Strategize for Preferred Futures of Learning Today


By: Katherine Prince.

The next decade promises to deepen the impacts that smart machines and the code that powers them have already begun to have on human activities and relationships. Social, economic, and environmental changes will interact with technological developments to place increasing strain on our institutions and on our ways of approaching education. At the same time, external developments could also release some current logjams, opening new possibilities for teaching and learning.

In face of this tension, education leaders, influencers, and innovators have the opportunity to envision and pursue new ways of supporting the healthy development of young people, effective lifelong learning, and community vitality. They also have the imperative to do so.

Today, too many kids are falling through the cracks or languishing in learning deserts. As everyday life changes dramatically over the next decade, the equity gap could widen, leaving too many learners unprepared and undermining learners’ agency. But if education stakeholders take hold of emerging trends, they could cultivate their institutions to be tomorrow’s innovators, preparing their learning communities to thrive in a world of acceleration, complexity, and uncertainty.

 Making the Most of This Moment

To help education stakeholders seize this opportunity, KnowledgeWorks created a strategy guide for responding to the changing landscape as described in our most recent forecast on the future of learning. Navigating the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide was informed by two workshops where we invited learners, along with people occupying a range of roles across K-12, postsecondary, and community-based learning, to grapple with what our forecast might suggest for their organizations and others like them.

Based on their input, my colleagues and I are calling on education leaders, innovators, and influencers to create and pursue strong visions for the future of learning. We hope, that in ten years’ time:

  • Learning is equitable, comprehensive and inclusive
  • Learning is human-centered
  • Learning pathways are limitless
  • Education is structured and governed as an ecosystem
  • Education decision-makers balance short-term needs with long-term aspirations
  • Education is capable of systemic transformation so that it can keep evolving.

Strategies for the Future of Learning

These aspirations will not come into being in a widespread way without focused strategies and action—especially given how entrenched education and other systems can be and how rapidly the world is changing. We see five opportunities for moving toward a shared horizon in education.

These opportunities promise to help education leaders, influencers, and innovators respond to the forces of change shaping education while shepherding their learning ecosystems toward more equitable futures and demonstrating leadership in revitalizing our democracy.

Taking a Closer Look

The first opportunity centers on civic engagement for the smart age. It invites us to ask how we might activate inclusive forms of civic engagement aligned to the realities of the twenty-first century. At present, the civic sphere feels especially vulnerable and subject to change. As the intellectual infrastructure of society, education is well positioned to take the lead in supporting learners of all ages and backgrounds in using their voices and expressing their visions for the future.

The second opportunity emphasizes the importance of a learning lifestyle. It encourages us to explore how we might embed schools into their environments to make learning a joyful, lifelong practice for everyone. Education leaders, innovators, and influencers can reconsider the relationships that learning institutions have with their surrounding communities. Bringing fresh thinking to the question of how schools fit into their environments promises to open new avenues for inspiring joyful, lifelong learning practices and achieving system-wide equity.

The third opportunity invites new thinking about systemic interdependence. It explores how we might forge structural partnerships within education and across other sectors for the benefit of all. To help address resource constraints and other challenges, stakeholders can recognize themselves as part of a learning ecosystem, leveraging existing partnerships—and building new ones—with diverse institutions and organizations from across their communities and states. They can draw upon the strengths of these webs of exchange to lead the way toward writing their own futures, instead of waiting for policy to reform or new funds to materialize.

Fourth, we need to address issues related to smart technologies for all. This opportunity raises the urgent question of how we might ensure the ethical use of smart technologies, such as artificial intelligence and neuro-enhancement tools, in education. These technologies could enable new approaches and efficiencies in education, including greater personalization and stronger learner supports. But they also have the potential to unleash unintended consequences that could deepen structural inequities or undermine learning communities’ core values. Education stakeholders need to steward these tools carefully so as to enhance the experience of all learners while also addressing current and potential inequities.

Lastly, the fifth opportunity centers on many selves, many stories. It asks how we might value students’ lived experiences and identities to help them craft purpose-driven pathways to motivate ongoing, engaged learning. Education stakeholders can foster authentic engagement in learning—which we know to be a key factor in student achievement—by creating opportunities for learners to bridge their lived experiences and identities with their learning. This means broadening standardized curricula and assessments and revisiting definitions of success while preserving high expectations for student learning.

Helping learners draw value from their own experiences, cultivate personal resilience through self-discovery, and craft their own narratives of success promises to invest all learners with the voice and agency necessary to create their own senses of purpose and guide their own learning and lives.

Seizing These Opportunities

KnowledgeWorks’ strategy guide, Navigating the Future of Learning, highlights strategies and tactics associated with each of these opportunities, drawing on the insights of workshop participants. It also includes questions to help with applying this strategic guidance to your context.

During this time of rapid, complex, and sometimes confusing change, we need to lead with vision. We need to bring people together to imagine what they want for the future. Stakeholders across the field have the opportunity to dream anew about what is possible for learning and to help all learners reach the horizon of human-centered, equitable, and limitless learning. It is becoming increasingly urgent that education leaders, influencers, and innovators become active agents of change who meet the challenges and opportunities of the changing landscape head on, employing focused strategies designed to navigate toward new horizons for the future of learning.

Katherine Prince is Vice President of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks; follow her on Twitter @katprince.

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