The growth of media and communications technology, the rise of a new generation of students and teachers equipped to use technology, and the shifts within schools and educational systems themselves create new fertile ground for education innovation.  Taken all together these major changes can be understood as The Big Shifts in education.

The Big Shifts are comprised of the Technology Shift, the Global Shift, and the Learning Shift.

The Technology Shift

The first Big Shift impacting education is based on technological change – specifically powerful media and communications technologies which enable rich media and powerful software to be distributed across digital networks.  The developments in technology include:

1)    broadband — ubiquitous and affordable broadband connectivity;

2)    devices — intuitive and affordable digital devices such as netbooks, tablets, and smart phones; and

3)    networks — platform, application and content ecosystems which allow tools and content for learning and measurement to be produced and distributed among millions of users and which can effectively connect and reward developers and creators.

The Global Shift

The second Big Shift impacting education is based on changes in people and markets globally – specifically how individuals and groups of people are adjusting to technological change and globalization.  These include:

1)    digital natives — the rise of the first generation of digital native teachers and students in the US and around the world;

2)    global markets — the growth of global digital networks which allow learning platforms, applications and content to be produced, distributed and monetized in markets with potentially billions of connected learners – and the demand created by globalization to educate so many more people more effectively; and

3)    economic realities — significant financial challenges facing both the US, the developed world and the developing world which force governments, organizations and families to seek innovative and potentially radically different solutions for more effective and affordable learning.

The Learning Shift

The third Big Shift impacting education is based on changes to learning and educational systems.  These include:

1)    self-directed learning — the shift from rigid age cohorts to individualized instruction that enables students to advance at their own speed;

2)    adaptive learning — the shift of print textbooks and paper testing to digital tools that enable adaptive learning which is customized to the needs of the learners and which provide instant performance feedback and motivational reward mechanisms; and

3)    networked learning — the shift away from schools based solely on physical facilities and print products with centralized acquisition, distribution and production systems for learning products and towards networks of teachers and learners in models such as hybrid schools and featuring decentralized acquisition, distribution and production systems for learning products.

While The Big Shifts provide opportunities for innovation that can yield dramatic improvements for students, many obstacles remain.  Fortunately, a growing movement for education reform is emerging in the United States and around the world.

[note: this is a section of an upcoming impact investing paper; it’s an update from the 3×5 revolution from April]

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