Our Kids Are in the Future–Don't be Late

My friends at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation are leading the shift from schooling to learning—and there’s nothing semantic about it.  Having mapped the future, they see:

Learning is the process by which a person acquires new knowledge, skills and capacities.  In the world of learning, education will center on the needs of learners, rather than on those of institutions.   Schools will still have a role in this world, but learners will access personalized content from multiple new sources.  New networks will use collaboration, bottom-up processes, and shared resources to create new learner-centered curriculum and teaching methods.  New media will allow people to learn at any time, in any place.  New brain research will facilitate the differentiation of learning experiences to meet distinct needs of learners.

Spend 20 minutes studying the map of the future.  You’ll recognize that most of the ‘predictions’ are already occurring, they just haven’t had any noticeable effect on schooling.  What’s more jarring than the map is the introduction:

If you think our future will require better schools, you’re wrong.  The future of education calls for entirely new kinds of learning environments.

If you think we will need better teachers, you’re wrong.  Tomorrow’s learners will need guides who take on fundamentally different roles.

As every dimension of our world evolves so rapidly, the education challenges of tomorrow will require solutions that go far beyond today’s answers.

Nearly all the federal funds flowing this summer—SIG, RttT, i3—invest in incremental improvement to an obsolete model.  That’s not all bad—it may be the fastest path to better college/career prep for the current cohort of low income middle school students.
But we need to push beyond the confines of schools and grants to improve schooling to produce new and better learning environments.  We can see components everywhere we look:

    *online learning and personalized progress models
    *social networking and the ability to affiliate and share
    *learning games, sims, and virtual learning environments
    *adaptive content and smart recommendations engines
    *video, blogs, tweets, texts—new ways to connect and publish

The Common Core and related assessments are a big new platform for innovation.  But they generally come with the limitations of schooling as we know it.  We are quite likely to see more progress in the informal learning space (and from countries less hidebound than ours).  We need to avoid erecting new barriers to learning online.  We need ‘innovation zones,’ not new restrictions.  We need to stop protecting the status quo and start reducing barriers to the education our kids deserve.  Our kids are in the future waiting for us to arrive.  Don’t be late.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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