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5 Future Trends That Will Impact the Learning Ecosystem

Andrea Saveri

Saveri Consulting: Foresight, Design, and Strategy in Education
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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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Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Christie McKee's picture
Christie McKee
Regional Director of Educational Partnerships at Quantum Learning

Thank you for your advocacy for change in education. While the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur are so immediately needed in our schools, we also find few resources to prepare our students. I have known Derek Leubbe for about a year and have supported his work with simCEO to provide an engaging classroom simulation to get to the heart of this issue. Derek is a high school principal who developed this simulation from a need he saw while teaching economics. He a great example of taking this educational product to market and using it to spur a company that tries to help students learn differently, thinking like an entrepreneur, without the goal of right and wrong answers.
SimCEO recently won an SIIA Incubator Award and hopes to be an example of this grassroots innovation that will speak to change in education.

Phillip Davis's picture
Phillip Davis
Community College IT Professor

Great article. I witnessed the use of Knowillage for Canvas that allows exactly trend #2 precisely. With Knowillage, an instructor or student can select precisely what the need to learn from a Body of Knowledge and receive feedback and learning for those KSAs.

Phillip Davis's picture
Phillip Davis
Community College IT Professor

Here's a perfect example from Capella of Prediction #2

FlexPath is a direct assessment model that offers the potential to significantly reduce the cost of a degree, accelerate the time required for degree completion, and better align learning to the needs of learners and employers. Traditional degree programs are constructed around credit hours that measure the time required to complete specific courses. Within the FlexPath model, however, degree programs are built around the direct assessment of demonstrated competencies and the application of learning.

How does FlexPath work?

Allows learners to leverage their knowledge and experience when earning their degree, offering an even more efficient pathway while maintaining the academic rigor for which Capella is known. This competency-based format allows the FlexPath learner to earn the same degree as other Capella students, only in a different way.

Demonstrate specific competencies by completing a series of authentic assessments designed by instructors who are experts in the fields they teach.

Work at their own pace, moving quickly on subjects in which they are already proficient or more slowly when needed, without preset due dates or weekly discussions.

Receive substantive feedback from faculty within 48 hours of submitting an assessment.

Use any materials and resources they choose, including textbooks, eBooks, simulations, videos, articles and work experiences.

Be measured on demonstration of these skills, not through grades or a GPA.

Antonio Lopez's picture
Antonio Lopez
Undergraduate media studies teacher in a study abroad program

I'm sorry, but if this is the future of education, I really don't want to be part of it. There are elements in this article I agree with, such as looking at the student's educational environment as a learning ecosystem. However, the character of the emerging ecosystem described here is somewhat disturbing. It is one in which education is increasingly privatized and marketized. It prepare learners to become permanent labor reserves for corporations in which they will never get any benefits. It is a world with no social net. I really don't want to support that kind of a future. It seems to me that we need to make a greater effort to invest in and strengthen public education, not undermine it for the benefit of educational software entrepreneurs (which often tend to be multinational media corporations).

Margarita Finkel's picture
Margarita Finkel
Social media for e-learning & technology

Great article.

Here is Sir Ken Robinson advocates creativity as necessity of future education. He said "Creativity this days as important as literacy... If you are not prepared to be wrong you would never come up with anything original".

I believe that we have to thoroughly think about definition of creativity and how to implement it in to a classroom. Here are some ideas from teacher, PhD Roberto Cataluno
I try to give my students the chance:
-to express innovative ideas
- to design projects according to those ideas
- to create objects around those ideas
- to discuss those objects and projects with their peers
- to refine anything of the above to improve the overall outcome

More about creativity and its future:

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"


Learning ecosystem!

Disruptive tools!

Learning analytics with insights from brain-based science!

Adaptive courseware!

District adaptability!

Learning agents!

Deep-place, partnership schools!

Personal mosaics!

Open data initiatives!

Corporate-speak phrases! I don't know what they really mean!

STEAM enthusiast's picture
STEAM enthusiast
Seventh grade science teacher from Fairfax, Virginia

So true, Dixie Diarist and Antonio Lopez.

I do refect upon my past school year and try to make changes for the new school year. This article provides food for thought, but no tangible strategies. Schools are presently structured in a way that these new trends are, indeed, frightening for the least able and most economically disadvantaged of my students. If these are the trends, I see a widening gap.

As education gets more personalized it appears to be less, not more, community enhancing. It appears to create a world that is more competitve and less empathetic, very present moment, not long term.

Unless we are able to embrace these changes in a differently structured school environment, I do not see these trends creating postive changes.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Andrea, these are some really interesting ideas. As a pragmatic idealist, I appreciate the ideas espoused here- and the innovation behind them- but I also wonder about the "hows and for whoms" other commenters have mentioned. Particularly since so much of my work is focused on social justice and equity issues, I wonder about those kids STEAM described as "the least able and most economically disadvantaged of my students." How could we use these trends help to build relationships and communities?

Jeffrey M. Eisenbrey's picture

This design is the brainchild of certain parents I know among the high-tech billionaires. I have taught their children, many of whom would suffer terribly in overcrowded, underfunded public schools. Fortunately for these children, they attend elite private schools with vast resources that add to the already rarified atmosphere in which they are raised. The billionaire parents know what works for their children: small class sizes, extracurricular options, additional adult support in areas of challenge, schools that are bright, clean, safe, and well-equipped. Strangely, these same billionaires despise public school educators and the unions that make teaching barely-viable ways for talented people to work with children. They want a "guide at the side" to help children navigate the robotic landscape. The research, however, has shown that their innovations routinely fall far short. These ecosystems are less human, less compassionate, and less supportive of children -especially those children who are off the standard curve in any way, as so many of the billionaire children are. These learning systems are a nightmarish scenario to get something remarkably sub-standard foisted upon public school children.

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