When we look to the future of learning, we get to imagine what might become possible given the drivers of change at play. New zones of possibility could emerge, helping educators and those influencing education realize their visions and address persistent challenges. One of those zones of possibility is that human-centered learning could become prevalent, with education stakeholders reorienting teaching and learning systems, expectations and experiences to put a holistic view of human development at the center.
I think of this provocation from KnowledgeWorks’ latest ten-year forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, as pushing beyond today’s interest in personalized learning to put the focus on people first and on education systems and experiences second.
As part of such a shift, education design principles could increasingly focus on designing for the core, guiding educators in supporting learners’ healthy development and in meeting core needs such as attachment, creative expression, self-discovery, social belonging and meaningful purpose. Today, some efforts to broaden definitions of success are beginning to push in this direction. Among them, Making Caring Common, a project of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, aims to change schools’ and families’ conversations about healthy definitions of success. It also aims to create ways of infusing kindness, concern for others and the common good as core components of the educational process, including college admissions.
With a focus on putting people first, full-spectrum assessment could also emerge. Standards and assessments could expand beyond a quantification of academic performance to reflect a broader range of human development. Formative assessments could support students in developing their full intellectual, emotional, social, physical, creative and civic potential and in building the foundation for lifelong learning. While great for learners, this more comprehensive approach could also bolster stakeholders’ belief in, and support for, educational institutions. Today, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing is working to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that the evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial. The organization also publishes a list of “test optional” colleges and universities.
In addition, pursuing human-centered learning could involve bringing more tools and insights informed by neuroscience into educational environments. Cognitive fitness protocols could help educators support learners’ neurological health and cognitive performance. By providing a scope and sequence of diagnostic and therapeutic activities and vetted tools, these protocols could help facilitate developmentally appropriate cognitive health and address the neurological impacts of factors such as trauma. In a current signal pointing toward this possibility, Homies Empowerment School, an afterschool empowerment program that is becoming a school, helps youth who have been involved in gangs reframe their hardships in a positive light. It also helps them harness their unique power and potential by prioritizing culture as healing, independence, attention to students’ full range of needs, careers as purpose, self-expression in the arts and mind-body connections.
New educator roles could also help respond to new insights and foster more human-centered learning. Among them, neurolearning integrators could work with other educators to integrate insights from neuroscience, learning science and cognitive technologies into learning experiences that supported brain health, enhanced cognitive function and improved learner wellness. These specialists could also help evaluate the quality and relevance of emerging tools and practices for specific educational contexts. Today, one resource for doing this kind of work is the “Building Blocks for Learning” framework, which translates neuroscientific research into tools and strategies for schools serving students impacted by adversity. Developed by the nonprofit Turnaround for Children, it aims to accelerate healthy development and academic success.
Such possibilities promise to respond to the drivers of change shaping the future of learning while helping to support the healthy development of young people, enable effective lifelong learning and contribute to community vitality. We cannot know whether they will come to pass, but we can consider whether they might help us achieve more of what we want for learning – and for all learners.
How might human-centered learning and the more specific possibilities described in this post benefit the learners whom you serve? What first steps could you take to begin exploring these possibilities further?