Recent Blog Posts
I recently had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts about the future of work for a Columbus Business First article, “Columbus 2044 – Plenty of singles, small homes, and jobs none of us has imagined.” You might ask why I’m talking to a reporter about the future of work when my work focuses on the future of learning. But it’s difficult to impossible to consider future possibilities for education without also taking into account the world in which people will be working.
As our Forecast 3.0 highlights, it’s not just a question of what jobs people might or might not be doing. Certainly there are profound questions about the extent to which automation will affect the employment landscape. When a restaurant can be staffed entirely by robots and the rise of autonomous vehicles promises to change the delivery and transportation industries, new sectors of the economy could be shaken or reconfigured by new technologies. It’s not just relatively low-level jobs at stake; McKinsey Quarterly projects that artificial intelligence could significantly change the role of senior-level executives given rapid advances in machine learning.
Such changes reflect just part of the changing nature of work. Our 10-year forecast also projects a decline in full-time employment as we are used to thinking about it. With ad hoc employment on the rise through networks such as ODesk, more people could find themselves weaving together mosaic careers comprised of multiple gigs, some of them short-term, instead of working primarily or only for one organization. To work in such a world, we’ll need new skills such as global networking and personal brand management. I don’t feel prepared to navigate this kind of employment structure.
In these and other ways, our relationships with institutions are changing, both in the world of work and across the education landscape. PSFK Labs expects companies to flux constantly, shifting staffing and physical workplaces to align capacity with demand and emphasizing collaboration, knowledge flows, and constant learning. Similarly, The Aspen Institute projects that organizations with increasingly move from hierarchies to networks and that many of the skills associated with success in a more networked work environment will be reflect a disposition toward dealing effectively with change.
Given such changes in the world of work, many of us could find ourselves choosing or being forced to pursue continuous career readiness. Along with other forces of change, that employment climate could lead to new educational needs and new ways of interacting with educational institutions, especially for adult learners (see The Economist’s discussion of how higher education is changing). As my colleague Jason Swanson is exploring in a paper on the future of credentialing that’s due out in the new year, changes in the world of work could drive what it means not just to learn new skills but also to demonstrate mastery in authenticated ways.
As I told Columbus Business First, working differently will require learning differently. Our current approach to education doesn’t reflect the coming world of work. While career readiness is only one outcome of an effective education, I’m hoping that we can create a learning ecosystem capable of flexing with the fluid future of work.
For more on the future of Columbus, see the Columbus Business First companion article, “Columbus 2044: Light rail, public art, NBA, 89-year-old mayor?”
With my colleagues Jesse Moyer and Jason Swanson, I’m collaborating with the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) to involve their members in exploring how they might move from future-oriented vision to action through a “Personalizing Learning for Future-Ready Students” symposium. Our first session focused on extending their already extensive exploration of school transformation and the work of their Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Institute using KnowledgeWorks’ forecast on the future of learning and our innovation pathways framework for creating a vibrant learning ecosystem for all learners.
We focused on how these strategic foresight resources might help participants enact and advance TASA’s vision for school transformation, which calls for:
- Student-centered learning occurring in public schools that are empowered to innovate and create, using next-generation methods to assess and account for learning to their local communities, while assuring that the state’s responsibility for quality and equity is met.
- Future-ready students engaged and challenged in a digitally rich learning environment that result in students who are prepared for life and work competencies essential to thriving in our global society.
- A system that fosters accountability to our communities by appealing to the desire for autonomy, mastery, creativity and innovation.
Our exploration of future possibilities culminated in participants’ creating storyboards illustrating what a Texas district might look like in a vibrant learning ecosystem in which every child had access to the right combination of learning resources, experiences and supports.
- Put learners at the center.
- Focus on mastery.
- Provide flexibility for learners.
- Foster deep connections between school and community, opening the walls of school.
- Broker real-world engagement and global connections.
- Cultivate cultures of innovation.
In exploring possibilities for taking districts in this direction over the next ten years, participants highlighted the need to:
- Create flexible school structures.
- Foster highly collaborative learning environments.
- Create good choices for all learners.
- Enable customized learning experiences.
- Encourage the development of 21st-century skills.
- Gradually alter learning spaces.
- Bring new technologies into learning.
- Shift mindsets toward technology.
- Build public will for transformation.
- Align stakeholders around their visions.
- Develop new teaching roles.
- Build the capacity of leaders.
- Foster connections with their communities.
- Foster partnerships.
- Advocate for supportive rather than punitive accountability systems.
- Inform policy makers about the need for change.
I’m excited to continue the conversation about making such possibilities for the future of public education in Texas a reality. Next up, we’ll be working with KnowledgeWorks’ new policy report, “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning,” to help participating districts identify priority areas for action.
Credentials act as third-party verification of skills and knowledge. They are important in helping to determine the best fit for a role, task or job. Education is one of the traditional paths toward earning credentials, acting as a symbol of acquired knowledge, a motivator and a means to enter and navigate the employment sector.
I’m currently researching the future of credentials, considering, among many things, how credentials might change in terms of how they might be earned, how organizations might assess for credentials, and what new types of credentials may emerge.
In developing scenarios for the future of credentials, I’m exploring possibilities across three sectors: K-12 education, higher education and employment. Changes in any one of these sectors have the potential to affect the other sectors, and the dynamic interplay across the three sectors has the potential to disrupt credentials in their current form. Depending on what forces of change come to the fore, the future of education could involve new forms of credentials, could reflect changes to how we evaluate both existing and new forms of credentials, or could even reflect the granting of credentials by new players.
In researching such possibilities, I recently uncovered this signal of change: “Coursera Launches 18 New ‘Specializations’.” This article highlights Coursera’s skills-based programs, in which learners are required to apply the skills they gain in a course to real-world projects in order to receive a certificate for that course. Similarly, Udacity’s nanodegrees offer skills-based microcredentials with input from companies such as AT&T, Google and Salesforce.
Both Coursera’s new specializations and Udacity’s nanodegrees represent responses to what many have labeled a “skills gap,” or the perceived lack of skills in the eyes of employers among college graduates attempting to enter the employment sector. Could these signals suggest a shift towards a future in which the employment sector jumps from offering input on courses to becoming a direct source of credentials? What effects could such a move have on the K-12 and higher education sectors?
Questions like these point out the importance of exploring the future of credentials. They might seem like mere documents, but they reflect the intricate interplay between how we educate and work. If any of the sectors in question changes considerably, credentials could look very different than they do today. These changes to credentials could impact what learning and employment look like in the future.
What do you think the future of credentials might involve? What will it look like? I hope you will join me as I continue to explore what the future of credentials might involve.
Grande iced peppermint mocha with whip and chocolate drizzle.
Venti soy chai tea with a shot of espresso.
Starbucks baristas whip up hundreds of thousands of drinks every day, specially ordered by and made for unique customers. Each of us is able to choose the exact drink combination that satisfies our distinctive taste palettes and it makes our days a little better – and more caffeinated.
What if the education system offered something similar to learners and parents, replacing the coffee and tea with educational opportunities?
If the future of education were to provide a “menu” of opportunities, learners would be able to choose between many kinds of learning experiences and providers. They would choose to learn in a park, museum or classroom. They would be supported, not only by teachers, but by professionals, mentors, civic leaders and other learning agents throughout the community.
The idea behind offering multiple educational opportunities is no different than a providing a menu of drink and flavor options. In the end, it all focuses on who matters most. For Starbucks, the customer. For education, the learner.
Yesterday, StriveTogether had the privilege of meeting with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International. Howard, now an author, is invested in improving education in his home state of Washington and throughout the country.
The StriveTogether team talked with Howard about leadership, education and life in general. But perhaps the greatest takeaway was focusing on who matters most.
“I had a wonderful career that was kind of accidental in a way,” Howard said to the team. “I was one of those places that fit me like a glove. But it was more about the people than the coffee. I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving the people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”
Let’s build a future of learning that offers a menu of opportunities. Let’s focus on each individual learner. And no matter what your role in education, let’s serve the students who need us most.
In October, I presented a session on this topic at Grantmakers for Education’s annual conference with KnowledgeWorks colleagues Lillian Pace and Matt Williams and education systems change facilitator Richard DeLorenzo. Our session took a look at possibilities by exploring four scenarios on the future of teaching, lessons learned from helping school districts foster systemic change toward competency education, and policy opportunities that support a new vision for competency-based educator preparation and development.
As the learning ecosystem expands, there is the potential for teachers to provide radically personalized learning for all young people via customized pathways. But, as my baseline scenario for the future of teaching, “A Plastic Profession,” highlights, realizing that potential is far from given. If we fail to change the public education system’s current focus on narrow measures of student and teacher performance and continue to face both daunting fiscal challenges as well as heightened political activity in the absence of ESEA’s reauthorization, teachers could end up functioning as production line supervisors instead of creative professionals.
The small groups that explored this scenario during the conference session saw nothing positive about it. Indeed, the general sentiment was that we would need to meet at the bar if such a future came to pass.
But that scenario represents our current trajectory. So what will we do to change it?
Participants also expressed concern about an alternative scenario in which learning agents in informal and community-based learning environments could form a supplemental profession that was largely disconnected from the formal K-12 system. The existence of these learning agents wasn’t the problem; the disconnection from public education was.
That scenario could emerge if we do little to change the current public education system and fail to build bridges among different types of learning environments. So how will we avert it?
In my ideal future, learning agents working in diverse roles support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in multiple settings, and the entire learning ecosystem has evolved to be oriented around learners instead of institutions. Participants in the session didn’t find that scenario to be automatically unproblematic either; for such a learning ecosystem to work well for all learners, they said, we would need new forms of quality assurance. I think that we would also need community ownership of learning and other supporting systemic structures along the lines of the levers for transformation that I describe in my recent innovation pathways paper.
So that future requires some big leaps. But can we get there? What will it take to create a highly personalized learning ecosystem that truly reflects the interests of and supports all learners? Are we willing to transform learning?
While Chloe obsesses over her Disney princess nightgown, her Wonder Woman costume and all things pink and purple, she also loves construction equipment, buses, tractors and anything with an engine. Chloe spends her days at preschool, where the curriculum is relatively interest-based.
But Katherine is concerned about the future of Chloe’s education. Will the education system, as it stands today, be able to foster her and every child’s creativity and provide positive learning experiences while also catering to her unique learning style and needs?
This Friday, at TEDxColumbus, Katherine will share her vision for radically personalized learning that supports all students in pursuing their needs, interests and goals. Based on her work with the future of learning, as well as her insights from motherhood, Katherine will paint a picture of what her ideal future of learning looks like. It will include a wide array of learning opportunities that aren’t based solely in the classroom, but take place when and where each student learns best.
Really, Katherine’s inspiring vision for a vibrant learning ecosystem gives an aspirational view of what our organization is collectively working for: A future that promises every child the best chance at success by adapting learning to individuals rather than orienting it around the inertia of institutions.
Send Katherine a ‘congrats’ or ‘good luck’ through Twitter, @katprince, and tune in to the live stream of the TEDxColumbus education lineup at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7.
Strongly held beliefs. We all have them. It’s one of the things human are best at – holding on tightest to what we care about most. Even those of us who are very open to hearing differing view points, my wife will tell you I am NOT one of those people, have things they hold dear.
That’s why the strategic foresight design session I attended a few weeks ago – hosted by Katherine Prince, Jason Swanson and Andrea Saveri – flipped such a profound light on for me. During the session, Andrea talked about the concept of an adaptive cycle and its impact on the education ecosystem. Basically, the adaptive cycle examines how the traditional system goes through a four-step process (reorganization, exploitation, conservation and release) in order to break down to make way for a newer, more effective education system. You can read more on her blog if interested. One could argue that the current system is somewhere between reorganization and exploitation. Now, I don’t know about you but hearing words like reorganization and exploitation related to our education system felt really uncomfortable to me.
That’s when the light went on. It’s not just our education system that is going through a fundamental change; it’s our world. Between ISIS, Ebola, our economy and the many other societal disruptions I could name, our current world is the definition of a VUCA world. Such a world is uncomfortable. It is unpredictable. And, maybe most of all, it’s scary.
As I was thinking about all of this, I began thinking about what I do when faced with an uncomfortable, unpredictable, scary situation. I hang on very tightly to what I know best – my strongly held beliefs. Because policy; and, by extension, policymakers; are never far from my mind I began thinking about their role in our world. Given everything they are required to deal with, is it any wonder our politicians are more polarized and partisan than ever? They’re dealing with threats never realized by humankind before. They’re probably scared and uncomfortable, just like me. Just like you. Why wouldn’t they hold tightly to those strongly held beliefs?
While no one is more frustrated with broke-down Congress and policymakers in general than me, maybe we should give these men and woman a break. Maybe, just maybe, they’re scared, like we are. And maybe, just maybe, they’re holding on to what they know best, just like we do. Maybe the partisanship isn’t driven money, or wanting to be right. Maybe, just maybe, it’s driven by fear.
We have the chance to overcome that fear. We can get involved in our communities. We can be more informed. We can vote. In overcoming our fears and getting involved, we can help usher in the future of our neighborhoods, of education and of the country.
I work with education stakeholders around the country to explore how they might use the trends shaping the future of learning to create better possibilities for all learners. Increasingly, these conversations reflect an acceptance that education is facing profound change, that we are moving from our outdated industrial-era system toward a diverse learning ecosystem. As I’ve articulated elsewhere , my great hope is that this future learning ecosystem will be vibrant for all learners and not just for those whose families have the time, money, or other resources needed to customize or supplement their learning journeys.
We won’t realize the potential of a vibrant learning ecosystem without pursuing large-scale systemic transformation. To help education stakeholders – including those who are stewarding the current education system and those who are working in other kinds of learning environments or innovating on the fringes of the current learning landscape – become active agents of change in creating the future, I collaborated with colleagues at KnowledgeWorks to create the innovation pathways framework shown below.
This innovation pathways framework identifies key systemic levers of transformation that together promise to create a learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners. The innovation pathways fall into two categories:
- Transforming the core of learning – These innovation pathways pertain most directly to learners’ day-to-day experiences.
- Transforming supporting systemic structures – These innovation pathways represent enabling conditions that must be present to ensure that the learning ecosystem meets the needs of all learners.
My latest paper delves into each of these innovation pathways in detail to give education stakeholders a framework for aiming beyond reform toward transformation. It describes what we might accomplish if we do manage to deliver on the promise of a vibrant learning ecosystem for all young people. It also suggests strategies for how, over time, the sector might move from today’s reality toward that vision.
Education stakeholders have a tremendous opportunity to reinvent learning for a new era and to create new systemic structures that can help all learners succeed. We can be active agents of change in transforming learning using the strategies offered in the paper and many others that education stakeholders will devise as the learning ecosystem continues to expand and evolve.
Please join me in exploring what it will take to make the future of learning work well and seamlessly for all young people. It’s our responsibility to make the future of learning both equitable and rigorous and to create a learning ecosystem that has the capacity to continue innovating and adapting to changing conditions.
You can also listen to KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight Jason Swanson and me discuss it on a recent EduTalk Radio show.
We see that profound change is on the horizon for education, but how do we get there? That was one of the questions posed earlier today on EduTalk Radio in an interview with Katherine Prince and Jason Swanson.
A new paper authored by Prince offers answers to that question. In Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning, Prince shares a framework designed to help education stakeholders become active agents of change in creating the future. While any given education stakeholder might contribute to only one or a few of the innovation pathways, the sector needs to advance along all of them in order to realize the best of future possibilities.
The KnowledgeWorks Policy team has expanded to include Jason Swanson as the Director of Strategic Foresight. Jason will be working with KnowledgeWorks to expand our research into the future of learning, exploring what students needs will be like in the year 2025, authoring publications and delivering presentations to help plan for the future.
Hello world! I currently live in Pittsburgh, Pa., and I am a graduate of the University of Houston’s Masters of Foresight program, as well as an Emerging Fellow with the Association of Professional Futurists.
Prior to joining KnowledgeWorks, my background in strategic foresight has included working as a consulting Futurist, as well in the education system itself, working in a cyber-charter school. I have been fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects, from looking at the future of learning management systems, exploring what student needs will be like in the year 2025, all the way to thinking about what the future of user experience might be like, as well as scenarios focusing on the world economy.
I have a strong passion for studying the future, and believe that studying the future is empowering. By looking at change and thinking about how that might shape the future, we can move beyond simply letting the future happen to us, and to create the aspirational visions that we all hold. Being part of KnowledgeWorks allows me to share that passion with our educational stakeholders, helping to build a future of learning that is vibrant for every learner.
When I am not studying the future, I enjoy reading, movies, practicing martial arts, looking for new places to eat, and very occasionally trying to paint a picture.
This post is the last of five in a series exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities supported rich, relevant and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that was vibrant for all learners? In this scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching – which represents my ideal future – such learning agents working in multiple settings and capacities could help ensure that all students have access to high-quality personalized learning.
My Ideal Future: Diverse Learning Agent Role
As the learning ecosystem expands and diversifies and the formal K-12 school system no longer dominates the learning landscape, many new learning agent roles emerge to support learning. Some learning agents support students in creating customized learning playlists that reflect their particular interests, goals and values. Other learning agents help students attain success within their chosen learning experiences. Learning agents operate both inside and outside traditional institutions, collaborating to adapt learning for each child and to support learners in demonstrating mastery. Some learning agent roles resemble the traditional teaching role, while others vary widely.
With “school” taking many more forms, educators trained in the industrial-era school system have redefined their roles to match their strengths, creating more differentiated and satisfying career paths. Professionals working in museums, libraries, art centers, scientific labs, hospitals and other settings have also recast their roles to reflect their organizations’ increasing contributions to learners’ playlists, including the playlists of learners in other communities. Some adults contribute to learning in part-time, even micro ways, either as part of diverse career portfolios or through mechanisms such as business-education partnerships.
Sophisticated learning analytic tools help learning agents target learning experiences and supports to match learners’ academic performance as well as their social and emotional conditions. In addition, new forms of infrastructure, such as data backpacks that follow the child and flexible funding streams, help learning agents collaborate across learning experiences and organizations where appropriate and help learners and their families manage and access their customized learning playlists.
With so many options for supporting learning, a diverse system of professional branding and validation has emerged to help ensure learning agent quality. Communities also play a vital role in creating vibrant local learning ecologies, in monitoring both learning agents’ contributions and learners’ success, and in helping learners access resources that are not available locally. Schools that receive public funding place particular emphasis on brokering learning opportunities so that all young people can benefit from the expansion of the learning ecosystem.
This is my ideal scenario for the future of teaching based on my understanding of the potential for education stakeholders to use future trends to transform today’s education system into a more distributed learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners. I recognize that it might not be yours. Indeed, your preferred future might contain elements of several of the scenarios I’ve developed or might draw upon different key drivers of change.
Whatever your ideal future of teaching, the important thing is to engage in strategic foresight – to step out of today’s reality long and far enough to plan for how you and your organization might make best use of future trends and to prepare for how you will meet your objectives and support learners no matter what the future of K-12 teaching ends up looking like.
For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper. For job descriptions and videos illustrating possible future learning agent roles, see KnowledgeWorks’ learning in 2025 resources.
This post is part four in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that these adults could create a new learning agent network that remained largely separate from the teaching taking place in K-12 schools.
Alternative Future 2: A Supplemental Profession
With learning experiences proliferating across places and platforms, some through formal institutions and some through virtual and place-based networks, adults whose primary jobs lie outside the formal K-12 education system emerge as a new cadre of learning agents offering learning services and supports. These learning agents serve as facilitators of relatively structured learning experiences designed by their organizations and also as coaches, mentors, and guides of student-driven projects and inquiries.
Some of these adults develop hybrid careers where part of their compensation comes from their involvement in learning experiences. But for many, serving as a learning agent becomes a kind of professional volunteerism, a paying-it-forward dimension of their primary (paid) profession. Whether compensated or not, some of them pursue training in working with young people or supporting learning. However, very few of them acquire any sort of formal teaching credential, as those credentials remain oriented toward the needs of full-time educators rather than those of part-time learning agents.
In some instances, these learning agents collaborate with teachers in the formal K-12 education system; for example, when innovative school designs open the door for traditional classroom teaching to shift toward team collaboration or to morph more profoundly toward student-driven instruction. But in most cases, these learning agents form a supplemental profession that operates largely separate from traditional school systems, both because these learning agents have little incentive to push their way into those settings’ regimented, compliance-oriented structures and because those settings’ structures continue mainly to be designed around traditional disciplines, grade levels, and teaching roles.
However, as more ways of credentialing informal and community-based learning experiences emerge and gain acceptance, and as an increasing number of students seek to fulfill needs and pursue interests that traditional school systems do not meet or support, these supplemental learning agents attract an increasing percentage of young people, at least for part of their learning journeys. In places with relatively few local resources, learners often look beyond their geographic communities when seeking support from supplemental learning agents.
This second alternative future projects that the public education system will remain largely unchanged but that a parallel – but not necessarily equitable – system could emerge as a supplement or total replacement for some learners. For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
What might teaching look like in ten years if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that, with support from visionary district and school administrators, public school teachers might manage to take back the classroom, reorienting education based on their professional wisdom.
Alternative Future 1: Take Back the Classroom
As continuing inability to reach political agreement on reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law deepens the disconnect between policy and the classroom, and as state legislators continue to debate highly-charged education issues, public educators come together to provide more coordinated direction about how states should steer and fund education. They also expand networks and platforms for establishing and pursuing new visions for education. Yet even as they start to set greater direction for the learning agenda, public educators also increasingly find ways to sidestep the regulatory system so that they technically comply but do not concede too much time or attention to its demands.
Such movements and actions, both generative and defensive, develop and coalesce enough that public school teachers develop new independence from the regulatory system and find new space to focus on learning. In so doing, they reclaim key dimensions of the learning agenda, including curriculum and assessment. Teachers experiment with multiple pathways toward designing meaningful learning experiences for young people. Rather than purchasing pre-made curricula, schools and districts increasingly provide time and resources for teachers to collaborate in designing curricula that reflect their deep knowledge of how students learn and allow for customization to local conditions. Teachers also seek ways to use authentic assessments to inform learning rather than to pursue compliance.
With this renewed focus on learning, teachers take back their power as expert craftspeople. They find channels for raising their collective voice against policies that have less to do with supporting learning than with policing the system. As teachers increasingly come into their power as professionals, legislators and other education stakeholders – including educator preparation and development programs – take notice and work to support teachers’ new visions for teaching and learning, shifting the broader educational climate slightly.
Read More This alternative future assumes that the fundamental structure of the education system would remain unchanged but that education stakeholders might make minor changes to learning cultures and structures. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
This post is part two in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching projects that, as the federal accountability system continues to emphasize narrow measures of student and teacher performance and districts face daunting fiscal challenges, many public school teachers could find their creativity increasingly constrained.
Expected Future: A Plastic Profession
As educator evaluation systems aligned with student performance mature, many teachers remain uncertain about the impact of these systems on their profession. Furthermore, the now long-established “new normal” of constrained government resources, combined with public distrust of educators, limits districts’ scope for innovation. With reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law long overdue, state legislatures and special interest groups work actively to change the K-12 education system at the state level. This combination of heightened political activity and shrinking education budgets causes distraction for many teachers, making it challenging to set compelling visions for the future of learning.
Without strong visions for the future of learning, public will for change remains limited even as anxiety over whether the U.S. will be able to educate a future-ready workforce reaches new heights. Schools and districts continue to pursue limited school reform – including limited differentiation of teaching roles – in the context of the existing educational paradigm. Likewise, teacher preparation programs make minor changes in an attempt to improve their programs and attract more candidates. However, nothing makes a significant impact on learning or on teachers’ job satisfaction as the fundamental design of the education system remains unchanged. Some new learning platforms emerge, offering learners new options, but they remain largely self-organized and on the fringes and do not yet offer full-time educators remunerative career pathways. Many learners who see and have the means to exercise better options – in their local communities, via distance learning platforms, or from a mix of sources – exit the public education system, especially in those places where the system has long struggled to turn around low-performing schools.
Similarly, many teachers leave not just the public education system but the field of learning in order to pursue more lucrative and satisfying careers. Those who remain feel increasingly disenfranchised. Just as students in the system are treated largely as cogs moving lockstep through an industrial machine, many teachers begin to feel as if they have become production line supervisors.
This is just one scenario for how the future of teaching could play out. I don’t regard it as a positive one, but I see it as being the likely baseline if we don’t make significant changes to the education system. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
What might teaching look like in ten years? How might choices that we make about teaching today affect the design of learning? Teachers’ experiences of their profession? Most importantly, the extent to which we are able to support all learners in achieving their fullest potential? Of late, much attention has been focused on teachers’ effectiveness. As we face dramatic changes to the fundamental structures of education, we need to be intentional about how we design for adults’ roles in supporting learning. In doing so, we need to look far beyond today’s debates to examine how decisions that we make today might impact the profession. Education is facing a crisis point as it continues to operate largely according to an industrial-era design that no longer reflects societal or economic needs. This crisis point is not one of teacher or school performance. It is one of system design. In June I released a paper exploring four scenarios for the future of K-12 teaching in the United States. Each of these scenarios represents a plausible future for K-12 teaching reflecting different drivers of change that are at play in the world today. When we emphasize one set of key drivers versus another, thereby changing our fundamental assumptions, we get very different narratives about how the future might look. We could end up with:
- An expected future, “A Plastic Profession,” which extrapolates from today’s dominant reality to project what teaching is likely to look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system.
- An alternative future, “Take Back the Classroom,” which explores what teaching might look like if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning.
- A second alternative future, “A Supplemental Profession,” which examines what teaching might look like if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school.
- My ideal future, “Diverse Learning Agent Roles,” which explores how a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities might support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners.
Over the course of this week, I’ll be highlighting each of these scenarios through a series of blog posts. I hope you will join me in exploring how the choices we make about education today could create dramatically different scenarios for how teachers teach and how learners learn.
It felt like a scene from The Jetsons… but instead of hanging out in Orbit City with aerocars and flying saucers, we were lunching around the conference table in the KnowledgeWorks board room, trying out the revolutionary Google Glass.
Thanks to Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Applied Informatics, KnowledgeWorks staff had the chance to try out Google Glass and explore possible ways it could be used in education. While Google Glass isn’t widely released yet, it could eventually be a classroom staple in the future of learning.
Imagine if teachers could easily record lessons or learning tutorials to share with students as a first-hand experience (think: science lab or nursing school clinical); or if students could easily access digitally recorded notes from home. Google Glass could send friendly homework reminders to keep students on track and focused, or help with translation while learning another language. Students could even attend virtual field trips to faraway places.
And it could help in leveling the playing field for students. For school districts with less resources, such as inner-city or rural schools, this forward-thinking technology could provide virtual experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
Google Glass fits nicely into the KnowledgeWorks Forecast for regenerating the learning ecosystem. Already, Google Glass users are noting the potential for streamlining processes and improving communication for teachers and student, noted Katherine Prince, Senior Director, Strategic Foresight. In the future, learning will no longer be defined by time and place, but rather on when a learner wants to learn. Google Glass creates an opportunity for learning in and out of the classroom.
For now, Google Glass’s impact on the classroom has yet to be revealed. But as we explore the Future of Learning, which includes personalized learning experiences in and out of the classroom, it seems like a plausible option.
And one that proves the Jetsons’ futuristic utopia might not be too far off.
What do you think of Google Glass? How could it be used in the classroom?
Is climbing a rope really an effective measurement of physical endurance? I may be dating my public school education, but these are the kinds of questions educators are asking.
With a growing movement in competency-based education and personalized student learning, innovators are exploring the future of education and our ability to provide meaningful learning opportunities for each individual student.
Last week at a conference with Iowa ASCD and Iowa Department of Education, educators, higher education representatives and policy makers took a deeper dive to discuss Katherine Prince’s new paper, “Forecasting the Future of K-12 Teaching,” and our future of learning infographic, which both paint a picture of a learning ecosystem entirely focused on the individual student.
In an ideal future, education will be entirely focused on the individual student. There will be multiple learning platforms and more forms of school. Communities will take ownership and accountability of learning, and we will create new innovative educator roles to support all students in more creative, personalized ways. These learning agents will work with parents and students to develop individualized learning playlists in formal and informal contexts, based on each student’s values, aspirations and dreams.
At the conference, Katherine discussed this vision for the future of learning during the keynote address. Participants also engaged in an activity designed to help “imagine breakthrough change toward a diverse learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners,” she said.
Katherine also hosted a breakout session to discuss the future of K-12 educator roles, focusing on teachers, diversifying learning agent roles, and plausible futures for the profession. The session ran twice.
Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy, also hosted a twice-run breakout session, “From NCLB to CBE: Identifying a New Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education.” The session explored major policy barriers for competency-based education and explored solutions to give communities and states the flexibility to study and scale this work.
“I love engaging with educators about federal policy because they bring new and important insights to the conversation,” Lillian said. “Iowa’s educators will be an important voice as we work to create a new federal K-12 policy that supports the growth of competency education.
“After two days working alongside educators in Iowa, I can see why the nation’s eyes are on the state. They have a focused vision and a tremendous amount of energy to make competency education a reality for Iowa students. I believe their leadership will create some compelling proof points that will move the national dialogue forward in an impactful way.”
Hopefully toward a discussion about creating opportunities for personalized learning, helping kids climb their own ladders to reach their aspirations, hopes and dreams.
Iowa ASCD serves more than 1,100 educators, including teachers, principals, superintendents and principals, while collaborating to impact learning for every student in Iowa. “Competency-Based Education: Define! Design! Deliver!” brings together thought leaders and educators to focus on competency-based education, while building capacity to transform the current education system in Iowa.
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.
I’m delighted to be releasing a new paper on the future of teaching! “Forecasting the Future of K-12 Teaching: Four Scenarios for a Decade of Disruption” examines how the disruptive changes shaping education might affect teaching in the next ten years. I wrote this paper given the crucial role that teachers play in young people’s lives. As we face dramatic changes to the fundamental structures of education, we need to be intentional about how we design for adults’ roles in supporting learning.
To help education stakeholders around the country create positive futures for the teaching profession, this paper presents four scenarios for the future of K-12 teaching in the United States:
- A baseline future, “A Plastic Profession,” that extrapolates from today’s dominant reality to project what teaching is likely to look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system.
- An alternative future, “Take Back the Classroom,” that explores what teaching might look like if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning.
- A second alternative future, “A Supplemental Profession,” which examines what teaching might look like if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school.
- An ideal future, “Diverse Learning Agent Roles,” that explores how a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities might support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners.
Each of these scenarios represents a plausible future for K-12 teaching reflecting different drivers of change that are at play in the world today. Emphasizing one set of key drivers versus another leads to different fundamental assumptions about how the future might play out, and therefore to very different narratives about how it might look. Even today, any one of the scenarios might not be equally likely in all places.
While it is unlikely that the future of K-12 teaching will unfold exactly as articulated in any of these scenarios, engaging with them can help us surface key issues facing the profession today, develop visions for what we would like teaching to look like in ten or more years, and create strategies for pursuing those visions while at the same time mitigating against less positive outcomes. We have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to look ahead and channel the forces of change at play in the world today toward outcomes that we want to create.
The choices we make about teaching today will affect not just teachers’ experiences of their profession but also the very design of learning itself and, most importantly, the extent to which we are able to support all learners in achieving their fullest potential. What future of teaching do you want to create?
Earlier this week I had a chance to chat with Larry Jacobs of Education Talk Radio and Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums about AAM’s Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem (see my excerpt on two scenarios for the future). As the learning ecosystem expands, we see the potential for learning experiences to extend throughout community landscapes – both geographic and virtual – and for museums to play a key role as learning institutions and agents of change.
As I put it in my essay:
In the vibrant learning grid scenario, all learners would be able to move seamlessly across many kinds of learning experiences and providers, with learning agents from a variety of backgrounds supporting them in customizing and carrying out their learning journeys. In the fractured landscape scenario, museums and other cultural institutions could help fill gaps left by the public education system, providing alternatives for at least some learners who might otherwise have access to few good opportunities.
Museums are great at fostering passion-based learning, which I’d love to see characterize the whole learning ecosystem. They have much to share around cultivating inquiry, creativity, play, and other attributes that could support learners in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. And there is great scope for museums and other cultural institutions to extend how they contribute to local and worldwide learning landscapes.
What if we fostered community-wide ownership of learning, with learners moving seamlessly across place-based and virtual experiences as they followed their passions and pursued their learning outcomes? What if urban mapping tools such as the fictional Community Learning Resources site helped surface and connect a community’s learning assets? What if new kinds of learning agents, such as this learning journey mentor from the year 2025, helped guide and support learners in creating and pursuing truly personalized learning playlists?
We think that leaders from the education and cultural sectors can work together to integrate the nation’s assets into a vibrant learning grid that makes such possibilities work – and work well – for all students.