In July I had the pleasure of collaborating with ASCD to design their Leader to Leader conference around KnowledgeWorks’ forecast on the future of learning, Recombinant Education. It highlights the emerging opportunity to combine talent and resources in new ways to ensure that every child has the best possible support in realizing his or her full potential.
Indeed, as the accompanying infographic details, we think that it is possible to create a diverse learning ecosystem characterized by radical personalization, one in which learning adapts to each child. Getting there will require a collaborative and ongoing design process out of which many right solutions will emerge.
At the conference, many compelling questions about how to design for the future of learning emerged. I’ve shared three of them below, along with insights from participants and my reflections on what our strategic foresight work suggests.
• How are we going to articulate the value of public education compared to other kinds of learning experiences? Public education represents important shared values as well as essential goals such as equity for all learners. We know the best of it when we see it. But we don’t yet have good ways of articulating why a learner should stay. In addition, there’s great potential for diversification with the public education system. Not all learners need the same solutions. Furthermore, we no longer operate in the industrial economy for which the system was designed. It’s time to think anew not just about how we describe the value of public education, but about what that value is and how that system supports learners. Indeed, public education, or any learning experience, could have multiple value propositions, each of which might appeal to certain learners.
• Could there be a referral system across nodes of the learning ecosystem? In other words, might it be possible to think of public education and other kinds of learning experiences less in terms of either/or but in terms of both/and? Our forecast highlights the need to blur and span boundaries across many aspects of the learning system. If we truly designed the future of learning for learners, knowing that any given learner might need a different mix of learning experiences and supports at various points along his or her learning journey, we could create an interconnected learning ecosystem in which learners moved seamlessly across learning experiences, public or otherwise. Public education could serve a vital role in providing informed referral services to help ensure that learners’ needs, interests, and goals drove the individualized learning playlists that we think will be not just possible but prevalent.
• How can we accelerate or leapfrog our collective progress in helping all learners succeed for college, career, and life? Even where the educators at the conference were seeing progress toward competency education, which we at KnowledgeWorks support as a strong pathway for moving toward radically personalized learning, they saw the need to shift from simply moving at students’ own pace to being driven by what students want to learn. Our forecast suggests that it’s entirely possible to shape learning around students’ interests while still ensuring that all students attain a common set of learning outcomes. That’s a design choice we can make. And we have many other choices to make in using future trends to take learning in the direction that we want it to go.
Looking across these questions and reflections, it’s essential to approach the future of learning from a generative rather than a defensive stance. Gaining insight into future trends gives us all a chance to steer learning toward the outcomes that we want for all learners. We need to focus on creating those outcomes instead of preserving today’s structures simply because we’re accustomed to them. We need to design for learners and let the structures follow.