Discussions of college and career readiness and personalized learning often focus primarily on the learning that happens in school. While critical, that school-based learning represents just part of a young person’s broader learning ecosystem. Colleges acknowledge this wider world of learning, and it is part of the reason they consider volunteering and extracurricular activities as part of the admissions process. However, many K-12 education reform conversations emphasize academic achievement over that broader range of experience.
Today, afterschool programs and other extended learning opportunities support children and youth in developing essential social-emotional skills that may not be addressed directly during the school day. They also help young people expand their horizons by practicing skills and trying out interests in active, collaborative, and meaningful ways. Afterschool programs can help address safety concerns and equity gaps.
While important today, such contributions will be foundational to future readiness. As the rise of smart machines and decline of full-time employment drive potentially far-reaching changes to work, developing core social-emotional skills will provide people with the foundation necessary to thrive in ambiguity and uncertainty, collaborate with both people and machines, and engage in constant learning. Job-specific skills are likely to change so quickly that these kinds of enduring skills and practices will become a necessary focus of readiness.
Afterschool programs have been shown to help students develop social-emotional skills and to reinforce academic outcomes by encouraging attendance and engagement as well as by supporting the development of specific competencies. A 2016 Riley Institute survey of statewide afterschool network leaders identified self-confidence, communication, problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking as the top skills that afterschool programs help develop. In addition, an American Institutes for Research brief, “Beyond the Bell: Research to Action in the Afterschool and Expanded Learning Field,” highlights how social-emotional learning programs and practices support the development of workplace skills. It also explores the potential for afterschool and expanded learning programs to play a greater role in fostering workplace readiness by strengthening linkages between social-emotional learning and employability and by clearly explaining those connections.
Opportunities and strategies for communities and states to increase personalization through afterschool and out-of-school activities
Some communities such as Providence, Rhode Island, and states such as Vermont and New Hampshire are working to integrate extended learning opportunities into learners’ personalized learning playlists or at least to establish coherent connections between school-based learning and afterschool or other extended learning experiences. These efforts provide useful reference points for others looking to help integrate in-school and out-of-school-time learning.
When presenting at the 2017 National Network Meeting, I highlighted opportunities for afterschool providers to help shape the future of learning by connecting with the movement to spread personalized, competency-based, and student-centered learning. Potential strategies include:
- Continue to foster social-emotional development
- Curate learning challenges and pathways (see, for example, the Remake Learning Network’s badge-enabled pathways and playlists)
- Expand credentialing to reflect learning across locations (see Boston After School and Beyond)
- Collaborate with others to foster community-wide learning ecosystems (see SURGE Columbus and the STEM Ecosystems initiative)
- Build or strengthen networks and use matchmaking platforms such as LRNG to help connect learners with relevant experiences
- Continue to broaden the focus of personalized learning to reflect learning beyond school
- Advocate to preserve existing funding such as that for 21st Century Community Learning Centers and to establish new funding streams and evaluation metrics that align with desired practices
- Practice inclusive design that engages learners, families, and community members (for example, Nebraska’s Expanded Learning Opportunity Design Challenge aims to engage a wide range of stakeholders in designing and testing new extended learning models that align with the state’s career readiness standards).
These strategies promise to help afterschool and extended learning providers build from today’s successes to help foster future readiness during a time when social-emotional skills will become increasingly foundational to developing our uniquely human contributions to work.