How might adults support learning in an expanded learning ecosystem in which highly personalized learning environments could become the norm?
In October, I presented a session on this topic at Grantmakers for Education’s annual conference with KnowledgeWorks colleagues Lillian Pace and Matt Williams and education systems change facilitator Richard DeLorenzo. Our session took a look at possibilities by exploring four scenarios on the future of teaching, lessons learned from helping school districts foster systemic change toward competency education, and policy opportunities that support a new vision for competency-based educator preparation and development.
As the learning ecosystem expands, there is the potential for teachers to provide radically personalized learning for all young people via customized pathways. But, as my baseline scenario for the future of teaching, “A Plastic Profession,” highlights, realizing that potential is far from given. If we fail to change the public education system’s current focus on narrow measures of student and teacher performance and continue to face both daunting fiscal challenges as well as heightened political activity in the absence of ESEA’s reauthorization, teachers could end up functioning as production line supervisors instead of creative professionals.
The small groups that explored this scenario during the conference session saw nothing positive about it. Indeed, the general sentiment was that we would need to meet at the bar if such a future came to pass.
But that scenario represents our current trajectory. So what will we do to change it?
Participants also expressed concern about an alternative scenario in which learning agents in informal and community-based learning environments could form a supplemental profession that was largely disconnected from the formal K-12 system. The existence of these learning agents wasn’t the problem; the disconnection from public education was.
That scenario could emerge if we do little to change the current public education system and fail to build bridges among different types of learning environments. So how will we avert it?
In my ideal future, learning agents working in diverse roles support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in multiple settings, and the entire learning ecosystem has evolved to be oriented around learners instead of institutions. Participants in the session didn’t find that scenario to be automatically unproblematic either; for such a learning ecosystem to work well for all learners, they said, we would need new forms of quality assurance. I think that we would also need community ownership of learning and other supporting systemic structures along the lines of the levers for transformation that I describe in my recent innovation pathways paper.
So that future requires some big leaps. But can we get there? What will it take to create a highly personalized learning ecosystem that truly reflects the interests of and supports all learners? Are we willing to transform learning?