Navigating the Future Is Both Local and Systemic

Topics: Future of Learning

How might we embed schools into their environments to make learning a joyful, lifelong practice for all learners? And how might we create opportunities for learners to bridge their lived experiences and identities with their learning?

Participants at my Institute for Personalized Learning conference session, “You Can Shape the Future Now,” gravitated toward these opportunities from KnowledgeWorks’ strategy guide on navigating the future of learning.

Navigating the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide is designed to help K-12 educators, postsecondary education institutions and community-based learning organizations take action with the future in mind.
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How might we integrate schools into their environments to make learning a joyful, lifelong practice for all learners?

In exploring the first opportunity, “A Learning Lifestyle,” participants emphasized the importance of cultivating such an approach for everyone in a learning community, not just for students. Enabling for educators the kind of personalized learning that those attending the conference seek to cultivate for students promises to grow schools’ and districts’ capacity and to spread learner-centered cultures and practices.

Participants also described the value of liaising with local employers to ensure that learners are developing employable skills and that future graduate profiles reflect a shared vision for the community. Such partnerships can also open new avenues for student learning experiences.

How might we value students’ lived experiences and identities to help them craft purpose-driven pathways that motivate ongoing, engaged learning?

The second opportunity, “Many Selves, Many Stories,” invites consideration of how we might expand narratives and metrics of success to reflect emerging realities and serve every learner well. In addressing this opportunity, conference participants discussed the need to manage parents’ perceptions of success. Understandable anxieties over children’s futures, combined with mental models about what school should look like that reflect parents’ own experiences, can keep people attached to the current system. They can get in the way of broadening definitions of success and of taking more formative approaches to assessing the development of competencies over time.

As participants asserted, we do not yet have the means to reflect a full view of what happens in education and how schools change lives. As we expand our understanding of success and achievement, they thought, we need to take an individual view based on learners’ circumstances. We also need to keep a worthy focus on skill development in perspective. Honing social-emotional and deeper learning capacities takes a lifetime. Though they are central to being prepared for the future, it would be hazardous to treat certain milestones along that journey too firmly (for example, by requiring a certain level of skill in collaboration for high school graduation).

Aligning Systems with Desired Practices

Both opportunities address the importance of building public will to expand approaches to learning. The conversation at the conference picked up on this point to explore the complex dynamics surrounding education systems. So many interests influence how education systems operate – and how they are held accountable – that quality assurance frameworks seem narrow and competitive, pitting schools and districts against one another and reinforcing socio-economic differences in achievement that correlate all too predictably with ZIP codes. In the ideal world, accountability systems would reflect the broader aspirations that many educators and community members espouse. They would also do a better job of providing insights that can help inform attempts to address inequities.

After exploring these big needs, educators attending the session described ways of finding value in current frameworks. Focusing on one element of a state accountability system that seems particularly meaningful in one’s context can be one way of connecting local priorities with state requirements. So too can emphasizing, and measuring locally, things such as student engagement that are within a learning community’s direct sphere of influence.

Presenting a Fuller Picture

Tensions are going to exist when learning communities aim to bridge today’s realities and requirements with future-oriented visions. Even if we could reduce the gap between the present and the future, the individual and the local do not always fit well with the systemic and the aggregate. But as many educators work to personalize learning – and as more lead the way toward more equitable futures – we need to present a fuller picture of what is happening with learning.

We need to find better ways of telling the stories that can help motivate local innovation and help build momentum for systemic change.

In our strategy guide, you’ll find more ideas on how to shape the future of education today.