I was recently sent an email and asked to identify some of the challenges I see for the future of learning in education. These are things that I have noticed through my travels and after countless conversations with educators, and things that I have seen in my work.
Although I am providing challenges, I am not necessarily giving solutions but am using this space to work out some of my ideas.
1. Focusing on deep learning that is extremely hard to quantify in a world that is placing more value on everything being quantified.
The term “data-driven” is one that has driven me crazy for some time now. But the focus on reducing everything to letters and numbers is not unique to education. I often think of the movie “Moneyball,” and how baseball teams are moving toward sports analytics in scouting and putting teams together.
But “deep learning” is much harder to quantify, especially if we believe that there are multiple solutions to any given problem.
And these “unquantifiable skills” are necessary when we live in a time where if a job can be automated, it probably will.
According to the “World Economic Forum,” these are the “10 Skills” that will be needed for the future of work.
A couple of things about this image.
a) Many of those skills listed are very hard to measure through the use of mere numbers.
b) The purpose of school is not solely to prepare students for a workforce, but if you look at those skills listed, can they not go into many aspects of life? If schools were to develop the skills listed needed for 2020, the hope is that we are not merely preparing our students for the future, but we are preparing them to create a better future.
We need to focus less on helping students suit a path, and more on students creating their own way. The shift in the world to focusing more on the “data” is often preparing students for a box that will no longer exist.
DO NOT READ THE LAST POINT IN SAYING THAT WE SHOULD NOT FOCUS ON THE “BASICS.”
It is that we need to go so much further beyond what we know, to what we create with what we know.
This is one of my favourite quotes from Katie Martin, author of “Learner-Centred Innovation”:
How we measure things in a time where we are trying to do things that are extremely hard to measure is a major challenge for education.
This leads to the next point.
2. Shifting mindsets of what learning is about what learning can be in the future. How do we take advantage of the opportunities in front of us and leverage them instead of pushing them away?
There is often a push that many adults are successful because of what they did in school, and I will readily admit, there are many things that I did during my time as a student that has benefitted me considerably today. But many of those things were taught outside of the classroom. Playing sports taught me leadership skills, work ethic, and how to work with a team. Participating in drama after school taught me many of the skills that I use as a speaker today. As noted in the last point, learning basic skills were beneficial to me today, but I am not sure that I really walked out of school “loving to learn,” but I developed that much later in my adult life.
I struggle with “programs” that are meant to fix schools, and it is why I have focused on “mindset” helping to develop our skill-set. My friend AJ Juliani sums this up beautifully:
The only constant we can count on is change. Embracing change and creating positive change are skills of the mind that we have to develop in ourselves as well as our students. If things didn’t change over time, we would all still be writing in hieroglyphics, but literacy, like learning, is an ever-evolving process.
3. How do we focus more on keeping our humanity in education and learning while there is so much focus on technology and automation?
Technology is everywhere, and although that creates great opportunity, we also have to ensure that we keep our humanity. It is easy to criticize and challenge people when you are behind a keyboard because you do not necessarily see the impact that you had on another human being. The few seconds it takes to make a harsh criticism to an individual online, could make a negative effect on the receiver of the comment for days, months, or even longer.
This is not to say that we don’t challenge one another for growth, but how we do it is crucial. I have found irony in the fact that I know many people who tweet about the importance of “mental health” have also stated the importance of “developing a thick skin” when dealing with criticism that tends to focus more on the person than the idea. If we use technology to dehumanize one another, I want no part of it.
So how does this apply beyond society and to the future of learning? Many schools are moving toward the notion of “personalized learning” which, in many ways, looks like a computer learns the students, and modifies to their individual needs. To me, this often looks “personalized and dehumanizing” at the same time.
On the other hand, the “personalization of learning” says something much different to me. In my time working with Del Mar schools this past year, their focus on this was more about knowing the students and building learning around their passions, interests, and strengths, while still teaching the curriculum. Here is an easy way to think of it; as a child, I hated reading in schools because I was continuously forced to read things that I hated. If I had the opportunity to read non-fiction in schools (beyond textbooks) and focus on sports, I probably would have walked out of school loving reading and learning, and wouldn’t have had to develop that on my own. Even Fountas and Pinnell, the educators who developed the “leveling system” that many schools use today, say you should focus more on “interest” than “level.”
If schools only focus on “content,” they are already irrelevant. Content can be found anywhere. But if we focus first on relationships and our humanity, while teaching content in compelling and empowering ways that put the needs of the learner first, the future of schools will always be safe.
The challenges I have listed above are ones that can be easily solved and used as ways for schools to thrive in the future, but it will take a compelling vision and educators working together to create opportunities that take advantage of the time we live in, not ignore it.