Guest post by Kimberly Daniels
This scenario reflects a convening hosted by KnowledgeWorks with funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation that brought together stakeholders in Northeast Ohio to consider how redefining readiness today might better prepare students for life and work in the future. The scenario draws from convening discussions and insights to project a fictional narrative of learning and work in 2040. In so doing, it creates a future image that exemplifies one way a region could transform its approaches to readiness and learning. The reflection questions that follow the scenario invite readers to begin exploring the kinds of decisions that communities need to address today to ensure that all learners are ready for the future and that education and readiness stakeholders pursue our preferred futures for readiness and learning.
The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code is KnowledgeWorks’ fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning explores the intersection of three impact layers — people, structures and society.
Adjoa is mom to 14-year old twins, Kwame and Ama, who excitedly report to her on their updated personalized learning portfolios. The twins both belong to study guilds comprised of students from differing cultural backgrounds, who learn together and individually depending on their needs. The study guilds reflect a modular-instructional approach that allows teachers to function as facilitators who guide active learning through innovative methods. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and adaptive educational software provide tailored learning experiences and report on the progress of each individual learner. These learning processes play to each student’s strengths, guide improvement, encourage effective social interaction and collaboration and promote trackable lifelong learning competencies.
Having demonstrated a propensity for task- and relationship-oriented activities that benefit people in need in communities around the world, Kwame focuses his learning on project-based experiences. These interactive experiences take place online and at networked locations such as libraries, restaurants and community-placed kiosks. In contrast, Ama has demonstrated an understanding of how technologies can be useful to, or hinder the development of, societies. She interacts with smart bots and uses wearable devices, along with mixed-reality technologies, to focus her learning towards meeting the demands of a STEM curriculum.
As the twins scurry away, Adjoa thinks back to how her own academic experience just twenty years ago was quite different than it is for her children now. When she was a K-12 student, the school systems in Northeast Ohio struggled against an inequitable distribution of funding and other resources across zip codes, contributing to gaps in community wellbeing. Although she excelled in her K-12 classes, Adjoa wasn’t very challenged intellectually. The schools she attended were located in a community where some households were confronted by poverty and couldn’t afford school books, where schools often lacked adequate educational materials for stimulating learning, and where some teachers felt ill-equipped to balance students’ different learning needs.
Things were much different for Adjoa’s husband, Yaw, when he was a K-12 student. Yaw was educated in an affluent area some miles away and attended schools that offered more rigorous curricula, sufficient educational materials, and innovative teaching methods. Following his K-12 years, Yaw earned a formal higher-education degree, while Adjoa sought alternative credentials to hone her many different skills. Despite the differences in their educational backgrounds, both Adjoa and Yaw are satisfied with their professional work choices. While Yaw has pursued a more traditional career path, Adjoa has chosen to work short-term gigs, allowing her to spend more quality time with their children.
Adjoa is momentarily jarred from her thoughts by the appearance of a smart display on the skin of her forearm notifying her of a just-in-time (JIT) work opportunity. She then begins to reflect on how the visionary foresight of influential leaders throughout the region helped inspire change in the early 2020s. This change was catalyzed by a community-driven campaign sparking the message, “Geography is not destiny!”
Dialogues among communities, schools and the public and private sectors led to the region-wide adoption of a wraparound support system for all learners. That system involved a shared focus on personalized learning, public services and local supports for households — which included addressing opioid drug use in the region — as well as on the provision of extended learning opportunities for whole families. There was a concerted and coordinated effort to shift from traditional school systems to this region-wide learning ecosystem. The effort resulted in the sharing of available educational resources across geographical boundaries. Teachers received appropriate training, student learning improved and personalized healthcare became both accessible and affordable to most. In addition, many families became stronger; many communities, healthier.
By 2030, there was a significant reduction in the achievement gap across zip codes. A move towards alternative credentials for meeting the on-demand needs of businesses paralleled an increase in the number of young-adult learners focused on skills acquisition rather than career pathways. This shift enabled these learners to be more workplace-ready than older generations of workers.
Bringing her thoughts back to the present, Adjoa calls to the twins to get dressed to go out. She can confidently decline the JIT work opportunity, as she has access to accrued paid vacation days — one of the perks of a federally legislated portable benefits package that’s available to independent contractors in the gig economy of 2040. Soon, the three arrive at an interactive kiosk center located within the local library. Adjoa uses a kiosk to perform a wellness checkup and to dispense a prescription refill for Yaw. Kwame uses a kiosk that projects an immersive mixed-reality experience, allowing him to learn more about their extended family in Ghana. And Ama uses a kiosk’s holographic feature to test chemical reactions safely for a class project. After the trio has been in the library for a while, another smart display featuring a livestreaming video appears on the skin of Adjoa’s forearm. It relays that Yaw should arrive home by automated transportation soon. The trio leaves the library and heads home to greet him.
A desired outcome of reading this scenario is that it help stakeholders in Northeast Ohio and similar regions begin exploring the kinds of decisions that we need to address today to ensure that all students are ready for the future and that education and readiness stakeholders pursue our preferred futures for readiness and learning. The following questions provide a starting point for reflection:
- Might a region-wide adoption of a modular or more flexible instructional approach to K-12 instruction support curricular innovation, help students identify their learning needs, and boost the scholastic performance of students?
- Might universities that currently offer only traditional degree programs benefit from transitioning to a verifiable alternative credentials model in order to remain competitive and meet the future needs of learners, the workforce and organizations?
- How might federal and/or state policy changes support the adoption of a regional wrap-around support system for learners and their families and allow communities to address region-wide problems, create thriving learning ecosystems and promote community well-being?
Babies born this year will have graduated from college by 2040 and be entering the workforce. Will they be ready? The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out explores how career readiness may be redefined to better prepare students for an uncertain future.