Education Trends

5 Future Trends That Will Impact the Learning Ecosystem

June 19, 2013
Image credit: iStockPhoto

As summer reflections on the past school year turn into aspirations for the next year, it's important to keep in mind the big picture of change in education. Five shifts in how we think about schools and education in general will help to regenerate the learning ecosystem, and will provoke our imagination about new possibilities for teaching and learning.

1. Democratized Entrepreneurship

Democratized entrepreneurship will spread an entrepreneurial mindset among learners, educators and communities, accelerating a groundswell of grassroots innovation.

Entrepreneurship is no longer reserved for those few with the resources to buffer risk and the social capital to access expertise and guidance. An emergent social and financial infrastructure is rapidly growing and cultivating practical know-how about entrepreneurship and helping to regenerate the learning ecosystem. Incubators, startup mentor networks, funding platforms, and innovation summits such as Startl, ImagineK12, Startup Weekend EDU and Big Ideas Fest will proliferate and attract creative risk-takers and do-it-yourselfers from diverse domains, and provide them with the resources and support to turn their ideas into practical, marketable solutions that remake classrooms, schools and communities. Over the next decade, democratized access to investment capital and startup know-how in education can turn any teacher, parent or student into an edupreneur, accelerating the diffusion of disruptive tools, models and applications for organizing teaching and learning.

To take advantage of this trend: Begin to cultivate an edupreneurial mindset of experimentation, risk-taking, learning from failure, creative problem-solving, and market awareness in your classroom, and expand it to your school and district.

2. Personalization Strategies

Next-generation personalization strategies will combine learning analytics with insights from brain-based science to provide more contextualized feedback and create high-fidelity learning environments.

Sophisticated learning analytic tools and adaptive courseware have been an important factor in creating personalized learning pathways in hybrid, or blended, classrooms such as San Francisco Flex Academy and the School of One. Next-generation personalized learning strategies and tools will include insights from brain-based learning and emotion science, such as those from the Stanford Math Brain Project and the RULER program from Yale University. Sophisticated analytics and adaptive tools will help educators provide preemptive and continuous whole-person support based on factors such as learners' health, environments and social contexts, as well as their academic performance. In addition to data strategies that match students to instructional modes, personalization strategies will shift to include creating a richer cognitive environment that supports focus, attention, memory and healthy relationship building for all learners.

To take advantage of this trend: Find ways to enrich your students' cognitive environment through social-emotional skills and brain-based insights

3. Diversification of School Formats

A creative explosion of school formats will utilize diverse strategies and structures for organizing learning experiences to increase district adaptability and responsiveness.

As the costs of coordinating talent with learning resources and convening learning communities decline rapidly, diverse and flexible forms of hyper-focused schools will multiply. What began as a "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) movement may well evolve into a "create-your-own-school" movement in the next decade as new intermediaries, learning agents, parents and learners collaborate to weave vibrant value webs for teaching and learning. Diverse "school" formats will include:

  • Agile schools that creatively combine hybrid approaches and social media classroom strategies
  • Virtual academies that flexibly serve highly motivated, self-directed learners with custom pacing and sequencing
  • Deep-place, partnership schools that structure learning around neighborhood innovation, service and design thinking
  • Custom micro schools that take homeschooling to the next level by integrating social networks, online resources and relationships with community organizations

To take advantage of this trend: Identify ways that your district can diversify its school formats to serve the multiple and changing needs of the community and its learners.

4. Changing Certification Methods

A diversity of certification mechanisms will flourish as talent clouds and extreme career mobility shape employment.

In the future, work will increasingly be organized by talent clouds -- networks of skilled professionals and para-professionals like oDesk and eLance, that coordinate work activities and match specialized skills with interaction-based tasks. Career readiness will shift from a static benchmark to a continuous and dynamic need over a lifetime, requiring self-directed learning that is closely aligned to the needs of shifting industries. Individuals will assemble the right combinations of learning experiences and credentials to meet their lifelong learning needs and to communicate their performance and mastery. Career pathways will become less tied to the requirements of a single institution or industry. Instead, they will more closely resemble personal mosaics of skills and experiences that will be documented through a multitude of alternate credentials, certificates and reputation markers.

To take advantage of this trend: Help students of all ages communicate their meta-learning -- their insights about their skills, the application of their skills, and evidence of their learning.

5. Transforming Urban Learning Landscapes

Cities as open, collaborative civic labs will help transform urban learning landscapes into flexible service platforms.

Next-generation cities are emerging out of a combination of open data initiatives and urban hackathons, an expanding DIY culture, and increased access to maker tools and small-scale fabrication technologies, such as TechShop, MakerFaire and FabLabs. The result is an increase in flexible, citizen-oriented services, local pop-up businesses and markets, and vibrant micro-economies in cities. Over the next decade, urban schools and educators will link learning projects and inquiry to city challenges and become true innovation and design partners. More immersive, public-facing, design- and service-oriented schools and programs such as Berkeley's REALM Charter School and project Breaker will become important sources of inspiration and problem-solving for cities.

To take advantage of this trend: Identify community partners with whom you can develop relationships that support purposeful curriculum based on solving real problems.

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