2016 #YearInReview and Predictions for 2017

2017 in big block letters, surrounded by doodles of technology, predictions for 2017

The events of this year forced many of us to think differently about the world we live in—it required a full mental model revision. What’s going on? The global confluence of urbanization, globalization and automation is resulting in more and more unexpected shocks (so-called black swan events) in politics, economics and ecosystems.
For those of us that believe learning is a key lever for shaping society, six trends shaped life in 2016, and will continue to expand their influence in 2017.
1. Global Populist Revolt. Surprising election outcomes came in waves, shocking western democracies and marking the beginning of something new… but what the heck is it?
On one hand, disaffected voters appeared to revolt against a 30-year rise of neoliberalism—openness, tolerance, trade and innovation as the path to more widespread global prosperity.
On the other hand, the stock market is at record highs fueled by free money and promised tax breaks. Not exactly the end of capitalism. But also not at all clear how Brexit backers and Trump supporters will deliver the broad benefits promised.
2. Platform Life. Digital platforms have transformed the way we live, work, play, travel and learn. Five of the largest firms run platform businesses (listed by market capitalization): Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.
The rise of the platform economy and lifestyle has been supported by improving access to broadband and a dozen megatrend technology inevitabilities summarized below (and based in part on Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable). This unconscious conspiracy of exponential technology has created accelerating and unceasing change unlike anything before.

What Tech Does What Tech Allows Me to Do
Improve seamlessly and continuously (no more monolithic versions) Learn and grow between face to face interactions
Thin services (like Slack) are fast, extensible, interoperable and easy to learn Learn and work anywhere; all of my information is fluid and linked across all of my screens
Filter the flow of information and allocate attention to the exponentially expanding universe Create compelling images, stories, campaigns, tools, environments and experiences
Track everything (a trait that is growing exponentially) and share it in simple useful visuals Mix and match playlists and new constructions
Know my preferences, locations, competencies and interests Connect on interests, events and campaigns to build collective solutions
Recommend and remind with increasing accuracy and usefulness Share public products with broad audiences

3. End of Truth. It was not just a disregard for facts that was so disturbing about 2016, it was the intentional and viral campaigns of misinformation that made the year a disturbing turning point. The hope was that platforms would be a marketplace of ideas around inarguable facts, but in 2016 social media disintegrated into opinion gullies with flash floods of made up stuff. This year may, unfortunately, mark the end of truth.
Our civic infrastructure can’t keep up with all of this change. As a result, trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. It suggests that we must double down on digital literacy and civic education.
4. End of Context. Despite a flood of information, it is apparent that modern media has crippled our capacity for making relative judgments. Despite a few widely covered western media stories, most of the 15,000 deaths by terrorism in 2016 occurred in the middle east, north Africa and Afghanistan.
It turns out sugar kills about 1,000 times as many people worldwide as terrorists. Sugar is a major culprit in diseases such as obesity, diabetes and dementia—and it’s in almost everything we consume.
In the U.S., gun deaths are 1000 times more common than terrorist attacks–but we can’t discuss the former and are fixated by the later.
In education, context matters more than ever. We continue to observe (take Paul Tough’s new book as an example) that, despite advances in blended environments, learning continues to observe the primacy of face to face interaction. For most, growth is activated by relationship and learning happens in community. Platforms can make face to face time more productive and can provide engagement in the gap between in-person experiences—but for most, learning is all about relationships.
5. Rise of Smart Machines. During 2016, artificial intelligence (AI) showed up in every facet of life including agriculture, retail, manufacturing, transportation, wellness and healthcare, and defense. AI is likely to eat some jobs (although there is big disagreement on the timing and extent) and augment other roles.
The rise of machine intelligence will have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of all young people—that’s why we’ve been encouraging teachers and parents to #AskAboutAI. Young people are likely to face an order of magnitude more change than we did; they deserve preparation for novelty and complexity. They would also benefit from role models making a difference combining Cause + Code.
6. End of Standards-Based Reforms. The reauthorization of federal education legislation a year ago marked the end of a quarter century of a strong federal role advancing academic standards, standardized testing and accountability. Reinforced by the recent election, the return to local control reinforces support for deeper learning experiences.
Given these trends, the following are six things you’ll see more of in 2017.

  1. More SEL. There will be more emphasis on broader aims including social and emotional learning. National Commission on Social-Emotional and Academic Development will advance the conversation and CASEL will expand its city and state partnerships.
  2. More PBL. Given the interest in mindsets, social and emotional learning (SEL) and career readiness, you’ll see more project-based learning and all of its more open-ended inquiry-based cousins.
  3. More AI. You’ll continue to see more forms of artificial intelligence (machine learning, deep learning, neural nets) in education including showing up in learning platforms, adaptive math and English software, writing feedback, transportation planning and communication tools.
  4. More choice. There will be more learning options—not just in terms of schools or courses but in terms of the experience—with a little more support from Washington, D.C.
  5. More microcredentials. An increasing amount of professional learning comes in small chunks and is demonstrated to colleagues and signified with badges or microcredentials (see Preparing Teachers for a Project-Based World)
  6. More platform networks. School networks are one of the most important innovations in the modern era of U.S. K-12 education. Like New Tech Network, these member networks are voluntary associations of schools focused on design principles and support services. All of them benefit from philanthropic contributions, and most of them share a common learning platform.

A growing number of school districts are adopting learning platforms aligned with their learning model. In some districts like Houston, all schools use the same platform and devices. Other districts, like Denver and Santa Ana, support school and network decisions.
Considering some currently active projects, we’re likely to see some progress on combining formative data for driving instructional improvement or managing student progress.
For more, see:

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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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1 Comment

Paul Hoss

Will have to respectfully disagree with this one, Tom: "The reauthorization of federal education legislation a year ago marked the end of a quarter century of a strong federal role advancing academic standards, standardized testing and accountability." While the fed's Common Core was essentially squashed by many states, many of these same states merely plagiarized Common Core in an attempt to keep up with states like Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, etc. Fortunately for students nationwide, many will all now be held to a "common" body of information as opposed to the pell mell approach in our schools of the past century, plus.

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