa, if you optimize the parts of the system, you are guaranteed to sub-optimize the entire system. So, my question is, are people willing to sub-optimize the parts of the system for the betterment of the whole system? This is a pretty difficult question, eh?
The other overarching challenge involves governance, specifically the local control culture in Maine leading to each district being tasked with defining their own competencies and creating their own curriculum and assessments aligned to those competencies. This creates huge discrepancies from district to district about what a high school diploma actually means. The report suggests a Dutch higher education governance model called “steering from a distance” to remedy this (you can learn more on page 7 of this report). Sorry to say, I am no expert on Dutch higher education governance but I will certainly be investigating this model more deeply in the future.
As both MERPI studies report, there are a lot of good people doing a lot of good work on the ground in Maine to advance the proficiency-based model. There continue to be significant challenges to this work and I look forward to continually monitoring, and learning from, these great edu-innovators.