Getting Smart Podcast | Learning Anywhere, Anytime: Things Are About to Get Interesting

What will learning looks like in ten years? KnowledgeWorks Foundation in Cincinnati is the only foundation with a Strategic Foresight department and a longstanding commitment to illuminating the path forward.

As part of their research, Katie King interviews experts like Tom Vander Ark. Enjoy their conversation in this podcast and see a summary of their conversation below.

Podcast Highlights

What’s been relatively constant in EdReform and what have been the major shifts?

  • Let’s start with a distinction: EdReform is primarily about making the system we have work better, particularly those who have been underserved. Innovation is an effort to create new models of education. Personalized learning is the meme of EdReform in existing schools, and innovation in new school and new learning environments.
  • Personalized learning is the confluence of several streams of the last 20 years: differentiation, RTI and blended learning. The Christensen Institute definition of blended (unique pace, path, place) set the stage for the current phase of personalized learning
  • Personalized learning is the dominant investment strategy of foundations, venture investors and EdTech companies.
  • Given some frustrations about how blended and personalized learning was being implemented (like boring digital replacements of print worksheets), we’ve seen a reconnection with the 100-year-old tradition of project-based and inquiry-based learning. Most forward-leading districts and networks are working on mash-up models combining personalized learning with extended team-based challenges that deliver agency, critical thinking and collaboration.

Who are the most important influencers?

  • When we started our education venture fund in 2008, there was no investment in EdTech and no foundation investment in innovation. There was some spending by publishers but nearer to 0% of total spending, whereas 5-10% R&D spending is typical in other sectors. Now all education foundations, many venture funds, most school networks and many school districts have an innovation agenda. It’s still a small aggregate investment in innovation, but it’s a start.
  • Second, the price of storage and computing is nearly free, and devices and content are cheap. It’s easy to run a K-12 school with mostly free tools and content.
  • The combination of more innovation funding and better technology has produced a new generation of learning models including Next Generation Learning Challenges (130 grantees) and XQ SuperSchool (10 new models). In HigherEd, College For America is an important new model.
  • The world is moving toward competency: code schools, certification systems, just-in-time job-embedded learning. They are all fueling interest in K-12 competency-based learning (see CompetencyWorks).
  • For more on new learning models, check out this podcast with Erin Mote and Eric Tucker, co-founders of Brooklyn LAB. To learn more about how schools are testing new tools and models, check out a series of three podcasts with Learning Assembly including The Details Behind Pilot Design.

Where do you think things will be in 10 years?

  • Despite the fact that many people rate the quality of their learning models highly, we are in the very early days of personalized learning. We’re so early, so unsophisticated–we’re using tools that don’t work together. Discrete tools have gotten better but we don’t know much about the learners we work with. Personalized learning will become much more sophisticated driven by interoperability and comprehensive profiles that tell us much more about learners. Learners will have the ability to selectively share information with providers. But this will take ten years to play out.
  • Potentially even more profound is the combination of competency-based learning with place-based education (leveraging community-based assets). This unlocks the opportunity to learn anywhere. Some states will add portable funding. This combination of competency-based, place-based, personalized and portable learning will be PBE interesting.
  • While promising, it’s still complicated to build a personalized learning model supported by a platform and professional learning experiences (the magic formula below). As a result, many schools will join or be developed by platform networks–which make it possible for every community to have a super school.
  • In ten years, some districts will use fleets of autonomous vans and buses to unlock schedules and learning opportunities. Put it all together, and learning will look very different in some places (but pretty much the same in others). Progress will be lumpy, driven by leaders.

What are the implications for learning? What should we be thinking about?

  • The opportunity is so great we should be excited. We recently co-hosted a learner experience (LX) conference to discuss the opportunities (feature image above). There should be more opportunities to bring people into “what if” and “why not here” conversation.
  • The implication I’m most concerned about is equity. This country recently concluding an odd period of time where the feds were highly involved in standards-based reform (standards, assessments, accountability) and had a lot of money to spend. It was an era we can be proud of from the standpoint of bipartisan commitment to equity, but we can now see the unintended consequences–how poorly it worked and the damage it inflicted.
  • As a new superintendent, I was eager to have standardized tests. I didn’t know what to do or where to invest because I didn’t know how we were doing. To begin to understand differences was a real gift but came with consequences of narrowing to test scores over broader definitions, a reduction in authentic learning and student agency–many of the outcomes that we now understand are the most important. The aftermath of NCLB made me humble about what I know and what I don’t. I’m much more likely to consider unintended consequences like the PTSD that educators experienced.
  • The new task is to adopt broader aims while still demanding equity in all that we do. What I’m most afraid with the feds out of accountability is if states will move forward with a commitment to equity. How will that be expressed? The result could worsen gaps.

With the future of competency-based education, portability and autonomous vehicles, are there potential unintended consequences?

  • We published Smart Parents to explore the guidance gap. On one hand, it’s a wonderful time for learners–tools and opportunities get better every month. On the other hand, it’s becoming more complicated to be a parent and teacher.
  • We’ve almost closed the digital divide, but now we need to close the guidance divide. But unguided, tech can be used in mindless or even harmful ways. Students who have access to learning Sherpas at home and school use new tech tools to great benefit. Providing Sherpas to kids who don’t have them is complicated and expensive–there is not an easy fix. A sound advisory system at school is a good start.

Is there anything that has potential to change trajectory that we’re on?

  • The confluence of personalized, competency-based, place-based, anywhere anytime learning is bound to reconceptualize the delivery of public education. On top of that, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing everything. In education, AI will power personalized learning, master scheduling, smart back office services and a swarm of self-driving vehicles.
  • We can say with some certainty that there will be waves of job change with augmented intelligence, then waves of job loss through automation (but at different rates by geography and sector). Predicting how, where and when this happens, and how to align job preparation, is very challenging but important. As we argued in Getting Smart six years ago, it’s getting more important for every family and city to get smart–and fast.
  • The flip side is that AI and smart machines will improve lives and solve problems. While we don’t understand the emerging opportunity set of life with smart machines, it’s likely that we will live longer, more peaceful, more efficient and more economical lives. New sectors will arise and there will be new ways to contribute.
  • As Wendell Wallach of the World Economic Forum said in a recent podcast, communities should be having multi-stakeholder conversations about the implications of AI. We call our campaign #AskAboutAI and we’re co-hosting conversations about what’s happening, what it means, and what we should do to prepare.
  • Every community should be holding conversations that lead to updated learning outcomes. For more, listen to Ken Kay talk about Updating Your Graduate Profile and check out
  • Baby Boomers like me have seen a lot of change, but Gen Z could see several orders of magnitude more novel and complex, with waves of new and complicated stuff hitting unexpectedly. However, we’ve created schools that value routine and compliance, which is the opposite of the experiences young people need.
  • Our schools are ill-suited for the world our kids are headed for. EdReform is of some value, but real value is in creating new learning environments around a new premise, leveraging new tools, and combining AI-powered personalized learning with authentic, community-connected impact-oriented challenges. We need to get more kids into these kinds of environments as fast as possible.

If you could answer one question, what would it be?

  • We’re a hot mess right now with too much data and not enough information. The one thing I would change is interoperability and the ability to combine formative feedback from many sources, both easily and in real time.
  • Global shipping developed a standard container that allowed consistent shipping by rail, truck and ship. Internet protocols made standardized communication possible. We need the same kind of convention for education to combine information from multiple sources so that we can be much more informed about student growth.

What’s your preferred future?

  • I have a two-year-old granddaughter. I want her elementary learning to be engaging and powerful, highly personal and highly collaborative, with varied opportunities in diverse settings and lots of room for her to learn what and how she wants. A modern Montessori model supercharged by sustained relationships, and a smart platform that helps her grow in interesting and authentic ways.
  • In secondary school, I’d love to see personalized learning grounded in real craftsmanship. For a couple of decades, Ron Berger, EL Education, has been encouraging young people to do work that they and their community can be proud of. I appreciate his focus on authentic work and real craftsmanship; it’s work worth doing done well that creates student agency.
  • Having studied the rise of artificial intelligence for the last two years, I’ve come back to deeper learning convinced that it may be the preparation that we know of. We can support it with personalized learning, but we’re relearning Dewy and Sizer’s lessons and can build a new consensus around them–school as an interesting and powerful place to be, with experiences aimed at a broad set of outcomes.
  • In upper division secondary, I’d love to see accelerated work and learn career ladders where young people could start to earn good money by the time they are 18 years old while gaining an initial credential. The level of postsecondary debt young people are taking on is insane and unsustainable. As ASU’s Michael Crow has said, no one should take out educational loans for more than the cost of a starter car–something you can pay off in three years–because that’s how long most of the value will last.
  • As we discovered in our GenerationDoItYourself campaign, it is no longer wise to enroll in college without a clear objective and path (preferably a sponsored path) that helps you achieve your goals. It’s increasingly possible for anyone (with competent guidance) to construct a super efficient and affordable pathway from secondary to a work/learn ladder of entrepreneurship.

For more, see:

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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1 Comment


Lots of potential in technology, personalized learning, community partnerships, networks, etc, etc. While progress in these areas may disrupt educational systems we need to make sure they are revolutionizing learning as well. For example, I used to teach in a charter school organization with a "personalized learning" model and a platform designed by some of Silicon Valley's finest engineers, yet learning followed the traditional flow of lesson --> test or lesson --> project. We just can't seem to get away from the idea that "In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson." If we want to develop life long learners then how might we make the learning better resemble life itself?

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