The Future of Learning: Compelling, Customized, Connected & Competency-Based

In 2010 tablets were introduced and application development platforms got much better–suddenly it was inexpensive to create mobile apps, cheap to buy them, and easy to use them on touch screen devices. That’s when the global learning opportunity got really interesting.
There is an emerging opportunity to boost student achievement and improve working for teachers here in the U.S–and a huge opportunity to expand access to quality learning to every young person on earth. That’s the most interesting and important thing anyone could work on. The opportunity is to make learning more compelling, customized, connected and competency-based.
Customized. As the toolset improves it is becoming easier to support individual learning progressions with, as Christensen Institute says, more student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.
Adaptive learning is one of the big advances in K-14 learning of this decade. The combination of adaptive assessment and targeted tutoring provides leveled learning, informative feedback, and data teachers can use to guide future learning (See feature on i-Ready and this paper on The Future of Learning: Personalized, Adaptive and Competency Based).
With the shift to digital, schools are moving away from textbooks to modular digital content. Smart platforms string together digital learning experiences into personalized playlists. Fewer districts are adopting textbooks and courseware and considering them the curriculum. I visited a district last week that dumped textbooks and will use open content in a standards-based frame along with writing prompts from Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). Recommendation engines and collaborative authoring tools like CoreTools from LDC are replacing unitary courseware.
Compelling. Boredom is a big problem in secondary schools; it’s a function of the age cohort model, didactic delivery, flat content, and superficial assessment. Around the edges we can see more compelling learning experiences:

As course choice (and funding that follows students) expands in secondary and postsecondary, learners will gravitate to more compelling options.
Connected. Teachers are joining online networks and taking advantage of common standards by sharing tools, resources, and strategies. Edmodo, MasteryConnect, and LearnZillion (Learn Capital portfolio companies) support the collaboration of several million teachers–a dramatic reduction in teacher isolation.
Blended learning platforms like NewClassrooms use dynamic grouping and scheduling to customize learning for students and improve working conditions for teachers. For example, some students spend time in small group instruction with a teacher after demonstrated readiness for that lesson, on that day, in that modality.
The explosion of mobile and touch screen technology is extending the learning day and connecting students, parents, and teachers in new and productive ways. BYOD has become the norm rather than the exception.
Competency-based. While common sense, the notion that kids should progress as they demonstrate mastery will take longer to take hold than ditching those giant expensive textbooks. That’s because parents and higher ed are stuck on traditional grades–a complex mixture of achievement, effort, and other stuff (See Innovator’s Dilemma: Edu Style–The Long Transition to Digital).
The New England Secondary School Consortium is a good example of a network of proficiency-based schools (see feature) linked to 55 universities accepting proficiency based diplomas.
Watch young people exploring dynamic job clusters and you’ll see the future of higher ed (at least part of it). Follow them to a campus of General Assembly and you’ll see professionals and recent grads learning together from expert instructors in highly relevant short courses. Take a Udemy class and you’ll join 3 million learners that enjoy the just-in-time benefits of individualized learning.
Postsecondary and professional learning will increasingly embrace personalization, blended learning experiences, individual progress, badges and stackable credentials. Need, interest and incentive driven learning will replace required sit-and-get; immersive experiences will replace didactic droning; learning integrated with performance feedback will replace artificial courses (See study on 5 global trends in professional learning).
The future of learning is happening all around us–it’s just arriving at an uneven pace. You can help make sure the benefits of anywhere anytime learning are well distributed.

Edmodo, MasteryConnect, and LearnZillion are Learn Capital portfolio companies where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

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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1 Comment

Veronica Pena

I really like how this article addresses the fact that not only are learning environments changing but teachers are also changing and becoming connected. In order to facilitate the needs of today’s student, teachers are joining forces and sharing failures are well as success. This is a key point to the future of education as the learners needs evolve so much the instruction.

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