Guest Post: Educators Can Shape the Future Now

by Katherine Prince, Vice President, Strategic Foresight, KnowledgeWorks

Personalized learning is a powerful tool for change. Among its many benefits, personalized learning improves educational equity by reorienting learning around young people’s needs, interests, and goals. It also positions today’s education systems to respond to future needs.

Those needs will be many. Changes brought on by technology will be met with shifts in the social landscape, including revisions to our economy, our neighbors and neighborhoods, our politics, and the stories we tell about them. Among them:

  • Our use of smart technologies will rewrite age-old assumptions about free will consent and intention even as they bring new prospects for personalization and efficiency to education.
  • In face of widespread change, young people could become vocal agents of change – or they could become silent passengers to the changes happening around them.
  • The cognitive profiles of tomorrow’s learners will look like no prior generation’s.
  • The ways in which we gauge success will either deepen or shrink systemic inequities.
  • Our streets, neighborhoods, and communities may change considerably in face of new waves of migration, changing labor structures, and environmental volatility.

If educators elect to ignore such changes, they will risk widening the equity gap, leaving too many learners unprepared and undermining learners’ agency. By taking informed action today, educators can position their learning communities to thrive in the emerging future.

Opportunities to Shape the Future of Learning

It can be overwhelming to move from examining changes in the broader environment to steering education toward a positive future. To meet this need, KnowledgeWorks convened a wide range of stakeholders to grapple with our latest ten-year forecast. From their exploration of future possibilities, we identified five opportunities to respond to the changing landscape.

These opportunities present a framework that educators can use to develop their own strategic agendas for future readiness. Three are particularly relevant to personalized learning.

KnowledgeWorks Learning Opportunities Chart

Civic Engagement for the Smart Age

At present, the civic sphere feels especially vulnerable and subject to change. It can also feel distant from the typical learning community. Yet, as the intellectual infrastructure of society, education is well positioned to take the lead in revitalizing a proactive citizenry and in developing the transformative voices needed for our time.

In particular, educators have the opportunity to create cultures of anti-bias in which all learners’ voices can be expressed and heard. They can examine their schools’ and districts’ offerings, curricula, and decisions for systemic bias and establish anti-bias reviews of programs and procedures. They can also convene discussions designed to surface bias and to confront the histories that anchor us in inequity.

Another strategy is to champion social responsibility, supporting learners in developing habits of self-governance and self-determination and reflecting on how they relate to broader society. Expanding governance roles for learners can help them gain direct experience of social participation.

A Learning Lifestyle

Embedding learning in the community fabric can help learners experience an array of learning opportunities and discover the joys of continuous personal growth.

To realize this goal, educators can reconsider the relationships that learning institutions have with their surrounding communities. Reimagining expertise to include individuals in addition to traditional educators can bring new perspectives and knowledge into the classroom, helping learners discover new value in the community around them.

In addition, recharging mentorships can help learners receive strong support from a range of partners and guides who can help shepherd their social-emotional development. Placing community members into expanded mentorship roles can also help learners build necessary social capital.

Even as expanding the range of people supporting learners could help learning communities respond to the changing landscape, elevating traditional educators can strengthen shared visions for learning and empower educators to exercise their creativity, enthusiasm, and leadership. Sustained public awareness and engagement campaigns could deepen understanding of educators’ impact and open new avenues for collaboration between educators and their communities.

Many Selves, Many Stories

Standardized curricula and assessments, along with outdated narratives of success that privilege certain pathways and ways of knowing, can limit authentic engagement. To address these concerns, educators can prioritize what matters most to learners and recognize the many versions of success in life while also preserving high expectations for learning. Helping learners draw value from their own experiences, cultivate personal resilience through self-discovery, and craft their own narratives of success can invest all learners with the voice and agency necessary to create their own senses of purpose.

To achieve this aim, educators can reappraise how they define success and broaden what kinds of pathways they support learners in pursuing. They can co-author new narratives of success alongside families, communities, and learners to ensure that those narratives reflect the aspirations of the people whose learning they measure.

Educators can also teach for self-discovery and healing, helping learners link their personal histories and identities to future visions of wellness and growth while addressing the impacts of factors such as trauma. Prioritizing learner agency can help learners achieve their goals and prepare for lifelong growth. In addition, linking the social to the self can help learners appreciate their own heritages and identities while evaluating how they might wish to contribute to their communities and to broader society.

Evolving for the Changing World

Today’s approaches to personalized learning are not the end. Instead, they represent crucial steps along the way toward increasingly human-centered and equitable learning. Evolving today’s approaches for the changing world promises to extend the impact of today’s innovations and to enable learning communities to serve all learners for the future that they will inhabit.

Katherine PrinceKatherine Prince leads KnowledgeWorks’ exploration of the future of learning. As Vice President, Strategic Foresight, she speaks and writes about the trends shaping education over the next decade and helps education stakeholders strategize about how to become active agents of change in shaping the future. She tweets as @katprince using the hashtags #NavigateFutureEd and #FutureEd and can be found on LinkedIn.

Katherine will be presenting a break-out session on this topic at the 2019 National Convening on Personalized Learning on October 7, 2019. For more on the opportunities described in this post, see KnowledgeWorks’ Navigating the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide.

Photos courtesy of Katherine Prince