Learning ecosystems are expanding and are rapidly becoming more diverse and more personalized. As part of this expansion:
Competency-based education is spreading
New forms of school are proliferating in place-based, virtual, and blended settings
The boundaries between school- and community-based learning are melding
Learning playlists are gaining sway as a means of organizing all or part of students’ learning journeys.
Where might following this trajectory put us in ten years? A critical uncertainty is whether we will exercise the transformative leadership necessary to create vibrant learning ecosystems or whether we will let too many areas’ learning ecosystems devolve into fractured landscapes. This critical question centers on the extent of our commitment to equity.
Using an Ecosystem Approach to Extend Possibilities for Learners
In “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” Jason Swanson, Andrea Saveri, and I defined vibrant future learning ecosystems as being learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient. We adapted a framework from the Deloitte Center for the Edge to imagine how education stakeholders might foster interconnections across diverse contributions reflecting three structural roles to design vibrant future learning ecosystems. The three structural roles are listed below.
Concentration — Providers of core infrastructure, aggregation, and brokering services create process efficiencies through scale.
Fragmentation — Creative niche specialists target user needs and customize services.
At the 2017 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) conference, I had the opportunity to engage a group of educators in exploring how taking such an ecosystem approach could help meet learners’ needs in high-need geographies such as poor urban neighborhoods, disrupted suburbs, poor rural communities, and incarcerated settings. Their prototypes of ecosystem designs included a cluster of six learners working with an adult facilitator to create a business and learn from mentors across a city and personalized interest-based projects in which learners collaborated with members of a rural community to create real impact while connecting to other learners through a broad thematic area of study (in this case, food).
Nine Principles for Applying an Ecosystems Approach to Practice
Participants’ prototypes and our discussion of the resulting insights highlighted nine principles for applying an ecosystems approach to practice:
Prioritize relationships when considering future approaches to learning
Make available a range of structures, either within or beyond a school district, so that students have access to the settings in which they learn best
Involve whole communities as learning resources and as part of the learning landscape
Include adults with expertise beyond education as mentors, collaborators, and teachers
Take an asset-based approach when co-designing learning pathways and projects that meet students’ needs, reflect their interests and goals, and engage communities’ strengths
Minimize bureaucracy in enabling learners to move across structural boundaries as suits their learning
Establish flexible funding streams that enable learners to access the ideal experiences and supports
Consider ways of using new tools and practices to enable more personalized learning, either directly or by achieving efficiencies that free up resources for new approaches
Assign equivalent value to real-world application and academic learning.
Applying These Ideas to Your Context
These are far-reaching principles, and it can be hard to imagine how to shift from today’s focus on school systems to a future emphasis on learning ecosystems. Several KnowledgeWorks resources can help you grapple with that challenge:
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.