This week in New Orleans, I once again have the honor of co-presenting with John Gulla, Executive Director of the EE Ford Foundation. Between us we have visited and worked with something like 400+ schools over the last five years. This will be the fourth time that John and I have shared our thoughts about the future of education at a large event, in addition to the many discussions that helped me frame some of my thinking about the inevitable future of education in Moving the Rock.
For our New Orleans presentation, John and I decided to each pick just five big ideas that we think schools should be thinking about. I think of these as “horizon pushers”; critical or inevitable trends that will frame the future of education…and that probably are not being considered nearly seriously enough by the vast majority of schools today.
Here are my five; I will report on John’s after I hear his full articulation later this week.
ONE: Schools must become systems centered on learning and constant growth related to emerging challenges in an increasingly uncertain world. Big learning challenges we can identify right now include the nature of civil discourse; the nature of, and respect for, expertise; separating fact, opinion, and fiction; and global environmental sustainability. These essential learning goals must form the future equivalent of basic literacy and numeracy around which education was designed in the middle of the 19th century. They cut across subject, discipline, and age. Success at educating the next generation around these big, thorny issues means that we empower the future of civil, rational, democratic society. If we fail at these challenges, all of the rest is a waste of time.
TWO: While we will battle for equity, evolution is not kind. Evolutionary winners will be those that adapt in a global system that empowers consumers to make choices in nearly all aspects of their lives. Individual schools and entire genres of the current education paradigm will likely not make it through this period of evolution. Schools will close; jobs will go away or shift to non-traditional settings. The number of students who need education is not falling radically, so new learning structures are already arising to take the place of those that do not evolve to meet future needs.
THREE: Technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, if combined with effective new pedagogies, will transcend the physical and temporal boundaries of what we think of today as “school”. Much of tour current educational technology is highly transactional; it pushes the same content more efficiently. Evolving technologies will allow highly relational learning to take place without the constraints of a physical campus or building, one teacher or one subject at a time. These technologies will allow students and teachers to effectively create, share, and learn with anyone on the planet who is connected to the internet, in ways that leverage, not bypass, the best of relation-rich pedagogy.
FOUR: What we know as powerful intrinsic motivations for learning—passion, interest, and relevance—will replace what we know are the less effective extrinsic motivations of our schools: grades, test results, and standardized college admissions criteria. Both K-12 and college educators are waking up to the deep harm that has been created by assessment systems that fail to measure both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities that we actually value. It will take time, but over the next two decades, we either will have re-married intrinsic motivation to learning and assessment per the ageless wisdom of John Dewey and the other founding progressivists, or we will have utterly failed to match our education with the outcomes we need.
FIVE: Differentiated value, the kind of value that leads to evolutionary success, will be found at the margins of our past perspective, where we take only what is absolutely most valuable from our past, and combine those treasured artifacts with revolutionary ideas and approaches. Schools that “win” in this evolutionary period will be those that look well beyond their own walls and the experiences of their own stakeholders to find innovative value. They will combine the stripped down core elements of great learning, with novel production, delivery, communication, and assessment strategies that may have never been seen before in what we think of as “school”.
These are not optional issues that may crop up in an annual strategic retreat, only to be set aside as the “urgent” of running a school inevitably shoves aside the “important”. And this is not an exhaustive list; they are my five…for today. Which would you keep? What would you add? There is no “right” list, and there is only one “wrong” approach: Not pushing your strategic thinking out to these horizons.
For more on these topics, Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Push to Transform Education, is now available for order or download.