At the National School Board Association’s annual conference, I had the pleasure of sharing insights from KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight publications through a session on education in the year 2025. As we explored what the emergence of a vibrant and adaptive learning ecosystem might mean for the ways in which school boards operate schools, how teachers teach, and how school leaders interact with their communities, participants accepted the need for transformation but highlighted the need to build public will for change.
As I hear in so many conversations about the future of learning, they saw the need for stakeholders across their communities to see “school” differently. Districts face tremendous and widespread pressure from people who try to pull the education system back toward an outdated mental model of what school looks like and how it functions in communities. Those who steward them say time and again that the general public needs to understand the dramatic extent to which districts must respond to the changing environment. As learning de-institutionalizes and increasingly flows across traditional boundaries, districts need to consider how best to position themselves to be vibrant nodes in the expanding learning ecosystem.
The NSBA conversation also emphasized the need for communities to comprehend the vast changes coming to the world of work. Those changes promise to make college and career readiness for young people a moving goal, adding further complexity to the already extensive process of education system transformation. Those changes in work will also demand that many of us engage in continuous career readiness as we need continually to re-skill to stay relevant to the workplace and learn to manage mosaic careers.
As an article in the Economist proposed earlier this year, we face the potential for tremendous economic dislocation over the next two decades as automation continues to displace workers in existing industries and new industries develop. In response, the article proposed, schools “need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers.” The article also projected that the definition of a government-provided education might change to include far greater investment in pre-school along with support for continuous education for adults. As it forecast, “state education may well involve a year of study to be taken later in life, perhaps in stages.”
Thomas Friedman’s NSBA talk about the challenges of preparing young people for a “hyperconnected” world echoed this message of dislocation. As relayed in NSBA’s summary, he argued that “the ability of anyone to make a living in the 21st century will depend in large part on being self-motivated and “innovation ready’” because we will be moving from a paradigm of finding jobs to one of creating them.
As learning, work, and productive activity of all sorts increasingly takes place apart from traditional organizations and as the ways in which we interact with organizations becomes more various and more ad hoc, districts will need to consider how to facilitate an expanded range of learning opportunities for students. That will include determining how and when to broker learning resources and experiences across traditional boundaries. Districts will also have an opportunity to help learners move seamlessly among school-based and community-based learning experiences and to form new kinds of partnerships that could lead to new solutions. Those that cannot shift their approaches to learning risk undermining their students’ ability to prepare for and create careers.
Katherine Prince is the Senior Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. She is excited about the future of learning, transformative leadership, and building resilient solutions for a sustainable world.