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Eyes on Iowa: Imagining Student-Centered Education

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:00

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.

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Cultivating New Cultures of Learning

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:00

Post image for Cultivating New Cultures of Learning

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.

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Creating the Future of Teaching

Thu, 2014-06-19 10:42

 Four Scenarios for a Decade of Disruption.

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?

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Creating Community Learning Landscapes

Thu, 2014-06-12 14:43

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.

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Cultivating New Cultures of Learning

Thu, 2014-05-15 14:37

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.

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Envisioning New Possibilities for Districts

Mon, 2014-04-21 11:00

WoL ForecastCould a future school function as a flexible learning space in which students moved fluidly across different kinds of learning experiences and points of focus, with a Chief Education Officer running the overall operations while master educators helped students craft their learning playlists using both local and cloud-based resources, topic-area facilitators provided intensive support in key subject areas, and specialists such as physical and occupational therapists provided support where needed?

That’s just one of the possibilities that district administrators identified in the course of exploring the future of learning at a leadership seminar hosted by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association last month.  As we explored what the expanding learning ecosystem might mean for schools and districts and what strategies they might explore to make use of future trends, participants saw room to begin working with those trends in the context of their current structures and resources.

Their ideas ranged broadly, playing out new possibilities for learning agent roles, new ways for district and communities to partner and intersect, and dramatic shifts in the conversations surrounding education:

  • Could we shift current educator roles to an expanded set of learning agent roles, with guidance counselors becoming proactive pathway visionaries, teachers becoming learning coaches, administrators becoming opportunity choreographers, parents becoming learning supporters and community connectors, and students becoming learning leaders?
  • Could a district operate as a learning village that helped students and learning agents weave together a rich array of learning experiences and locations reflecting community-wide ownership of learning?
  • Could school doors become permeable portals through which young people and other community members came and went as they learned together and connected coursework with local resources for authentic, multi-generational learning experiences?
  • Could education partner with industry to drive economic development, achieving mutual benefit and driving broader societal reinvigoration?

Some strategies for pursuing such visionary possibilities included:

  •  Raising community awareness about possibilities and the need for change
  • Co-creating and communicating an inspiring vision for the future of learning
  • Creating transformational learning opportunities
  • Improving technical tools and infrastructure to help learners and learning agents manage learning playlists
  • Gradually blurring school-community boundaries
  • Brokering new kinds of partnerships
  • Identifying local resources that could complement the services and supports that districts provide
  • Gradually changing the delivery of instruction toward personalized learning that can happen independent of place and time
  • Redefining educator roles.

I was encouraged to hear how possible it seemed for districts to create transformative possibilities for learners.  By reaching far together, we can steward the expanding learning ecosystem toward being vibrant for and supportive of all learners.

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Transforming District Governance: Exploring Education in the Year 2025 with NSBA

Wed, 2014-04-09 10:59

At the National School Board Association’s annual conference, I had the pleasure of sharing insights from KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight publications through a session on education in the year 2025. As we explored what the emergence of a vibrant and adaptive learning ecosystem might mean for the ways in which school boards operate schools, how teachers teach, and how school leaders interact with their communities, participants accepted the need for transformation but highlighted the need to build public will for change.

As I hear in so many conversations about the future of learning, they saw the need for stakeholders across their communities to see “school” differently. Districts face tremendous and widespread pressure from people who try to pull the education system back toward an outdated mental model of what school looks like and how it functions in communities. Those who steward them say time and again that the general public needs to understand the dramatic extent to which districts must respond to the changing environment. As learning de-institutionalizes and increasingly flows across traditional boundaries, districts need to consider how best to position themselves to be vibrant nodes in the expanding learning ecosystem.

The NSBA conversation also emphasized the need for communities to comprehend the vast changes coming to the world of work. Those changes promise to make college and career readiness for young people a moving goal, adding further complexity to the already extensive process of education system transformation. Those changes in work will also demand that many of us engage in continuous career readiness as we need continually to re-skill to stay relevant to the workplace and learn to manage mosaic careers.

As an article in the Economist proposed earlier this year, we face the potential for tremendous economic dislocation over the next two decades as automation continues to displace workers in existing industries and new industries develop. In response, the article proposed, schools “need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers.” The article also projected that the definition of a government-provided education might change to include far greater investment in pre-school along with support for continuous education for adults. As it forecast, “state education may well involve a year of study to be taken later in life, perhaps in stages.”

Thomas Friedman’s NSBA talk about the challenges of preparing young people for a “hyperconnected” world echoed this message of dislocation. As relayed in NSBA’s summary, he argued that “the ability of anyone to make a living in the 21st century will depend in large part on being self-motivated and “innovation ready’” because we will be moving from a paradigm of finding jobs to one of creating them.

As learning, work, and productive activity of all sorts increasingly takes place apart from traditional organizations and as the ways in which we interact with organizations becomes more various and more ad hoc, districts will need to consider how to facilitate an expanded range of learning opportunities for students. That will include determining how and when to broker learning resources and experiences across traditional boundaries. Districts will also have an opportunity to help learners move seamlessly among school-based and community-based learning experiences and to form new kinds of partnerships that could lead to new solutions. Those that cannot shift their approaches to learning risk undermining their students’ ability to prepare for and create careers.

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New Tech Network, KnowledgeWorks to present at NSBA Annual Conference

Fri, 2014-04-04 16:37

New Tech Network and KnowledgeWorks will present at the National School Board Association Annual Conference beginning this weekend in New Orleans. The National School Board Association (NSBA) “supports the capacity of each school board, acting on behalf of and in close concert with the people of its community, to envision the future of education in its community, to establish a structure and environment that allow all students to reach their maximum potential, to provide accountability to the community on performance in the schools, and to serve as the key community advocate for children and youth and their public schools.”

Nick Kappelhof from New Tech Network will be presenting on why a A ’21st Century’ Education Is SO Last Century

Krista Clark and and Theresa Shafer, also from New Tech Network, will be presenting Branding and Marketing Your School with Social Media

And Katherine Prince from KnowledgeWorks will be delivering a Meet the Expert session on Education in the Year 2025 featuring Forecast 3.0: Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem. Look for a post from Katherine about the work later next week on this blog.

For a full conference schedule visit the NSBA Conference site.

Note: This post was edited to correct the topic of Katherine Prince’s Meet the Expert session description which was incorrectly identified as a collaboration with the American Alliance of Museums.

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New Value Propositions for De-Institutionalizing Times

Fri, 2014-04-04 14:28

When presenting as part of a panel on the changing cultural and social landscape at the Center for American Jewish Museums’ (CAJM) annual retreat, I was struck by the extent to which the questions about mission, relevance, and ongoing viability that challenge educational institutions in this rapidly de-institutionalizing world also pertain to museums.

Like educational institutions, museums and other cultural organizations face exciting opportunities to enrich learning and support young people as we have more and more tools at our disposal and increasingly realize the need to enable many right approaches to learning. At the same time, institutions in both sectors can feel challenged to transition their historic missions and delivery systems to a world in which institutions matter much less than they used to and matter differently to different audiences.

As community-based learning providers play an increasingly prominent role in the expanding learning ecosystem, not just by offering programs through and with schools but also by offering them directly to more learners, there will be many right answers to the question of how historic institutions refresh and reinvent their offerings. Each learning provider, whether it considers the provision of learning experiences to be all or just part of its mission, is going to have identify and express clearly exactly what it’s offering learners. Any given organization could offer multiple value propositions spanning a range of learner profiles. Some value propositions might span traditional boundaries or engage audiences in co-creating experiences and value in ways that feel inconceivable or uncomfortable today.

On the CAJM panel, Peter Linett of Slover Linett Audience Research emphasized that we’re facing these kinds of questions and opportunities not just because any given sector is changing but because we inhabit a cultural boundary moment that calls for fundamentally different training, values, assumptions, and revenue models than our current institutions have grown up with. As KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 highlights, this is a time of disruptive change. Existing institutions have to stop tweaking and start transforming, or they risk becoming obsolete amid the rise of social production and the proliferation of new platforms for exchanging and creating value.

Richard Evans of EmcArts, also on the panel, offered a way for institutions to rise to this massive challenge: engage in adaptive leadership that relies upon cross-functional teamwork, enables flexible and collaborative cultures, continuously incubates innovations, and keeps some organizational capital liquid enough to support change. As he put it, we need to shift our underlying organizational assumptions in order to identify viable strategies and “next practices.”

In this time of fundamental transition, organizations need to develop capacities for change more than they need to develop any particular solution. We’ll identify new value propositions. And then we’ll keep refining and evolving them as the impacts of this cultural shift continue to unfold.

For more on how museums might contribute to and create the future of education, see Elizabeth Merritt and Scott Kratz’s paper, “Museums and the Future of Education.”

 

 

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Forecasting Student Needs in 2025 and Beyond

Thu, 2014-04-03 11:20

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Houston Foresight spring gathering, where I learned about developing research on the future of student needs in 2025 and beyond that the Lumina Foundation has commissioned from the program. The Student Needs 2025+ research project is forecasting baseline and alternate scenarios for six domains:

  • Learning – Will institutional pressures keep education basically as it is today, or will learning move so far beyond institutions that it is all contextualized and on demand?
  • Participating – Will technology and activism converge in a “nationcraft” scenario in which we re-engage and rebuild toward an ideal society, or will we hack our way toward multiple co-existing societies and increasing pitfalls around privacy and security?
  • Working – Will we continue on a trajectory toward rapid career changes that require broad skill sets and interaction with both people and computers, or will the middle class face a tight squeeze the rise of artificial intelligence and the need for continual re-skilling make put many people out of work?
  • Playing – Will play be bundled, scheduled, and justified by a productive agenda, or will gaming specifically, and play in general, come to pervade daily life?
  • Connecting – Will we continue to use technology to find more ways to connect, or will we move beyond connecting through technologies to immersing ourselves in them?
  • Living – Will we continue to look for most things in life to be easier (even if they aren’t better for us) and to focus on instant gratification, or will we make a big shift toward collaborative consumption, with social capital and group orientation outstripping individual gain?

Each of these scenarios could have very different implications for students of higher education, as well as for students of other levels of the learning ecosystem. The project’s next step will be to explore those implications for four categories of students: traditional students, first-generation students, adult learners, and independent learners.

I’m excited to follow the developments. In the meantime, you can check out the presentations and ongoing reflections via Houston Foresight or follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Vine at @houstonfutures and join the conversation at #studentneeds2025.

 

 

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Learning Corridors

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:14

As learning de-institutionalizes, we are moving toward an expanded learning ecosystem that has the potential to provide radically personalized learning for all young people. It also has the potential to let many learners fall through the cracks or simply survive – but not thrive – in failing institutions and disrupted learning environments.

A recent webinar that I facilitated with alumni of the Noyce Leadership Institute helped advance my thinking about how we might all collaborate to ensure that the learning ecosystem is vibrant and that all learners can thrive within it. One way of approaching that crucial challenge might be to think in terms of local learning ecologies’ co-existing and overlapping within the broader learning ecosystem.

Some attempts to map local learning ecologies have been emerging (see our community learning resources map, an artifact from the future, for an example of what such a map might look like). Surfacing local learning opportunities and their intersections seems helpful. But they aren’t necessarily going to add up to a system that seems coherent from the perspective of how we’ve been accustomed to thinking about education systems. As one participant suggested, it could be more about creating anchors than about putting all the pieces back together.

Another suggested that we might think in terms of riparian zones or wildlife corridors, the idea being that establishing learning corridors could be one way to begin to connect the nodes across a local learning ecology. Institutions – schools, museums, libraries, and others that step up to the challenge – might serve as buffer zones in communities, particularly while we are bridging from today’s education system to an expanded learning ecosystem.

The people working in institutions could then function as learning agents in a variety of ways, an important one being to serve as guides who help learners and their families discover the learning corridors and find strategies for making strong use of them. These guides’ early efforts could help people see pathways for migrating from today’s landscape to the new one.

As you can see, the group engaged very thoughtfully with the learning ecosystem metaphor, highlighting how much we can learn from natural systems as education shifts from an industrial era model to a living system. As part of that, designing strategies for what one participant called “the bridging times” could be a useful way of supporting all learners in adapting to the emerging learning landscape.

 

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It’s Time for Transformation

Wed, 2014-02-26 10:43

 

ReSchool ColoradoYesterday the Donnell-Kay Foundation announced ReSchool Colorado, “a game changing, multi-year effort to create a new state public education system where learning is reimagined and students graduate energized and equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world.” It aims to be, as they put it, “transformative to the core,” recreating the whole system of learning to prepare today’s students for an emerging world whose contours we can only partially anticipate today.

I’m delighted to see an organization taking the leading in creating the kind of deep system transformation that promises to move a whole state toward being a vibrant learning ecosystem of the sort that KnowledgeWorks aspires to activate and develop through our work. In helping education leaders around the country grapple with the strategic possibilities set forth in our current ten-year forecast, I’ve been noticing ever-greater awareness of the colossal pivot point at which we stand. An awareness that the world has evolved beyond the current public education system’s capacity to serve learners. That today’s system often serves the needs of adults better than it meets the needs of learners, especially and tragically those learners who are most vulnerable and who are most in need of the equity and accessibility to which it aspires.

As one state-level education leader said in a recent meeting, “It’s time to transform the whole system of learning.” I’m hearing increasing frustration with attempts to defend the public education system as it stands today, as such defenses increasingly reflect the understandable but unproductive desire to hang on to the status quo simply because that is the system that we know and in which many of us have been successful. I’m also hearing caution about creating change simply for the sake of change. We should never do that, especially when young people’s quality of life is at stake. But there’s a broad, rich space between the status quo and change for change’s sake.

We need to cultivate that space. We need to envision, seed, and grow a new learning ecosystem that puts learners at the center, that makes best use of the many ways and settings in which we can support them, that approaches infrastructure as connective tissue, and that creates adaptive cultures and structures. We need to get serious about supporting learners in attaining the learning that they want and need, in the ways that they want and need it, when they want and need it. As ReSchool Colorado’s vision for Colorado’s new learning system articulates so well, we can orient learning around learners while also situating learning in community and articulating shared learning outcomes.

We need to do this work now. Together. From each of vantage points. For today’s and tomorrow’s young people. Even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable for us.

 

The Reality of Custodial Care

Mon, 2014-02-17 12:55

TASA Midwinter Conference“Let’s face it, parents want schools to provide free babysitting,” a district superintendent said in one of my recent workshops on the future of learning. Although I hadn’t framed it that way, I’d been thinking about this dimension of the many services besides learning that the current public education system provides when considering the demands that creating more flexible combinations of learning experiences could make on parents and families.

One of the signals I like to cite in that regard is the amount of time that the New Hampshire Virtual Academy suggests parents devote to serving as “learning coaches” for their children. The average learner devotes four to six hours to schoolwork each day, and the academy estimates direct parental participation at 80 percent for the early grades and 50 percent for middle school. As much as I would want to devote that much time to supporting my daughter’s education if attending such a school proved to be right for her, it’s hard to imagine having the time to coach her effectively while working full-time. And I’m relatively well positioned to support her in finding and pursuing the right learning choices.

Then, at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Mid-Winter Conference , a superintendent asked me whether I could imagine a future in which learning centers, some of which might be today’s public schools but some of which might be other kinds of organizations, existed mainly to provide custodial care. His idea was that “schools” might function learning centers that gave kids somewhere safe to go during the day while serving as portals into a wide array of learning experiences.

As I told him, yes, I can imagine such an arrangement, at least for some, if not for many, learners. For example, when developing the persona of a future learner named Devan Williams back in 2010, my colleagues and I positioned him as dropping into a community learning center some of the time but learning largely via a gaming platform. His question reflects a realistic assessment of the many functions that today’s schools serve.

As learning happens increasingly via platforms versus institutions (see Ohio State University professor David Staley’s intriguing article on the university as a platform as well as the De-Institutionalized Production disruption from KnowlegeWorks’ Forecast 3.0), we need to make sure that we’re solving for everything that we need learning environments to do. That’s not to say that babysitting, free or otherwise, must be part of the design. But we can’t solve only for learning without working through such practicalities.

We might also need to explore adjacent cultural shifts that could help make the expanded learning ecosystem truly workable for all kinds of parents and families. Yes, I’m talking changes in how we structure work (which are happening rapidly apart from disruptions to learning). Changes in how communities own and support learning. Changes in how we distribute food to learners who currently rely on school meals to get enough to eat.

The possibilities are vast. But I think that shifting our conception of school to one of learning centers (with the expectation that such centers would take many different forms) could be a good way of beginning to the transition to an expanded learning ecosystem while stewarding today’s education systems.

A Local Responsibility

Tue, 2014-01-21 09:33

New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders

When leading a workshop on the future of learning for the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders last week, I was struck by the ways in which the conversation kept cycling back toward two seemingly disparate but intricately intersecting themes:

  • The need for the new learning ecosystem to be led by learning agents who manage decisions with learners and their families locally
  • The need to cultivate wide ownership for learning among families and across businesses, communities, and other stakeholder groups.

These two strands of insight wove together as the discussion raised foundational conditions for learning:

  • The need to build a foundation of learning skills and dispositions upon which learners could build in pursuing their particular learning journeys
  • The need to instill responsibility in learners for their own learning, both for its intrinsic value and out of a sense of stewarding public funds
  • The need to situate learning in community even as learners exercise more choice around their learning options
  • The need to decide as a wide community how we will communicate about and cultivate an interest in learning among young people who today seem unmotivated by or disenfranchised from their educational experiences.

At the heart of the discussion was a deep belief that learning matters, not just for individual development and well being but also for communities’ vitality. And a deep recognition that the current educational system simply doesn’t meet the needs of all learners. In opening up the conversation to consider an ideal learning ecosystem, participants sought both to lessen restrictive regulations whose generalities cannot reflect knowledge of individual learners’ needs and to extend responsibility beyond the narrow range of today’s teacher evaluation systems, whose metrics can only reflect part of what makes for successful learning.

Learners Forage for Resources: Ghost of Education Future?

Fri, 2013-12-27 15:36

Learners Forage for ResourcesIn the third scenario of Learning in 2025 we explore learners foraging for resources.
“This is a world in which virtually all resources have been withdrawn from public education. Content is provided by learners and learning agents in a vast and unconnected marketplace. The quantity of material is not matched by its quality – content tends to be shallow, and much of it is repetitious. Without a strong set of guidelines or standards that material has to meet most of it has tended to devolve to the simplest possible expression. As resources have been withdrawn, fewer adults have been attracted to work in the public education sector. Home and peer learning have become the norm.”

A National System for Global Competitiveness

Tue, 2013-12-24 15:23

National System for Global Competitiveness

In this look at the future of education “we envision a world in which a central government and state departments of education have agreed to a standardized national learning system in order to ensure global competitiveness. The experimentation that characterized the early part of the century has given way to a narrower field of learning providers working to highly specified standards and systems of oversight.”

Some may say that the Common Core has already created such a learning system in the U.S. – but that scenario would ignore the abundance of consumer created learning opportunities and state-led movement towards competency-based education.

Learning in 2025: Preparing for an Uncertain Future

Mon, 2013-12-23 15:08

Vibrant Learning Grid

In 2011 KnowledgeWorks published multiple resources to help imagine and prepare for the future of education while reflecting critical uncertainties: whether the learning system of the future would be created in abundance or scarcity and whether it would be controlled primarily by providers or by prosumers (proactive consumers who co-produce what they consumers.

This week I hope to encourage our readers to revisit some of these scenarios and consider the long view of education reform. When we project out to 2025 are we building a learning oasis or a learning desert? View the infographic here or read more about a vibrant learning grid in this recent World of Learning post.

Building a Vibrant Learning Grid

Fri, 2013-12-06 11:08

 

At the American Alliance for Museums’ convening on the future of education in September, I had the pleasure of sharing two scenarios of the future that seem plausible in light of our forecast on the future of learning:

• A vibrant learning grid in which all of us who care about learning create a flexible and radically personalized learning ecosystem that meets the needs of all learners
• A fractured landscape in which only those whose families have the time, money, and resources to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to learning that adapts to and meets their needs.

While we’re working to contribute to the creation of a vibrant learning grid and I travel the country helping education stakeholders envision possibilities for moving toward a dynamic learning ecosystem that adapts to learners, getting there is not a given. It will take distributed and concerted effort to envision best possibilities for making use of future trends and to pursue sustained systemic transformation from multiple vantage points, some of which sit within today’s K-12 public education system and some of which extend far beyond its boundaries.

So I was excited when some of my fellow convening participants elected to focus during our ideation time on imagining what it would take to build a vibrant learning grid. To roll up our sleeves and begin some big systemic architecture.

As we chatted, we kept circling back to an idea that’s stayed with me. That’s it’s not enough simply to diversify pathways along a fixed curriculum or to personalize supports to help learners do their best in something that looks only a little different from today’s industrial-era education system. That instead we need to design for interest-based collaborative learning that supports learners in directing their own learning journeys according to their interests and goals (with skilled guidance and brokering that helps them connect those interests and goals with the exciting array of opportunities that we expect will proliferate as well as with what we know of future careers, further education opportunities, and the civic and societal dimensions of learning). That personalizing learning for all can’t equate to designing primarily solo learning opportunities, even though some individual pursuits will be appropriate for some learners some of the time. Because we are social beings, and we learn well together when motivated by relevant and authentic challenges.

Since September, I’ve continued to circle back to interest-based collaborative learning as a key facet of the radically personalized learning ecosystem that we hope to create with all of you and many others. The crux of the matter? We need to stop designing for the convenience of adults and start designing for the passions of young people. As we do that, we can’t let any particular systemic structure, however radical it might seem today, become the only one supporting learning. Because learning ecosystems have to keep adapting to stay vibrant.

Take Nothing for Granted

Wed, 2013-11-27 16:36

As I’ve worked with superintendents’ groups around the country this fall, conversations about the potential to create radically personalized learning for all young people have consistently highlighted the need to think anew about the many kinds of infrastructure that might support districts in making such a shift – or prevent them from doing so.  As a New Hampshire superintendent in whose district one elementary school is pursuing mass customization observed, today’s data systems and curricular resources do not align with such tailored support for learning.  Innovative districts are often working around such systems and are coming up against the limits of their individual spans of control.

The further we move toward radical personalization, not just along a single pathway but along multiple pathways driven by interest-driven collaborative learning, the further out of alignment our current education infrastructure threatens to become.

In order to build the vibrant and diverse learning ecosystem that we would like to see in ten years, and to make it readily available for all students, we need to take a hard look today at the infrastructures surrounding learning.  We need to ask whether each one is supporting the kind of learning that we want to promote, whether it is impeding that approach to learning, whether it is simply obsolete, and whether it is working with other systems in a coherent way.  This scrutiny will involve designing at a broad scale for a very granular, or individual, level of learning.

More specifically, to support radically personalized learning, our education infrastructures need to have the flexibility to support multiple kinds of learning experiences happening at anytime, anywhere, and in any way.  Whether we’re talking statewide data systems of the kind that inBloom has been attempting (amid much controversy) to initiate, data backpacks that enable learning records to follow a child across learning experiences, learning-focused assessment and accountability systems, or some other type of infrastructure, we need to put learning and learners at the center and design from there.  That process will involve crossing any number of boundaries that can serve as barriers today.  As the inBloom controversy has been demonstrating, it will require careful examination of critical issues such as privacy and clear communication with our publics.

It will also involve taking nothing for granted.  While we might end up doing some things exactly as we do them today, doing them that way simply because that’s what we’re accustomed to will not suffice.  We won’t be able to deliver on the promise of radically personalized learning without challenging layers and layers of assumptions, setting aside our stake in the current game, and keeping our service to learners front and center.  Nor will we be able to do so without enacting courageous and creative leadership that looks beyond today’s constraints to possibilities and designs back from our highest aspirations for all young people, regardless of their families’ means.

 

Think Regionally, Act Locally

Mon, 2013-11-25 13:43

District participants at a recent Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents workshop on the future of learning emphasized the potential to pursue regional solutions that can meet the needs of more learners, instead of every district’s struggling to meet every need on its own. They saw the potential both for districts to collaborate in creating regional solutions today and for those solutions to open the way toward even greater innovation tomorrow. As we looked ten years out and envisioned the best possibilities for learning, participants saw such boundary-spanning as a strategy that they could employ today to move toward a personalized future of learning that truly meets the needs of all students.

I see this kind of boundary spanning within the public education system – and with other kinds of entities that could also have a role in delivering or supporting learning – as being a key way of pursuing the diverse learning ecosystem toward which future trends point. It also promises to be critical in making that learning ecosystem vibrant for, and accessible to, all learners. Designing for learning – and especially for the kind of radically personalized learning that we think will be possible – will require what the Institute for the Future describes as organizing learning not around educational institutions but around learning flows. It will also require designing for learners’ needs and convenience, not for those of adults.

In one example of such cross-boundary collaboration, in 2011 North Carolina passed legislation authorizing multiple school districts to establish a regional school serving students from multiple districts. The Northeast Regional Early College High School of Biotechnology and Agriscience draws students from five school districts in partnership with North Carolina State University and operates at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Tidewater Research Station property.

In another example, the Providence After-School Alliance brings community-based learning experiences into the Providence, Rhode Island, school district. Connecting middle- and high-school students with community-based experiential learning opportunities, this nonprofit organization not only connects young people with after-school and expanded learning programs but also partners with the public school district so that students earn badges for participating in those experiences. In other words, they get credit in the public school system for their community-based learning experiences.

Lastly, the Virtual High School Collaborative highlights the possibility of exchanging learning resources across as well as within states. Charging school districts a nominal membership fee to cover basic expenses, this network operates as a barter system in which each participating school offers one teacher to teach 25 students from member schools. In return, that teacher’s home school gets 25 places for students to take any of the 200-plus courses that the collaborative offers.

While today’s districts might or might not be the ideal unit of organization for the future, such examples highlight the potential to enrich possibilities for learners by working creatively within and across those structures to enable more kinds of learning experiences. As our forecast highlights, the future of learning promises to be one in which educators create many right solutions to meet different learners’ needs. Why should we limit ourselves to a structure that evolved to suit an outdated industrial education system? Instead, let’s work with existing structures, and within existing regulatory frameworks, to create more pathways toward success. Regional partnerships, community-based learning brokers, and interstate collaboratives represent just some of the ways in which we can think creatively about organizational structures in order to transition today’s public education system toward being a viable node within a vibrant and radically personalized learning ecosystem.

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