Navigating the Future of Learning with the Simon Youth Foundation

Topics: Future of Learning

On November 6, my colleagues Katherine Prince, Katie King and I had the pleasure of facilitating a keynote and sensemaking session with educators from Simon Youth Academies on content from our forthcoming comprehensive forecast on the future of learning, Forecast 5.0: Navigating the Future of Learning.

Simon Youth Academies represent a unique high school model, typically built in shopping malls. The academies, supported by Simon Youth Foundation and created in partnership with local public school districts, aim to provide personalized supports for students who are at risk of dropping out due to circumstances such homelessness, bullying, serious illness, parenthood or needing to support their families.

As leaders, we need to keep our vision on the horizon, not on our feet.”

Workshop participant

We began our session with exploring the five drivers of change highlighted in our forecast that will impact education over the next decade:

  • Automating Choices: Artificial intelligence and algorithms are automating many aspects of our lives.
  • Civic Superpowers: Engaged citizens and civic organizations are seeking to rebalance power.
  • Accelerating Brains: People have increasing access to tools and insights that are reshaping our brains in intended and unintended ways.
  • Toxic Narratives: Outdated and misaligned systems and metrics of success are contributing to chronic health issues, including rising rates of mental illness among children.
  • Remaking Geographies: Communities are working to remake themselves in the face of deep transitions.

Participants then grappled with what those drivers of change might mean for educational equity, for learner agency and for education generally, generating opportunities and challenges. Such an exercise can be meaningful in that it provides participants with a chance to take a step back from their day-to-day responsibilities and begin to explore the implications of inbound change, or those changes from outside education that could affect it. This kind of exploration can help clarify people’s preferred futures, highlight forces of change to mitigate against and bring to light opportunities that might not be obvious.

We as educators have to be open minded and know that we’re always evolving and filling our toolbox with different things.”

Workshop participant

The final portion of the engagement focused on exploring future possibilities for learning. We began by exploring provocation zones from our forecast:

  • Human-Centered Learning – Reorient teaching and learning systems, expectations and experiences to put a holistic view of human development at the center.
  • Signature Learning Ecosystems – Situate learning in place in ways that integrate technology, culture and learner and community identity to enhance and extend opportunities for learning.
  • Safeguards for Efficacy – Provide vision and stewardship for implementing effective data strategies and for embracing emerging technologies for intentional learner support.
  • Amplified Voice and Impact – Reconfigure engagement and outcome frameworks and communications channels to bolster individual capacity and to increase community impact.

These provocation zones are areas where the drivers of change present possibilities for supporting the healthy development of young people, enabling effective lifelong learning and contributing to community vitality. Participants used them, along with more specific images of the future from the forecast, to help spark their thinking about how they might create breakthrough changes in learning and what their schools might look like in ten years’ time if they implemented such changes. The Simon Youth educators imagined these and other possibilities:

  • Care for All and All for Care: An extraordinary daycare service could help students ensure high-quality care for their loved ones. Spanning generations and including pets, it would remove the barrier of having to provide custodial care that keeps many students from coming to school.
  • Kiosk in the County: Fifty kiosk sites in easily accessible locations with 24-hour teacher access and student-paced learning could help bring schooling directly to students who might be facing transportation issues.
  • Beyond Virtual Schools: Technology could enable collaboration of students, educators and subject matter experts within networks around issues that local communities are facing which might include issues such as the increasing rates anxiety and depression in young people. The virtual collaboration could enable real-world solutions.

Are we choosing the things that we’re comfortable with because that’s what we did before?”

Workshop participant

Navigating the future of learning can be daunting work. What’s more, when things are going well in the present, we rarely feel the pressure to think ahead. Simon Youth Academies’ educators are already accomplishing great things, maintaining an average graduation rate of 90%, yet in working with the future they realized that their current approaches might not always be enough. Exploring the future offers a chance to take stock of current approaches and strategies in light of changes on the horizon and frees us to ask questions about what we want out of those changes and from the future.

How is your organization preparing for the future? How might its strategies shift?