learning-ecosystemMore and more organizations and communities are taking an ecosystem approach to supporting learning. For example:

  • Chicago’s Digital Youth Network fosters supportive learning ecosystems that help youth cultivate learning as a lifestyle, with the goal creating an equal platform for all to be digitally literate.
  • Cities of Learning is a national effort to surface and connect cities’ many resources to help youth of all backgrounds develop curiosity, resilience, and 21st century skills.
  • The STEM Ecosystems Initiative is supporting communities across the country in cultivating STEM learning ecosystems and in connecting with others in the network to build a national community of practice.
  • Six Next-Gen Learning Hubs are building off cities’ assets and bringing together partners to create innovative student-centered education ecosystems.

As Andrea Saveri, Jason Swanson, and I explored in “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” ecosystem participants can address learners’ needs in the context of their particular geographies and future trends by cultivating webs of services and learning experiences comprised of many kinds of organizations and resources. Some ecosystem participants will do well to act as concentrators that provide core infrastructure, aggregation, and brokering services at scale.  Others should as creative niche specialists, or fragmenters, that target user needs and customize services. Still others should act as catalysts that mobilize cross-boundary initiatives, bridge ecosystem gaps, and forge shared goals.

No organization will be good at filling all three of these roles. But if many organizations work together, they can build effective value webs that create new possibilities for meeting learners’ needs and responding to local realities.

Ecosystem approaches such as those listed above begin to illustrate the power of fostering ecosystem interconnections as a core strategy for the future. Scaling impact through the diversity of relationships and connections in a single community rather than by replicating a few strategies and programs across geographies promises to help communities develop resilience, put learners at the center, and work to achieve equity for all young people.

As Jason and I have begun sharing these ideas with education stakeholders through conference sessions and other engagements, we’ve been excited to see how prototyping possible ways of combining diverse roles and services can open up conversations about what is possible for learners and learning. There’s a lot to consider as we move away from one-size-fits-no one to learner-centered ecosystems. But stepping back from today’s approaches to consider new possibilities for the future can help surface possibilities, tensions, and strategic opportunities.

You can explore the potential of ecosystem interconnections for your own community through the “Strengthening Learning Ecosystem Interconnections” activity at the end of our paper.



I sat down with Jason Swanson, the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, to discuss the implications for the future of learning on students like me. I am a rising senior at Loveland High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and an INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati intern with KnowledgeWorks.

Jason: When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

Hannah: I’m excited to see all of the new ways that technology will be implemented in learning environments. In my opinion, more and more educational websites like Khan Academy will start to pop up on the internet, allowing everyone to seek out information and learn new skills under their own initiative. There’s also a lot of opportunity for classrooms to use digital tools like online games and tutorials to engage students. Although personal interaction and physical school assignments are important, I think that a greater shift towards leveraging technology could really benefit the education system.

Jason: From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

Hannah: One thing that worries me about the direction that education is moving in is the possibility that over time, students will spend more and more of their time on school and lose the ability to pursue outside interests. During my time in high school, I’ve noticed that the competitive nature of applying to colleges has led students to pack their schedules with as many AP classes, college courses, and outside learning opportunities as possible. Although I’m grateful that there are so many opportunities to prepare yourself for higher education, I also believe that we need to measure the amount of pressure put on students and ensure that they can still live well-rounded lives.

Jason: What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

Hannah: One aspect of learning that I’m interested in observing as it changes is our society’s attitude towards education. At the present time, many students don’t understand how what they’re learning in the classroom lines up with their goals in life, and supporting schools and teachers isn’t a strong priority in the general public’s minds. I hope that society moves towards concentration on the importance of education so that learning environments have the support and resources they need to be successful.

Jason: We are currently exploring the implications of artificial intelligence in education, such as a wearable device for students that has built in AI. How do you think this might change education?

Hannah: I think that making artificial intelligence available to students could cause schools to shift from classes learning together to individual students seeking out information on their own with the help of an AI. In this environment, teachers would guide students and help them to establish goals for their education rather than distributing information. I believe that incorporating more technology into learning environments will almost always be beneficial, since most students in the education system at this point in time spend their lives immersed in digital environments.

Jason: What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Hannah: To me, the phrase “personalized learning” means education that accounts for the fact that every student is different and tailors learning experiences to an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, it means recognizing that not every student has the same educational goals or interests.

Jason: What will personalized learning be like in the future?

Hannah: In the future, I believe that students will begin customizing their class schedule even before high school to prepare for an increasingly competitive job market. There will also be a greater emphasis on career readiness, which could manifest itself in more resources and support for students looking for job opportunities in high school and beyond. Teachers will hone in on individual learning abilities and styles by giving assessments to determine how each student can best be instructed, then put this information into action by giving out different materials such as videos, papers, or infographics depending on a learner’s needs.

Jason: What is your own vision for the future of learning?

Hannah: I hope that in the future of learning, schools take a greater role in preparing students for the real world. Students would receive education that applied to their future lives and careers, and rather than simply regurgitating memorized facts during a test, they would take meaningful assessments of the skills they’ve gained through their learning. In this future, educational opportunities would be equal for everyone, and all students would leave school prepared to use their talents to benefit society.



Getting Ready for the Real World

by Hannah Matuszak July 17, 2015
Thumbnail image for Getting Ready for the Real World

Exactly one month ago, I wrote a blog post reflecting on the beginning of my internship with KnowledgeWorks, and today, I’m looking back on my experiences as my internship comes to an end. My name is Hannah Matuszak, and I’m a rising senior at Loveland High School. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part […]

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If students re-imagined school, this is what it could look like.

by Mary Kenkel July 16, 2015

What could an innovative learning system look like through the eyes of 20 current high school students? Yesterday, KnowledgeWorks hosted a career camp with the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati, an organization dedicated to providing students with knowledge and opportunities needed to enter the technology field and become a part of Cincinnati’s IT workforce. Throughout the […]

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Reflections on an Edu-Adventure in Finland

by Matt Williams July 13, 2015

Over the past couple weeks I have been blogging about my time in Finland in late June. I first want to thank EF and EdLeader21 for providing me with the opportunity to view the Finnish education system. It was an insightful and rewarding experience. As a review, my first post was a pre-trip post examining […]

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Innovative Assessments Earn First Class Seat in Senate’s K-12 Education Bill

by Lillian Pace July 10, 2015

After years of debate and countless failed attempts to reauthorize the nation’s federal K-12 law, Congress finally appears ready to give the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) its best shot. Skeptics quieted as ESEA legislation passed the House Wednesday and took center stage on the Senate floor for an amendment process that will carry […]

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