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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



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.


Storify: First-ever #FutureEd Twitter Chat

Tue, 2015-02-10 12:16

On Friday, Feb. 6, KnowledgeWorks hosted its first-ever #FutureEd Twitter chat, focused on the Innovation Pathways. With almost 90 participants, the chat provided a venue for different voices to share their stories, thoughts and hopes for the Future of Education.

For reflections on the chat (and thoughts on her first-ever experience moderating a chat), see Katherine Prince’s recent blog.

Below is the Storify for the #FutureEd Twitter chat. Thanks to all who participated! Join us Feb. 20 for our next chat, focused on systemic structures.


Reflections on Transforming the Core of Learning

Fri, 2015-02-06 16:56

On February 6, Katherine Prince hosted a #FutureEd Twitter chat about transforming the core of learning.

This Week’s Learning Journey

Wow! I’m a little dizzy from hosting my first #FutureEd Twitter chat about transforming the core of learning but wanted to highlight a few of the themes that emerged thanks to the thoughtful contributions of many participants.

Comments about what a vibrant learning ecosystem might look like in ten years’ time emphasized the need for equity along with the need for learning to flow around and with students. Customized pathways, flexibility, and unbounded learning independent of set time or place also stood out.

For each of the innovation pathways that the chat highlighted, here were some more particular themes:

  • Learning Cultures – We need networks and partnerships in order to connect traditional schools and other environments in intentional and transparent ways.
  • Learning Structures – We need to foster common visions and goals, along with new mental models that help people re-imagine ways in which learning can extend beyond the walls of traditional schools. In addition, teachers can be leaders in creating new learning structures, and accountability systems should support rather than dictate those structures.
  • Human Capital – In an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem, educators will need strong capacity in areas such as empathy, data literacy, and innovation. They will also need time and systemic supports, along with new cultures of teaching that enable the creation of new cultures of learning.
  • Data Infrastructure – While our current data systems and incentives are far too narrow, an enriched and more interconnected data infrastructure will be most meaningful in the context of relationships among people who are using it to support learning.
  • Assessment and Credentialing – Context, granularity, and demonstration of mastery are essential for meaningful assessments and credentials. We have opportunities to think not just about new possibilities for students’ credentials but also for teachers’ credentials and community partnership assessments.

On February 20, we’ll be delving into another #futureed chat on the five innovation pathways that focus on transforming supporting systemic structures. Maybe, having hosted one chat now, I’ll feel more prepared to read and synthesize lots of great ideas at high speed!


Personalized Learning for Everyone

Thu, 2015-01-15 16:38

Katherine Prince, Senior Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, writes about her work on Personalize Learning, a blog founded on the idea that personalizing learning is the key design element to transform education. For more than two decades, the team at Personalize Learning has worked towards empowering every learner to support and direct their own learning.

That mission aligns well with the work Katherine is doing. In her guest post she writes,

Every child deserves high-quality personalized learning that adapts to his or her needs and interests. But there’s a significant risk that the expanding learning ecosystem could fracture, leaving even more children behind than the education system does today.

Given that concern, my latest paper, “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning,” aims to help education stakeholders move from vision to action in creating a learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners and not just for those with means. It highlights education stakeholders’ tremendous opportunity to reinvent learning for a new era and to create new systemic structures that can help all learners succeed.

Read the complete post by Katherine Prince on Personalize Learning: “Creating Personalized Learning for Everyone.”


The Way We’ll Work

Wed, 2014-12-10 13:45

Business peopleI recently had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts about the future of work for a Columbus Business First article, “Columbus 2044 – Plenty of singles, small homes, and jobs none of us has imagined.” You might ask why I’m talking to a reporter about the future of work when my work focuses on the future of learning. But it’s difficult to impossible to consider future possibilities for education without also taking into account the world in which people will be working.

As our Forecast 3.0 highlights, it’s not just a question of what jobs people might or might not be doing. Certainly there are profound questions about the extent to which automation will affect the employment landscape. When a restaurant can be staffed entirely by robots and the rise of autonomous vehicles promises to change the delivery and transportation industries, new sectors of the economy could be shaken or reconfigured by new technologies. It’s not just relatively low-level jobs at stake; McKinsey Quarterly projects that artificial intelligence could significantly change the role of senior-level executives given rapid advances in machine learning.

Such changes reflect just part of the changing nature of work. Our 10-year forecast also projects a decline in full-time employment as we are used to thinking about it. With ad hoc employment on the rise through networks such as ODesk, more people could find themselves weaving together mosaic careers comprised of multiple gigs, some of them short-term, instead of working primarily or only for one organization. To work in such a world, we’ll need new skills such as global networking and personal brand management. I don’t feel prepared to navigate this kind of employment structure.

In these and other ways, our relationships with institutions are changing, both in the world of work and across the education landscape. PSFK Labs expects companies to flux constantly, shifting staffing and physical workplaces to align capacity with demand and emphasizing collaboration, knowledge flows, and constant learning. Similarly, The Aspen Institute projects that organizations with increasingly move from hierarchies to networks and that many of the skills associated with success in a more networked work environment will be reflect a disposition toward dealing effectively with change.

Given such changes in the world of work, many of us could find ourselves choosing or being forced to pursue continuous career readiness. Along with other forces of change, that employment climate could lead to new educational needs and new ways of interacting with educational institutions, especially for adult learners (see The Economist’s discussion of how higher education is changing). As my colleague Jason Swanson is exploring in a paper on the future of credentialing that’s due out in the new year, changes in the world of work could drive what it means not just to learn new skills but also to demonstrate mastery in authenticated ways.

As I told Columbus Business First, working differently will require learning differently. Our current approach to education doesn’t reflect the coming world of work. While career readiness is only one outcome of an effective education, I’m hoping that we can create a learning ecosystem capable of flexing with the fluid future of work.

For more on the future of Columbus, see the Columbus Business First companion article, “Columbus 2044: Light rail, public art, NBA, 89-year-old mayor?”


Exploring Possibilities for Districts in Texas

Wed, 2014-12-03 09:43

With my colleagues Jesse Moyer and Jason Swanson, I’m collaborating with the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) to involve their members in exploring how they might move from future-oriented vision to action through a “Personalizing Learning for Future-Ready Students” symposium. Our first session focused on extending their already extensive exploration of school transformation and the work of their Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Institute using KnowledgeWorks’ forecast on the future of learning and our innovation pathways framework for creating a vibrant learning ecosystem for all learners.

We focused on how these strategic foresight resources might help participants enact and advance TASA’s vision for school transformation, which calls for:

  • Student-centered learning occurring in public schools that are empowered to innovate and create, using next-generation methods to assess and account for learning to their local communities, while assuring that the state’s responsibility for quality and equity is met.
  • Future-ready students engaged and challenged in a digitally rich learning environment that result in students who are prepared for life and work competencies essential to thriving in our global society.
  • A system that fosters accountability to our communities by appealing to the desire for autonomy, mastery, creativity and innovation.

Our exploration of future possibilities culminated in participants’ creating storyboards illustrating what a Texas district might look like in a vibrant learning ecosystem in which every child had access to the right combination of learning resources, experiences and supports.

TASA Session 1 Possibilities CollageThese storyboards and the surrounding conversation surfaced the need for public school districts to:

  • Put learners at the center.
  • Focus on mastery.
  • Provide flexibility for learners.
  • Foster deep connections between school and community, opening the walls of school.
  • Broker real-world engagement and global connections.
  • Cultivate cultures of innovation.

In exploring possibilities for taking districts in this direction over the next ten years, participants highlighted the need to:

  • Create flexible school structures.
  • Foster highly collaborative learning environments.
  • Create good choices for all learners.
  • Enable customized learning experiences.
  • Encourage the development of 21st-century skills.
  • Gradually alter learning spaces.
  • Bring new technologies into learning.
  • Shift mindsets toward technology.
  • Build public will for transformation.
  • Align stakeholders around their visions.
  • Develop new teaching roles.
  • Build the capacity of leaders.
  • Foster connections with their communities.
  • Foster partnerships.
  • Advocate for supportive rather than punitive accountability systems.
  • Inform policy makers about the need for change.

I’m excited to continue the conversation about making such possibilities for the future of public education in Texas a reality. Next up, we’ll be working with KnowledgeWorks’ new policy report, “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning,” to help participating districts identify priority areas for action.


Katherine Prince (@katprince), Jesse Moyer (@JesseMoyer) and Jason Swanson (@JasonSwanson) will meet with TASA this week. Follow along on Twitter, using #TXFutureReady.


Micro-Credentials Today, Employer-Issued Credentials Tomorrow?

Mon, 2014-11-24 12:26

Credentials act as third-party verification of skills and knowledge. They are important in helping to determine the best fit for a role, task or job. Education is one of the traditional paths toward earning credentials, acting as a symbol of acquired knowledge, a motivator and a means to enter and navigate the employment sector.

I’m currently researching the future of credentials, considering, among many things, how credentials might change in terms of how they might be earned, how organizations might assess for credentials, and what new types of credentials may emerge.

graduationIn developing scenarios for the future of credentials, I’m exploring possibilities across three sectors: K-12 education, higher education and employment. Changes in any one of these sectors have the potential to affect the other sectors, and the dynamic interplay across the three sectors has the potential to disrupt credentials in their current form. Depending on what forces of change come to the fore, the future of education could involve new forms of credentials, could reflect changes to how we evaluate both existing and new forms of credentials, or could even reflect the granting of credentials by new players.

In researching such possibilities, I recently uncovered this signal of change: “Coursera Launches 18 New ‘Specializations’.” This article highlights Coursera’s skills-based programs, in which learners are required to apply the skills they gain in a course to real-world projects in order to receive a certificate for that course. Similarly, Udacity’s nanodegrees offer skills-based microcredentials with input from companies such as AT&T, Google and Salesforce.

Both Coursera’s new specializations and Udacity’s nanodegrees represent responses to what many have labeled a “skills gap,” or the perceived lack of skills in the eyes of employers among college graduates attempting to enter the employment sector. Could these signals suggest a shift towards a future in which the employment sector jumps from offering input on courses to becoming a direct source of credentials? What effects could such a move have on the K-12 and higher education sectors?

Questions like these point out the importance of exploring the future of credentials. They might seem like mere documents, but they reflect the intricate interplay between how we educate and work. If any of the sectors in question changes considerably, credentials could look very different than they do today. These changes to credentials could impact what learning and employment look like in the future.

What do you think the future of credentials might involve? What will it look like? I hope you will join me as I continue to explore what the future of credentials might involve.


A menu of opportunities: Education with your own flavor

Thu, 2014-11-20 09:44

coffee menuTall, caramel macchiato topped with a half inch of foam.

Grande iced peppermint mocha with whip and chocolate drizzle.

Venti soy chai tea with a shot of espresso.

Starbucks baristas whip up hundreds of thousands of drinks every day, specially ordered by and made for unique customers. Each of us is able to choose the exact drink combination that satisfies our distinctive taste palettes and it makes our days a little better – and more caffeinated.

What if the education system offered something similar to learners and parents, replacing the coffee and tea with educational opportunities?

If the future of education were to provide a “menu” of opportunities, learners would be able to choose between many kinds of learning experiences and providers. They would choose to learn in a park, museum or classroom. They would be supported, not only by teachers, but by professionals, mentors, civic leaders and other learning agents throughout the community.

The idea behind offering multiple educational opportunities is no different than a providing a menu of drink and flavor options. In the end, it all focuses on who matters most. For Starbucks, the customer. For education, the learner.

Behar and ST teamYesterday, StriveTogether had the privilege of meeting with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International. Howard, now an author, is invested in improving education in his home state of Washington and throughout the country.

The StriveTogether team talked with Howard about leadership, education and life in general. But perhaps the greatest takeaway was focusing on who matters most.

“I had a wonderful career that was kind of accidental in a way,” Howard said to the team. “I was one of those places that fit me like a glove. But it was more about the people than the coffee. I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving the people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”

Let’s build a future of learning that offers a menu of opportunities. Let’s focus on each individual learner. And no matter what your role in education, let’s serve the students who need us most.


Teaching for Competency Education and Beyond

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:13

How might adults support learning in an expanded learning ecosystem in which highly personalized learning environments could become the norm?future of teaching title

In October, I presented a session on this topic at Grantmakers for Education’s annual conference with KnowledgeWorks colleagues Lillian Pace and Matt Williams and education systems change facilitator Richard DeLorenzo. Our session took a look at possibilities by exploring four scenarios on the future of teaching, lessons learned from helping school districts foster systemic change toward competency education, and policy opportunities that support a new vision for competency-based educator preparation and development.

As the learning ecosystem expands, there is the potential for teachers to provide radically personalized learning for all young people via customized pathways. But, as my baseline scenario for the future of teaching, “A Plastic Profession,” highlights, realizing that potential is far from given. If we fail to change the public education system’s current focus on narrow measures of student and teacher performance and continue to face both daunting fiscal challenges as well as heightened political activity in the absence of ESEA’s reauthorization, teachers could end up functioning as production line supervisors instead of creative professionals.

The small groups that explored this scenario during the conference session saw nothing positive about it. Indeed, the general sentiment was that we would need to meet at the bar if such a future came to pass.

But that scenario represents our current trajectory. So what will we do to change it?

Participants also expressed concern about an alternative scenario in which learning agents in informal and community-based learning environments could form a supplemental profession that was largely disconnected from the formal K-12 system. The existence of these learning agents wasn’t the problem; the disconnection from public education was.

That scenario could emerge if we do little to change the current public education system and fail to build bridges among different types of learning environments. So how will we avert it?

In my ideal future, learning agents working in diverse roles support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in multiple settings, and the entire learning ecosystem has evolved to be oriented around learners instead of institutions. Participants in the session didn’t find that scenario to be automatically unproblematic either; for such a learning ecosystem to work well for all learners, they said, we would need new forms of quality assurance. I think that we would also need community ownership of learning and other supporting systemic structures along the lines of the levers for transformation that I describe in my recent innovation pathways paper.

So that future requires some big leaps. But can we get there? What will it take to create a highly personalized learning ecosystem that truly reflects the interests of and supports all learners? Are we willing to transform learning?


TEDxColumbus: The Future of Learning through Katherine Prince’s eyes

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:04

Our co-worker Katherine Prince, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight, has an adorable, three-year-old daughter named

While Chloe obsesses over her Disney princess nightgown, her Wonder Woman costume and all things pink and purple, she also loves construction equipment, buses, tractors and anything with an engine. Chloe spends her days at preschool, where the curriculum is relatively interest-based.

But Katherine is concerned about the future of Chloe’s education. Will the education system, as it stands today, be able to foster her and every child’s creativity and provide positive learning experiences while also catering to her unique learning style and needs?

This Friday, at TEDxColumbus, Katherine will share her vision for radically personalized learning that supports all students in pursuing their needs, interests and goals. Based on her work with the future of learning, as well as her insights from motherhood, Katherine will paint a picture of what her ideal future of learning looks like. It will include a wide array of learning opportunities that aren’t based solely in the classroom, but take place when and where each student learns best.

Really, Katherine’s inspiring vision for a vibrant learning ecosystem gives an aspirational view of what our organization is collectively working for: A future that promises every child the best chance at success by adapting learning to individuals rather than orienting it around the inertia of institutions.

Send Katherine a ‘congrats’ or ‘good luck’ through Twitter, @katprince, and tune in to the live stream of the TEDxColumbus education lineup at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7.


Partisan Fear

Tue, 2014-11-04 10:14

Strongly held beliefs. We all have them. It’s one of the things human are best at – holding on tightest to what we care about most. Even those of us who are very open to hearing differing view points, my wife will tell you I am NOT one of those people, have things they hold dear.

That’s why the strategic foresight design session I attended a few weeks ago – hosted by Katherine Prince, Jason Swanson and Andrea Saveri – flipped such a profound light on for me. During the session, Andrea talked about the concept of an adaptive cycle and its impact on the education ecosystem. Basically, the adaptive cycle examines how the traditional system goes through a four-step process (reorganization, exploitation, conservation and release) in order to break down to make way for a newer, more effective education system. You can read more on her blog if interested. One could argue that the current system is somewhere between reorganization and exploitation. Now, I don’t know about you but hearing words like reorganization and exploitation related to our education system felt really uncomfortable to me.

That’s when the light went on. It’s not just our education system that is going through a fundamental change; it’s our world. Between ISIS, Ebola, our economy and the many other societal disruptions I could name, our current world is the definition of a VUCA world. Such a world is uncomfortable. It is unpredictable. And, maybe most of all, it’s scary.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began thinking about what I do when faced with an uncomfortable, unpredictable, scary situation. I hang on very tightly to what I know best – my strongly held beliefs. Because policy; and, by extension, policymakers; are never far from my mind I began thinking about their role in our world. Given everything they are required to deal with, is it any wonder our politicians are more polarized and partisan than ever? They’re dealing with threats never realized by humankind before. They’re probably scared and uncomfortable, just like me. Just like you. Why wouldn’t they hold tightly to those strongly held beliefs?

While no one is more frustrated with broke-down Congress and policymakers in general than me, maybe we should give these men and woman a break. Maybe, just maybe, they’re scared, like we are. And maybe, just maybe, they’re holding on to what they know best, just like we do. Maybe the partisanship isn’t driven money, or wanting to be right. Maybe, just maybe, it’s driven by fear.

We have the chance to overcome that fear. We can get involved in our communities. We can be more informed. We can vote. In overcoming our fears and getting involved, we can help usher in the future of our neighborhoods, of education and of the country.