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