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What Might Expand Job Mobility in Disrupted Suburbs?

Fri, 2015-06-26 08:58

This is the third of a five-part blog series on creating equitable and vibrant learning ecosystems for all students, no matter where they live.

Louisiana’s statewide Jump Start program prepares high school students for careers via a career-ready diploma. It uses a unique point system, whereby participants earn graduation index points that correlate directly with the state’s Workforce Investment Council, linking local business needs with skills developed in the Jump Start program.

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

  • Growing economic uncertainty, social instability, and income polarization
  • Difficulty adapting to poverty and dealing with the resulting stress, isolation, and anxiety
  • Help understanding that the old system of education that enabled many of the community’s adults to succeed might no longer be sufficient for their children

Looking ahead to 2025, our paper imagines that an education-employment consortium might expand job mobility in struggling suburbs by creating flexible and intersecting education and career pathways. The FlexCareerWeb Consortium would enable learners to earn career credits while also developing core academic skills. The consortium would catalyze contributions across education providers and businesses by working with schools and local employers to articulate a shared long-term vision for learning in the region and to design outcomes that guided contributors’ respective initiatives.

This learning ecosystem would also make use of a cross-agency data warehouse to integrate data from schools, social services, mental health, and juvenile justice agencies in support of providing relevant and integrated services to a rapidly changing school population. Lastly, it would use a niche career-diploma dashboard to help learners connect with the right experiences and would offer specialized services such as a local career gap year.

This story from the future represents just one way in which ecosystem participants might address the needs of learners in disrupted suburbs by expanding the notion of who contributes to learning and linking resources and data flows across a region. Where else do you see possibilities for taking new community-level approaches to support learners in disrupted suburbs?

Interested in learning ecosystems? Read more:


What might make urban dropout rates plummet?

Wed, 2015-06-24 10:05

This is the second of a five-part blog series on creating equitable and vibrant learning ecosystems for all students, no matter where they live.

Ever Forward Club is a community-based club operating in Oakland, California, that helps young men, particularly underserved and at-risk young men of color, foster emotional maturity and overcome the hyper-masculinity code that can be a barrier to empathy, personal growth, and academic achievement. The club uses conversation, play, and community to support young men’s development by expanding their emotional toolboxes so that they can better handle the challenges of school and life now and into the future.

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

  • Difficulty accessing surrounding resources
  • Lack of access to essential learning resources, quality teachers, and technology
  • Cultural isolation and the difficulty of dealing with complex or misunderstood social narratives associated with poverty and race
  • Conflicting narratives about what success means and the role of education toward it
  • Significant needs around work, safety, food, and health uncertainty

Looking ahead to 2025, our paper imagines that urban learning crews could provide personalized learning and deep social support to middle and high school aged students in the largest inner cities in the U.S., causing dropout rates to plummet. An Urban Learning Crew League would coordinate crews’ educational programming across city-wide learning venues, integrating visits to locations such as museums, maker spaces, media labs, parks, and science centers with online curriculum and in-person classes to help students achieve individual learning goals. The crew experience would also include a social-emotional curriculum and personal growth activities that were interwoven throughout the day and week, with crew members having several in-person check-ins during the week to reflect on personal challenges. Crew members would engage in emotional intelligence skill-building activities and would use a mood capture application to track and reflect on their emotions throughout the day in support of practicing self-regulation and develop a healthy inner self. Monthly potluck open portfolio celebrations would bring together parents, neighbors, and guardians to see members’ work and help community members understand how best to support the kids.

Such a learning ecosystem would provide niche education experiences and tailor support to small groups of urban youth by leveraging common platforms and using a specialized suite of social media apps.  It would also mobilize learners, parents, and learning agents to come together to reflect on learning and related supports.

This story from the future represents just one way in which ecosystem participants might address the needs of learners in poor urban neighborhoods by helping them access the city’s resources and by providing strong social and emotional support.  Where else do you see possibilities for taking new community-level approaches in to support learners in poor urban neighborhoods?


Interested in learning ecosystems? Read more:



Cultivating a Vibrant and Equitable #FutureEd

Wed, 2015-06-10 09:40

geographiesFriday’s #FutureEd Twitter chat exploring how education stakeholders might foster connections to build vibrant learning ecosystems put a sharp focus on some of the needs that future ecosystems need to address. Looking ten years out with the focal points of poor urban neighborhoods, disrupted suburbs, poor rural communities, and incarcerated settings, participants emphasized the need for learning ecosystems to make great opportunities available to all students, to be accessible and adaptive to individualized needs, to accommodate a wide range of learner needs, and to have the capacity to adapt as needs change. So learning ecosystems would be complex and adaptive systems, not fixed structures.

Nonetheless, structures connecting diverse options and experiences seemed key to helping people navigate learning ecosystems successfully and to ensuring quality. Participants also saw promise in connecting resources across many types of organizations so that we change today’s definitions of formal and informal learning, as well as in providing resources to enable learners to take advantage of the vast world of individualized supports not offered by publicly-funded institutions.

The conversation also surfaced the delicate balance between making learning options in incarcerated settings more responsive to individuals’ needs and, at the same time, more uniformly accessible to all learners. Even as participants addressed issues caused by isolation and counterproductive social narratives across the geographies, they also emphasized the need to include learners as guides and designers, not just as recipients of ecosystem services. The need to develop community consensus what the community achieves and values – without suggesting that there be a singular point of success – also arose.

Having reliable and timely data with trust mechanisms built in emerged as another lever for making learning ecosystems vibrant and equitable for all learners. That could take the form of multiple intersecting feedback cycles and flexible views of data to reflect and inform learning experiences. It would also involve relieving pressure on the current education system to look as if it’s still working in situations where it isn’t, so that people feel more comfortable being honest about what’s happening – or not happening – with learning.

So, how might we move from focusing on school-level education systems to community-level learning ecosystems? Participants in the #FutureEd chat suggested increased engagement and collaborative structures to tie everyone together in a meaningful way along with flexible value webs that can address each area’s specific needs. Jason Swanson, Andrea Saveri, and I explore the potential of value webs further in our recent paper, “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems.” We hope you’ll join us in considering further how to make #FutureEd flourish for all learners.


Cultivating Ecosystem Interconnections

Thu, 2015-06-04 14:40

KnowledgeWorks definition of learning ecosystemI’m excited to announce the release of a new paper that I’ve authored long-time collaborator Andrea Saveri and KnowledgeWorks colleague Jason Swanson.  “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems” explores how education stakeholders might make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners.  Specifically, the paper explores:

  • What kinds of learning ecosystem interconnections might help participants create vibrant learning ecosystems
  • What learning ecosystems might look like in different high-need geographies.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.

We worry about equity because our current education system is not equitable, despite judicial and legislative intentions.  In writing this paper, Andrea, Jason, and I grounded that concern by taking a close look at four high-need geographies.  We imagined how ecosystem participants might address learners’ needs in new ways through flexible value webs to which many kinds of organizations and individuals might contribute.

Here are some highlights of our stories about vibrant and equitable learning ecosystems of 2025:

  • Poor urban neighborhoods – Urban learning crews provide personalized learning and deep social support to middle and high school aged students, causing dropout rates to plummet.
  • Disrupted suburbs – An education-employment consortium expands job mobility in struggling suburbs by creating flexible and intersecting education and career pathways.
  • Poor rural communities – A rural learning commons provides a new layer of infrastructure that seeds educator development and expands access to cross-cultural learning experiences.
  • Incarcerated settings – A restorative justice network facilitates classroom- and community-based learning opportunities for inmates through social entrepreneurship, linking inmates’ learning experiences in jail to productive work and projects in local communities.

These stories reflect value webs created by ecosystem participants occupying three kinds of structural roles: concentrators, fragmenters, and catalysts.  To read more about these structural roles and current signals of change pointing toward new possibilities for learning ecosystems in high-need geographies, take a look at the full paper.  We’ll look forward to hearing what you think!


The Stuff of Forecasting

Tue, 2015-05-26 15:14

future-education-forecastA colleague likes to joke that forecasting is akin to sausage making: the end products are great, but he doesn’t necessarily need to see the full process. With KnowledgeWorks’ fourth full forecast on the future of learning coming out this fall, Jason Swanson and I have begun rolling up our sleeves to do the messy work of looking ahead ten years and imagining what the emerging landscape might mean for education.

At a work session with collaborator Andrea Saveri earlier this month, we began solidifying our list of big shifts outside education that could change not just how people approach learning, but also the reasons why and the purposes for which people pursue it. The changes on the horizon look really big this time: the fundamental substrate of the economy appears to be changing in ways that could shift education’s very foundations. We titled our last forecast Recombinant Education. Now it looks as if we could be moving toward a recombinant society in which many of our traditional structures and interrelationships are taking multiple new forms as a result of exponential changes in technology and society, not the least of which is the changing nature of work.

Right after sketching out our initial understanding of what that might mean for learning, Jason and I used Uber to get a ride across San Francisco to attend the Institute for the Future’s ten-year forecast retreat. IFTF’s 2015 forecast “explore[s] the different platforms that might transform our corporate and consumer economies, build new creative, collaborative, and civil economies, and even disrupt the global economy of crime.” It points toward new ways of defining and pursuing value, of connecting resources to achieve our ends and exploring the interstices between them. Networked structures continue to seem like a salient feature of the future, while automation promises to come ever more to the fore.

As with Uber’s matching of passenger need with driver availability, application programming interfaces (APIs) are playing a role in executing more and more activities. Robots are increasingly serving as partners not just in manufacturing but also in less likely sectors such as healthcare and food services.  New encryption technologies such as blockchain are enabling new models for handling secure financial and legal transactions and could eventually impact some learning transactions and data flows. I’m still trying to get my head around the rationale behind distributed autonomous corporations even as I find myself intrigued by how expanding insight into microbiomes might affect human health and food systems.

While our forecasts take into account far more than technology and science, such developments underscore our sense that the changes on the horizon could be foundational this time. The next decade could see us forming new kinds of partnerships with machines, pursuing new transactional models, and navigating uncertain landscapes. We’re working on forecasting what such changes might mean for people, organizational structures, and cultures and will look forward to sharing more as our next forecast continues to unfold.  We’ll try to share the good bits without revealing too much of the mess!


Using future studies to prepare students for life after school

Fri, 2015-05-22 10:40

future-thinkingAs a student and even into adulthood I really had no concept of the future that I wanted for myself. Coming from a futurist, that may seem a bit odd. Thankfully, after a lot of exploring, I found something that I am highly passionate about and the feeling of being lost eventually went away.

Many people, especially – and tragically – many of our young learners, also lack a vision of the future for themselves. This can and should change, and our education system can be a vehicle for exploring the future and helping to foster learners’ aspirational vision of what they may want from their lives after school.

Dr. Peter Bishop’s Teach the Future initiative is aimed at bringing the future into our schools by introducing foresight to middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country. Students will learn how to anticipate and influence the future in a world of rapidly accelerating change. Or to put it another way, students will learn how to think about the future and then act decisively to create it.

Bringing foresight into our schools has another benefit beyond thinking about the future; it has the ability to change the learning cultures of our institutions. Katherine Prince, in her paper “Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem : Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning, highlighted learning cultures as one of the 10 pathways that are critical to transforming our current system of education. A vibrant learning culture is, according to Katherine, one where “…approaches go beyond simply pacing learning to each individual; they cultivate inquiry, creativity, play, and other attributes that support people in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. Some learning cultures extend beyond formal learning environments to include, or facilitate connections with, community-based or informal learning experiences.”

Futures thinking can contribute to vibrant learning cultures. Thinking about the future teaches us to relish what we do not know yet encourages us to find out more, to become comfortable with uncertainty, and to fearlessly explore ideas and areas of study we may not have considered otherwise.

As a young learner who had no concept of his own future, I hope you will consider joining me in support of Teach the Future.  As a futurist, I know how powerful these methods are and how potentially transformative they can be for all levels, from the young learner to the education system in need of systemic change.


The Emerging Future: Technology and Learning

Mon, 2015-05-18 11:08


Miniaturization in action. Photo by Flickr user koka_sexton.

How will changing technology platforms, such as ebooks and mobile devices, alter how we educate learners?

I recently had the honor of exploring this question, among many other insightful topics, during Library 2.015 Spring Summit, hosted by The Learning Revolution The theme for the summit was The Emerging Future: Technology and Learning.

Together with my fellow panelists, we explored the many ways technology is affecting education. During the course of the session I noted that quite a few questions from the audience happened to center around the changing platforms we use to educate learners, specifically ebooks and mobile platforms.

The emergence of ebooks and mobile platforms are a result of miniaturization and dematerialization.  Miniaturization is a trend where the technology we invent and manufacture becomes increasingly smaller in size, as the term might imply. A great example for this can be seen in the images above, where what used to take up a great amount of room and multiple devices can now fit in the palm of the user’s hand.

Dematerialization might be thought as an extension of the miniaturization trend, but rather than shrinking in size, we see technology being off loaded into things like the digital cloud, no longer needing a physical presence, merely an access point such as a computer or smart device.

In my latest publication, “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: 4 Scenarios on the Future of Credentials”, I explore how miniaturization and dematerialization might affect credentials as part of an alternate futures scenario titled “Every Experience a Credential.” This scenario imagines what might happen if skill tracking technologies, such as the learning record store were to become common place in education, cataloging a learner’s experiences to be certified by schools and other learning institutions, thus moving credentials from something physical, like a diploma or certificate and effectively shrinking and dematerializing them in such a way that our experiences and credentials live in the digital cloud.

I would like to express my gratitude to Steve Haragdon and Dr. Sue Alman for the invitation to participate in the panel. It was a great learning experience, and a lot of fun exploring the ways technology might impact education. In what ways do you see miniaturization and dematerialization affecting learning?


Highlights from Credentials #FutureEd Twitter Chat

Mon, 2015-05-04 11:00

On Friday, May 1, KnowledgeWorks hosted a #FutureEd Twitter chat, exploring the future of credentialing in the education and employment sectors.

Taking a further dive into the newly launched white paper, “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials,” the discussion explored tracking informal learning, meeting the needs of the employment sector and new technology to track credentials.

KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight Jason Swanson hosted the chat. For reflections on the chat, Exploring credentials’ role in #FutureEd.

Below is a Storify for the chat. Thanks to all who participated. Please join us on May 29 to explore another #FutureEd topic!


Exploring credentials’ role in #FutureEd

Fri, 2015-05-01 16:42

futureed-twitter-promoI have just finished hosting my first #FutureEd Twitter Chat exploring my new paper, Certifying Skills and Learning: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials. For this chat, we explored some of the uncertainties surrounding new forms of credentials, ranging from what technologies might be impacting credentials, to the roles that learners might play in the development of new credentials. I have to thank the participants of today’s chat. Their insights were truly great and we enjoyed a thought-provoking discussion.

Here are a few key themes emerged during our discussion:

  • The role that civic institutions such as libraries and museums might take in brokering and curating micro-credentials.
  • The need for new roles, such as a Learning Pathway Designer or a Micro-Credential Examiner, as assessment and credentialing diversify.
  • The role standards will play in emerging credentials.
  • The power that skill tracking technology has to build a bridge between formal and informal education.
  • The critical uncertainty that acceptance plays in the survival and proliferation of new credentials. It is not enough to develop them and put them into the world.

Today’s session really helped to stretch my thinking around the future of credentials. As the worlds of education and work continue to change at a breakneck pace we can expect credentials to continue to change as a result, and many of the key themes mentioned in our discussion to become increasingly salient.

What key themes do you see emerging for the future of credentials?


Discussing the future of credentials on EduTalk Radio

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:04

Blog Talk RadioThink about your resume. What does it look like? What does it portray about you? Does it accurately demonstrate all your skills and abilities?

As the education and workforce sectors become more personalized environments, credentialing systems will also need to reflect 21st-century learning and working. We need to figure out how to better track learning environments to better understand an individual’s qualifications and skill sets.

This was the hot topic on a recent EduTalk Radio interview with Jason Swanson, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight and author of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.”

This new KnowledgeWorks paper explores possibilities for the future of credentialing. The paper’s four scenarios consider relatively small changes to today’s credentialing environment to an inventive future in which educators would examine a learner’s cognitive abilities to more accurately portray his or her experiences.

“What are ways I can best capture my formal & informal learning?” Jason asked during the EduTalk interview.

To learn more about the future of credentialing, listen to the full EduTalk radio show interview with Jason Swanson.


Living in a VUCA World: Exploring the the Future of Credentials

Thu, 2015-04-23 15:04

future-of-educationIt is with great excitement that I can announce that today marks the release of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.” As the name implies, this paper seeks to describe four possible futures for credentials. During the research process for the paper, we were fortunate to have quite a few rich discussions about where credentials might be headed. The response we received during these discussions was typically one of excitement.

Generally speaking, most of our future of learning work has touched on credentials, but only as a piece of the larger emerging future of learning. So why focus solely on them for this paper?

It is not uncommon to hear that we are living in a “VUCA” world. “VUCA” is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or to put it another way, “It feels like the world is going crazy!” Part of living in a VUCA world is dealing with accelerating change and disruption. The rate of change we experience is increasing, leading to increased disruption, and as a result contributing to those feelings of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. How might this relate to credentials?

We are currently witnessing disruptions to many of our industries and institutions. We can count our educational system and employment sector among the list of those having to contend with deep levels of disruption, and as a result what it means to acquire knowledge and skills and also how we might credential those accomplishments is changing. Fundamental changes in how we educate people promise to change how we credential learning. At the same time, changes to how we work could alter the value that we place on current credentials, affect how we assess and award credentials, and give rise to new forms, which could in turn have the potential to disrupt the education sector even further.

As forecast in KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem and the related infographic, A Glimpse into the Future of Learning, education in the United States is facing a decade of deep disruption as the digital revolution and the accompanying cultural and social changes reshape its structure. These disruptions point towards a future in which education will be increasingly personalized to each learner, school will take many forms, and a variety of learning agents will guide students in their learning journeys. With education becoming increasingly learner-centered, assessment is likely to become increasingly focused on mastery instead of time, with new uses of both formative and summative assessments to inform learning.

The employment sector is also experiencing change, affecting how, when, and where people might work. Current trends are pointing towards a future of work in which people are likely to think less in terms of climbing a career ladder and more in terms of navigating a career lattice. Employment is increasingly becoming ad hoc and networked, with full-time employment for a single organization declining as employers increasingly seek talent on demand. At the same time, drivers of change such as new forms of automation, an aging workforce, mobile technologies’ blurring the line between work and home life, and economic globalization are pushing employees to hold multiple careers across their lifetimes and sometimes even at the same time. Such shifts could push many people to be in a mode of constant learning and continuous career readiness and could increase the need for specialized training similar to that required for professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists.

With future trends pointing toward profound shifts in the structures of both education and work, credentials could evolve considerably over the next ten years. Given the roles that credentials play as symbols of knowledge, motivators for pursuing training and education, and the primary means of gaining access to as well as navigating today’s job market, it is important to consider what credentials might look like in ten years, how they might be earned, and how they might be evaluated.

To find out more about how these changes might affect the future of credentials, you can explore the full paper here, as well as connect with me on Twitter @jasonswanson.


Laying the Foundation for Personalized Learning

Mon, 2015-04-20 13:04

During my webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University earlier this month, a participant asked where educational institutions might start in transitioning to a new learning ecosystem.

For quite a while after we released KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education forecast, I would have answered that we need to make our learning structures more flexible and more diverse. I still think that we need to enable the development of diverse learning structures that enable learners and their families to access the right learning experiences at the right time and make use of many kinds of resources across community landscapes.

But over the last year I’ve come to place learning cultures first. In light of our vision for vibrant learning ecosystems in which all learners have equitable chances of thriving, I think that incumbent education organizations would do well to start by working to enable new personalized learning cultures. Those learning cultures would cultivate inquiry, creativity, and play. They would support learners in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. They might accommodate some degree of choice over what individual learners chose to master, or at least over how learners pursued common learning standards.

I see learning cultures as a starting point for incumbent institutions because any organization can attempt to change its culture. That work is hard and time-consuming. But it can be easier to approach than restructuring a long-established institution, and it can happen at multiple levels of hierarchy and scale. Cultures are foundational. They tend to persist across changes of organizational structure, with people reverberating back to their old ways of working and learning unless they come to interact with one another in new ways and orient around their activities around clear values.

Each education organization has to decide what kind of learning culture it wants to foster in pursuit of its vision for learning. As I outlined in “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning,” large-scale educational transformation will require many organizations’ pursuing complementary trajectories of change simultaneously. But, because learning cultures are so central to students’ experiences, I think that fostering them can be a good starting point for schools, universities, and other educational organizations seeking to explore their place in the expanding learning ecosystem.


Exercising Choice over the Future of Learning

Mon, 2015-04-13 11:00


During a recent webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University, I had the chance to share highlights from our Recombinant Education forecast and the related infographic and talk with participants about the implications of future trends for learning. Their thoughtful comments grappled with the potential consequences of transitioning to a more learner-driven and disintermediated learning ecosystem and with the difficult and complex work of changing institutions and local ecosystems.

Some questions that arose included:

  • Do personalized learning pathways point toward discretionary outcomes for learners, as in not having to learn math if you don’t want to?
  • How can we support all learners, especially younger ones, in having clear goals around which to orient their learning?
  • What roles might educators play in self-organized approaches to learning?
  • Might some new learning agent roles be minimum wage?
  • To what extent might new forms of credentials gain acceptance by employers?
  • To what degree do current mainstream education developments support the expansion of the learning ecosystem?
  • What would happen to institutional enrollments in a complete à la carte approach?
  • How might we ensure that people are really learning what their credentials indicate and what they need to learn in order to function effectively in specialized occupations?
  • How can today’s educational institutions begin creating holistic approaches to personalized learning without dismantling current structures prematurely?

Such questihand upons highlight the importance of human choice in shaping the future. For example, we can, as a society, make a choice about the extent to which high standards for all learners intersect with the customization of learning playlists. Learning ecosystems might allow room for learners to differentiate what they learn after mastering basic competencies, or they might require all students to master the same competencies but enable any number of approaches toward achieving them. Some learning ecosystems might take different stances on this or any number of questions.

At KnowledgeWorks, we engage education stakeholders in strategic foresight to help illuminate strategic possibilities for the future of learning and to help learning ecosystem participants make intentional choices about how to respond to and shape the changing landscape. Our forecast suggests that there will be many right answers for learners and for local learning ecosystems. Our hope is that all learners and all geographies will have access to good answers.

For ideas on how to make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners, see my paper, “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning” and stay tuned for our forthcoming paper on cultivating learning ecosystem interconnections so as to create value webs that serve all learners well.


Exploring the Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem

Mon, 2015-04-06 13:08

future_church3What’s emerging on the spiritual landscape and what might those changes signal for mainline protestant denominations and local churches ten years out? That’s not a question I’d normally ask in my role with KnowledgeWorks, given our focus on education. But Rev. George Meier of the United Church of Canada reached out in the context of a project exploring microfinance as a way of fostering experimental and entrepreneurial ministries outside traditional church governance structures. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with him to explore the implications of our work on the future of education for the spiritual domain.

As George astutely observed, many of the socio-cultural changes that are disrupting education are also affecting religious and spiritual practice. In applying our forecasts from “A Glimpse into the Future of Learning” and Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem to that domain, we found that the spiritual ecosystem is expanding, just as the learning ecosystem is expanding. Both domains are experiencing a time of disintermediation, wherein people’s relationships with traditional institutions are changing and, in some cases, ending entirely.

So what does that look like?  We’re seeing school take many forms, some of which are self-organized. Similarly, church is beginning to take many forms. We expect that trend to continue, often with no denominational accountability and sometimes without new forms of church even claiming that identity. We’re also seeing educator roles diversify, such that a whole host of specialized learning agent roles could emerge. It also looks as if denominational roles and professional staff positions will diversify as many new roles emerge to support people on their spiritual journeys.

These are just a couple of highlights from the booklet that George and I produced, “Transforming Church for North America’s Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem.” We forecast that, in ten years, it will no longer be necessary for an individual to adapt to the institutional church as it has so far existed. Indeed, we forecast the emergence of a recombinant church in which people will be able to put the pieces of the spiritual ecosystem together in new sequences, potentially creating a living system that can keep evolving as people’s needs and the world that we inhabit change.

The emergence of a recombinant church represents a huge adaptive challenge for mainline protestant denominations and local churches. George and I identified four pathways that could help those institutions contribute to transformational community life and the creation of the recombinant church:

  • Spiritual Cultures: Cultivate spiritual cultures that support individuals in pursuing authenticity and spiritual awakening
  • Organizational Structures and Roles: Support the development of diverse spiritual structures and professional roles
  • Church Offerings: Recast church offerings to extend beyond institutional boundaries and support individuals in pursuing customized spiritual journeys
  • Transformational Leadership: Lead toward the creation of a flexibly and radically personalized spiritual ecosystem.

The parallels between the educational and spiritual domains point toward a cycle of disintermediation, adaptation, and recombination that my colleague Jason Swanson and I think could be affecting many sectors.  We’re looking forward to exploring that cycle of change further.

In the meantime, check out George’s microfinance project for more ideas about fostering adaptive transformation.


Visionary Leadership for Personalized Learning

Mon, 2015-03-23 10:26

Moving a district toward personalized learning is hard but necessary work, observed one of the participants in the session on district conditions for scaling personalized learning that Matt Williams and I led at the National School Board Association’s (NSBA’s) conference on Saturday. Another emphasized the importance of starting with a vision for learning and building out supporting elements, such as district technology policy, around that vision, instead of addressing each element piecemeal.

Indeed, all of the district leaders whom my colleagues interviewed about district conditions for scaling personalized learning emphasized the importance of having a shared vision supported by everyone from board members to educators to community partners. Other meta-themes spanning interviewees’ more detailed strategies included cultivating a district culture that is consistent with the vision and operating transparently so that all stakeholders can see how plans are unfolding and can feel free to take risks while pursuing new approaches.

Saturday’s NSBA conference session focused on moving innovation beyond isolated pockets of excellence to systems of excellence that align the elements of their student engagement and operations such that districts can scale personalized learning environments. The session looked not just at what KnowledgeWorks has learned from speaking with district leaders, but also at the future possibilities described in our infographic on the future of learning and our recent paper on innovation pathways toward vibrant learning ecosystems.

In so doing, the conversation highlighted the excitement that can come from pursuing a new vision for learning, whether that involves changing the physical learning environment, using real-time data to inform instruction, or personalizing professional development and its certification so that teachers can experience the kind of learning to which we aspire for students.

School boards have a unique and integral role to play in implementing conditions that help districts scale personalized learning environments. Without school boards’ vision and leadership, and without their partnership with district staff, establishing the conditions necessary to foster innovation, scale new and successful practices, and prepare for the future of learning is impossible. The district policies required to enact personalized learning at scale will reflect a school board’s visionary leadership.


Discussing how to scale innovative learning at NSBA conference

Fri, 2015-03-20 13:20

Over the years,annual-conference-logo elements of innovative schools has gotten a lot of attention. While this focus has helped to shape student-centered practice in classrooms, it has done little to scale successful innovation beyond “pockets of evidence.”

This weekend, KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince are presenting at the National School Boards Association 75th Annual Conference during their session, “District Conditions for Scaling Innovation.”

The session will discuss the conditions for success that a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of innovative learning environments. It will also focus on KnowledgeWorks’ District Conditions for Scale.

If you are attending the NSBA conference in Nashville, stop by to say ‘hello’ to Matt and Katherine! Their session is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. on March 21 in room 104A at the Music City Center in Nashville.

For more information on NSBA and their work, visit NSBA.org.



Helping parents navigate the system to find best learning for students

Fri, 2015-03-06 15:05

How would education change if families had access to learning sherpas?

cutmypicKatherine Prince explored the topic on Getting Smart, a website that explores accelerating and amplifying innovations in teaching and learning that puts students at the core. In her column, she shares her own experiences of choosing the right neighborhood and school experience for her three-year-old daughter, Chloe.

Katherine shares:

“It isn’t realistic to expect parents to navigate the expanding learning landscape without guides. And it’s irresponsible to hope that somehow parents and kids will create their own solutions. Some will.  But a lot of parents and kids, from a lot of different circumstances, will not. If we don’t create new educator roles such as learning sherpas, we’re pretty much saying that we’re okay letting the learning ecosystem fracture. Accepting that some kids will have access to highly personalized learning while others will find their full potential stifled in limited or simply ill-fitting learning environments. We can’t afford to let the learning landscape fracture in that way.”

Read Katherine’s insight on Getting Smart, “I Need a Learning Sherpa.”


Rebuilding education’s future to serve students rather than politics

Mon, 2015-03-02 13:29

guaranteeThe first time I laid eyes on a KnowledgeWorks forecast was a game changer. While doing research for the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s ReSchool Colorado initiative, I stumbled across this treasure trove exploring our education system’s potential.

Leading up to that moment, I had been in a slow spiral of despair over education. As a teacher, I saw the deep inequities that my students faced daily when showing up to a school permeated by low expectations. In the policy arena, I learned the reality that good ideas do not win on merit, and I experienced the preference for shredding others’ ideas rather than collaborating towards solutions. When I started to understand that we do not have to be permanently bound to the disheartening chaos of today’s education system, my hope and enthusiasm began to be restored.

Fast forward to today when I have the privilege of being on a team that is not hindered by the often discouraging reality of education. In the classroom, I backwards planned to the end of the school year when my students would be ready for second grade. Now, I backwards plan my work to a future education system that serves students rather than politics or the interests of industrialism.

My research on the future of education, as well as innovations towards a personalized approach to learning, has set a powerful foundation from which to consider what education could look like in the not-too-distant future. As I build on this foundation, my perspective has been fundamentally shaped by my former students. I was a teacher in schools where the zip code led many adults, teachers and otherwise, to believe that success was unattainable and that failure was a guarantee.

Too many students are being failed by their schools on a daily basis. There is no time to waste in creating better education options, and spending time considering an ideal future could seem like an indulgence. While not an excuse to halt current efforts to create equity in the education system, I would argue that the greatest amount of future thinking needs to include these very students and their communities. In the realm of competency-based education, for example, Jobs for the Future (JFF) and RAND Education released a paper demonstrating a proactive approach to equity concerns.

In our recent KnowledgeWorks Twitter chats, so many individuals recognized that a more equitable system is needed, but similar to the JFF and RAND paper, there seem to be more questions than answers. Instead of facing these unknowns with discouragement, these questions create an incredible opportunity for those interested in actively shaping the future of education.



As we work to transform the education system, the processes that we use need to be transformed as well. No longer should we be creating committees and boards made up of the most highly-educated and powerful. The questions around equity need to be answered by groups representing the students being served. When the voices shaping the future of education are as diverse as the students we serve, we will be that much closer to a more rigorous dialog that will form a better, more equitable system.

I could not be more excited for the day when the students in neighborhoods like Denver’s Montbello and Five Points will be known and highly valued in their communities. I will know that we are on the way to educational equity for all students when communities rally around students, of all income levels and races, to actively support them to discover their passions and to meet their full potential. To achieve this vision, we must use collaborative approach that includes diverse perspectives and ideas. Working together, we can attain this vision for our education system.


Highlights from second #FutureEd Twitter Chat

Mon, 2015-02-23 14:39

On Friday, Feb. 20, KnowledgeWorks hosted its second #FutureEd Twitter chat. This chat focused on the second five Innovation Pathways, which revolve around transforming supporting systemic structures to better serve student learning in the future.

KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince hosted the chat. More than 90 people participated, sharing their insight, hopes and dreams for #FutureEd.

For reflections on the chat, see this summary by Jason Swanson, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight.

Below is the Storify for the Feb. 20 #FutureEd Twitter chat. Thanks to all who participated! If interested in participating in upcoming chats, sign up here for more information.


Twitter Chat Wrap-Up: Transforming Supporting Systemic Structures

Fri, 2015-02-20 15:58

A wrap-up of the #FutureEd Twitter chat discussing transforming supporting systemic structures, hosted by KnowledgeWorks' Katherine Prince.

And that’s a wrap! I have just finished participating in the second installment of our #FutureEd Twitter Chat looking at Katherine Prince’s Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem paper.

For this chat, the focus was on the second set of innovation pathways which focus on transforming supporting systemic structures. It was great to see such a varied audience and to read such thoughtful contributions.

Something I found particularly interesting was the importance of relationships in creating systemic change. The theme of relationships came up quite often across all the pathways we explored today.

Looking across the innovation pathways that we covered today, here were some themes that were highlighted during the chat:

  • Funding: Funding needs to follow the learner and span learning environments. Funding should also move away from the property tax model.
  • Quality Assurance: The teaching profession could play a key role in quality assurance. There is a need for new learning credentials and new assessment structures. Competency based education was also a key component, with quality and equity are demonstrated by the focus on mastery.
  • Community Ownership: We need to create a shared vision for learning, establish partnerships and encourage collaboration between the education system and community. Transparency will also be a key component, as well clear lines of communication.
  • Leadership and Policy: Leadership should focus on the long view, and work to be active agents of transformation rather than protectors of the status quo. Other interesting ideas included the establishment of community-based governance structures.
  • Public Will: Surfacing and extending innovations, setting visions, and taking the long view will help to cultivate public will.

I had a wonderful time exploring the future with all of today’s participants. Dealing with change, let alone systemic change, is a difficult task. I am reassured by the responses of today’s participants that the future of education will be a bright one as there are so many great ideas on how to move things forward. It is tough work, but the consequences keeping the current system the same, of only reforming rather than transforming, are much worse. This is work that every one of us has to have a hand in, to ensure every child has positive learning experience and the best chance at success.