Will Learning Agents Outside Schools Form a Supplemental Profession?

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Topics: Education Policy, ESSA, Future of Learning

This post is part four in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.

What might teaching look like in ten years if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that these adults could create a new learning agent network that remained largely separate from the teaching taking place in K-12 schools.

Alternative Future 2: A Supplemental Profession

With learning experiences proliferating across places and platforms, some through formal institutions and some through virtual and place-based networks, adults whose primary jobs lie outside the formal K-12 education system emerge as a new cadre of learning agents offering learning services and supports. These learning agents serve as facilitators of relatively structured learning experiences designed by their organizations and also as coaches, mentors, and guides of student-driven projects and inquiries.

Some of these adults develop hybrid careers where part of their compensation comes from their involvement in learning experiences. But for many, serving as a learning agent becomes a kind of professional volunteerism, a paying-i supplemental profession t-forward dimension of their primary (paid) profession. Whether compensated or not, some of them pursue training in working with young people or supporting learning. However, very few of them acquire any sort of formal teaching credential, as those credentials remain oriented toward the needs of full-time educators rather than those of part-time learning agents.

In some instances, these learning agents collaborate with teachers in the formal K-12 education system; for example, when innovative school designs open the door for traditional classroom teaching to shift toward team collaboration or to morph more profoundly toward student-driven instruction. But in most cases, these learning agents form a supplemental profession that operates largely separate from traditional school systems, both because these learning agents have little incentive to push their way into those settings’ regimented, compliance-oriented structures and because those settings’ structures continue mainly to be designed around traditional disciplines, grade levels, and teaching roles.

However, as more ways of credentialing informal and community-based learning experiences emerge and gain acceptance, and as an increasing number of students seek to fulfill needs and pursue interests that traditional school systems do not meet or support, these supplemental learning agents attract an increasing percentage of young people, at least for part of their learning journeys. In places with relatively few local resources, learners often look beyond their geographic communities when seeking support from supplemental learning agents.

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This second alternative future projects that the public education system will remain largely unchanged but that a parallel – but not necessarily equitable – system could emerge as a supplement or total replacement for some learners. For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.