Good Work: Incubating Next Gen People

Imagine an idea factory where hunches about learning become big ideas that turn into high impact organizations and next generation schools. The minute you walk in the door at 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, founded by Matt Candler, you see evidence of “curious people turning bold ideas into solutions for students, parents and educators.” 4.0 Schools offers a 2-day program called Essentials to help individuals develop an innovation mindset and learn prototyping skills. Their Launch program helps teams of entrepreneurs to create new organizations and field-test new school models. Next week Launch Cohort 10 (featured image) will unveil their big ideas in Pitch Night.
One incubated team, Blink Blink, launched their site this week. It features wearable #STEM projects: girls + STEM + crafts = awesome (, @blink_blink).
Why? What’s the point of all this innovation? Matt and I are convinced that next generation learning environments will be far better places to work and learn. As Andy Calkins, NGLC explains, next gen environments are:

  • Learner centered–a personalized path for every student;
  • Blended–combining online, project based, and small group learning; and
  • Competency-based–learners show what they know and progress as they demonstrate mastery.

Next gen environments will be far more intuitive and self-directed. They’ll make sophisticated use of all the keystroke data to support personalized pathways. Next gen environments are team-based and require more collaboration than has been typical in education. Rand published more directional support this week indicating that personalized learning boosts achievement.
Mindset matters. To create next gen environments we must accept that we’re all starting over and have a lot to learn. Matt says we need to adopt a lean startup mindset: user-centric, curious, and iterative. The 4.0 team are the inspiration for the innovation mindset chapter that opens our new book, Smart Cities that Work for Everyone.
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (where I’m a director) is the leading advocate for next gen learning. They hosted #iNACOL14 last week where we discussed developing an innovation mindset. I suggested creating an individual learning plan that included reading, writing, visiting, and thinking with smart people.
I finish every week impressed by the courage, commitment, empathy and insight that I educators bring to their work. My optimism about the future grows as I interact with edupreneurs inventing new tools that power new learning experiences and environments.
Ecosystem. It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child; we’ve learned that it takes an ecosystem to provide every learner–young and old–quality learning experiences. We call that a Smart City.
As our world language hero and co-author Moss Pike said last week at #iNACOL14, “The next generation is not about technology, it’s about people.”
Moss is right, it’s about people–and creating a good place to work.  As noted in the 2015 Kauffman #Thoughtbook (@KauffmanFDN) this week, OD>ET. Learning, especially for children, is and will remain a distinctly relationship-based enterprise, so organizational design and development (OD) will remain more important than education technology (ET). The most important innovations combine OD+ET and add talent development and iterative development.
The most important lesson of our three year Smart Cities investigation is that every city needs an innovation agenda and an incubator of talent, tools, and schools like 4.0 Schools.

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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