When we look to the future of learning, new possibilities unfold. New kinds of practices, programs, structures and roles could help educators and learners pursue their preferred futures of learning or address current and emerging opportunities and challenges. One possibility is that signature learning ecosystems could situate learning in place in ways that integrate technology, culture and community identity to enhance and extend opportunities for learning.
This provocation from KnowledgeWorks’ latest ten-year forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, explores how such learning ecosystems could bring in, and help learners access and interact with, a wide range of community resources and expertise while linking learning to individual needs, interests and goals as well as to specific place-based cultures and opportunities.
For example, nested learning could become more common, with diverse community organizations – including museums, parks, zoos, art and science centers and businesses – hosting clusters of students and facilitating place-based learning experiences. Such experiences could be rich with feedback-driven assessment and reflection and could help students develop social learning networks comprised of community members, mentors, peers and trusted adults. In one current-day example related to this possible future approach, Círculos is a high school with no fixed location. Part of the Santa Ana Unified School District, it groups students in tight-knit learning circles involving peers, teachers and community members and embeds them in co-working spaces, mobile labs and the offices of partner organizations.
As part of developing signature learning ecosystems, community network builders could foster multi-stakeholder partnerships and cross-cultural understanding to help form connections and enable learning experiences. They could combine their community knowledge along with smart technologies to map and model community networks, shared interests and goals and identify potential collaborations. Real World Scholars’ Give and Take project does something similar today, supporting students in partnering with businesses and community organizations to build meaningful relationships and to help communities thrive. Such a role could also be played by individuals who worked within learning ecosystems to make connections and extend opportunities for learning.
In another future possibility, educational placemaking could gain sway. Designers specializing in place-based learning could help revitalize and energize communities by working alongside educators, local municipalities, residents and regional governing bodies to address community issues and support community identity. These specialists could curate resources and catalyze the development of long-term learning projects, helping to coordinate among the partners involved in carrying them out. Today, the Place Network, an initiative of Teton Science Schools, works with rural K-12 schools in Idaho and Wyoming to connect learning and community. The initiative aims to increase student engagement, academic outcomes and community impact, putting both the learner and the local place at the center.
In addition to new learning approaches and roles, new kinds of shared infrastructure could help catalyze the creation of signature learning ecosystems. In ten years’ time, mixed-reality learning parks could extend the range of experiences publicly available to regional learners by merging physical infrastructure with augmented and virtual reality. Such parks could create embodied, immersive and highly contextualized learning experiences that included real-time learner feedback along with systematic processes for observation by educators and student reflection. While this possibility might sound far-fetched, Dubai’s mixed-reality theme park, located in a shopping mall, combines virtual experiences and physical thrills to create novel, immersive environments.
The possibilities highlighted in this post promise to respond to the drivers of change shaping the future of learning while helping to support the healthy development of young people, enable effective lifelong learning and contribute to community vitality. We cannot know whether they will come to pass, but we can consider whether they might help us achieve more of what we want for learning – and for all learners.
How might signature learning ecosystems and the more specific possibilities described in this post benefit your organization or community? What first steps could you take to begin exploring their potential further?