7 Key Criteria for Learning Innovation

by Brenda Vogds and Jim Rickabaugh

In recent months there has been a whirlwind of discussion about learning loss for our children exiting the pandemic. Great Schools Partnership states “The term learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” Where this definition and the conversation fall short is in the assumption that our learners only need academic experiences in order to be successful. While academics will always remain an essential component of future success, the skill sets our children gain from formalized education must also include essential life skills such as determination, problem solving, critical thinking, and perseverance.     

Our challenge as we begin to exit the pandemic is the same one we faced pre-pandemic — to give our students experiences that accelerate their learning, build their learning skills, and prepare them for success in a rapidly evolving workplace. We also want them to build and enjoy a rewarding and satisfying life. Unfortunately, for too many students their pre-pandemic school experiences fell short of meeting this challenge. Now, as we look to what lies ahead we have an opportunity to make changes that will deliver on this promise. 

With that in mind, what criteria will define learning experiences, programs, and opportunities that will deliver what we seek? What indicators point to the type of learning that will serve our students well for a lifetime? Here are seven criteria to consider as we design for innovative learning:

Build learning skills and motivation to learn. No longer is it enough for students to absorb what is presented to them. Not all learning will come from a professional who provides organized, sequenced, easy-to-follow instruction. The world is changing quickly, and learning will be a lifelong pursuit. Knowing how to learn will be crucial. The ability to learn independently will be a differentiator. In addition, we need to instill in students a motivation to learn, including the curiosity and confidence to pursue what may not yet be known.

Nurture ownership of new skills and knowledge. Traditionally, students have often seen learning as something they do in response to adult expectations and to avoid unpleasant consequences. The learning experiences we offer going forward must lead students to see value and take pride in what they learn, and be something they want to do in response to goals and purposes they own.

Place the learner at the center of experiences. Instruction and other learning activities must begin where the students are, not where we would like them to be, or the curriculum imagines them to be. Learning needs to be responsive to the readiness and needs of learners, not driven by a standardized routine, pre-set schedule, or a predetermined pace. The guiding questions must be, “What is this learner ready to learn?” and “What does he or she need to move to the next level?”

Nurture goal setting and “way finding” skills. Goal setting and the skills and habits necessary to reach them have always been important life skills. However, in the workplaces where our students will build and spend their careers, knowing where they are going and charting the way to reach their destinations will become even more important to their success and satisfaction.

Build commitment to consistent quality in learning and work. We can no longer assume that students will work in environments where supervisors will monitor their work to ensure that it meets quality standards. As freelance, contract, and other flexible work roles play an ever-larger role in the workplace landscape, delivering consistent quality will be essential. Long-term success likely will be determined by the level and consistency of quality present in products and services workers deliver.

Provide opportunities to use new learning to generate new solutions, applications, and ideas. It is no longer enough for learners to apply what they learn in predictable and predetermined contexts. Learning that prepares students for their future needs to include a generative component that reveals how they can enhance and add to the value of what they learn.

Grow personal and professional networks. Work is becoming a social activity. New ideas, innovation, and novel solutions increasingly are the products of teams. Connections, relationships, and networks open doors to resources, supports, and opportunities that will be crucial for success. Learning experiences must build networking strategies and skills if we hope to prepare students to succeed and enjoy a rich life.  

The future of work is changing rapidly. The pandemic has accelerated emerging trends and stimulated others that promise to transform work as previous generations knew it. We must commit today to give students the experiences and build the skills necessary for success and satisfaction regardless of the life paths they choose.