As many of us have been feeling more and more in our daily lives, we live in a time of rapid change and increasing complexity. Exponential advancements in digital technologies are ushering in a new era of living, working, and learning in which we can expect to be developing new uses for and new relationships with machines that are increasingly wearable, connected, and smart. In The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team describes this emerging era as one of partners in code because we expect that people will be working alongside the code powering our smart devices in more and more ways, both large and small, over the coming decade and beyond.
It can be hard to know how to make sense of such large-scale change – and hard to think through what it could mean for education, much less what we might want it to mean. As we work with education stakeholders to make sense of future possibilities in their contexts, we encourage people to think of themselves as agents of change who can realize their power in shaping the future of learning by thinking through opportunities and challenges on the horizon and considering both what they want to see happen and how they might bring it about. We also listen for levers of change that might help point the way forward.
In speaking recently with the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Educational Service Center’s Dream Innovation Team of district administrators, I was asked to reflect on some of what I’d been hearing education stakeholders identify as promising ways forward. I named four levers of change within schools’ and districts’ spheres of influence that have stood out for me recently:
- Foster cultures that support distributed innovation and new approaches to learning.
- Support educators in developing the capacity to approach learning in new ways, both by providing them with powerful learning experiences and by creating time to for them to develop and test new approaches.
- Cultivate public will for change, helping families and communities explore the changes on the horizon and develop visions for the future.
- Nurture learning ecosystems that bring together schools alongside community-based learning organizations and other stakeholders to expand the range of learning opportunities available to students and extend the kinds of resources and expertise supporting learning.
Helping people explore how the world has changed and is continuing to change can be a powerful impetus for encouraging them to explore new approaches to learning. More and more, I hear educators who have spent time exploring the future of learning conclude that pursuing personalized learning promises to help address our emerging challenges and prepare learners to thrive in the changing world of work and beyond.
They also identify additional systemic levers necessary to help them make and sustain the shift to personalized learning:
- Evolve teacher preparation to support new models of learning.
- Broaden accountability measures to consider a wider range of outcomes.
- Address persistent and emerging inequities in intentional and collaborative ways.
- Develop adaptive leadership capacity to help guide education systems through the era shift that is underway and help educators pursue their preferred futures.
- Clarify the purpose of education so that stakeholders’ many decisions about what learners experience in and beyond schools align toward a clear direction.
This isn’t simple work, nor is there just one way forward. Stewarding education systems through the era shift that is underway is going to take persistent and creative work by many people. But it’s essential. As one K-12 leader commented in a future of learning workshop, “Seemingly unrelated areas can work together to create transformational change.”