This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
Nobody can truly claim to know what education will look like in the future. All we know is that in the digital transformation age, the walls of resistance to change in this sector will finally crumble and fall. The revolution will come from within and in the fringes of traditional education systems. It will become increasingly difficult for schools to have students sitting on school chairs for hours on end, restraining the use of their digital devices, and engaging them in subjects with no relevance to their day-to-day lives or future interests. The seeds of a student revolution are being planted today. We will see young people opting out of rigid 3-5 year degrees for flexible, short-term, competency-building informal education. Those forms of education will be provided by anyone other than colleges or universities, and those certified competencies will become more valuable to potential employers than a college degree.
Through this uncertainty, I can see 3 trends that are shaping the transformation.
TREND # 1: Personalized Learning
I don’t think the problem is a lack of awareness of the flaws of the traditional educational model. There is consensus around the fact that every student is unique and learning should be tailored to that uniqueness. The educational system hasn’t been able to rise to the challenge, thus the process driven – “one shoe for all” educational model has prevailed. There was no cost-effective way to do any different. Today, there should be no more excuses. Digital transformation technology, such as Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, will enable educators to co-design personalized educational programs for each student, track individual learning outcomes, and put forth content and assessments, “just in time” and on a “need to know” basis for each student. Pass / Fail assessments will give way to levels of achievements, like they do in computer games, allowing each student to develop at their own pace. Personalized learning must be paired with increasing levels of student autonomy. As life-long learning becomes the norm, our ability to tailor our learning experiences to our needs, filter adequate learning resources, and follow through until reaching the desired learning outcomes, will make a difference in achieving objectives for ourselves, our teams, and society at large. We need our students to build the muscles of “Learning Agility”. Nothing else will serve them better in this new uncertain, ambiguous, changing world.
TREND # 2: Project based Learning
Motivation and Engagement are the fuel for learning. We can all relate to how passionate, persistent and disciplined we can become when we pursue something that is meaningful and important to us. Children are naturally curious and eager to make sense of the world they were born into. School curriculum is built around subjects with the purpose of acquiring current knowledge about specific fields that hopefully will make students able to solve future real world problems and navigate life challenges. The relevance of the subject matter for the student is postponed to a later day. They must not only trust that the grueling hours they have spent accumulating pieces of knowledge will pay off, but that they will also be able to integrate and make sense of all those isolated pieces, and then turn them into real world answers when it matters to them. But for that, they are left on their own.
We now live in a global complex ecosystem, with high levels of interdependence and accelerated change. Up to date knowledge is readily accessible. The lines between subjects are blurred. A transformation of the school curriculum is called for. It must be built around increasingly complex real world challenges, allowing for curiosity to guide the acquisition of knowledge, and for meaning to build engagement. Teachers will become architects/designers, and/or managers/guides and/or coaches/facilitators of learning experiences for their students. There is no lack of teacher imagination and creativity in developing project based learning, just lack of autonomy. Policy makers must allow a wider berth to educators in the field, setting only general guidelines and standards. Teaching roles will diversify and so will the programs fueling the pipeline. Cognitive-learning experts and researchers, learning projects designers, student coaches, academic data analysts, etc. will all be a part of the academic community.
Project based learning has the potential to bring eagerness and enthusiasm in students and teachers coming back to school in a “I just can’t wait for school to get started” attitude so absent today.
TREND # 3 – Diverse Learning Communities
In today’s highly diverse societies and organizations, the ability to get along and work with people having different ethnicity, age, gender, nationality, values, etc. is becoming extremely important. Yet we continue to place students in cohorts of the same age, and probably the same cultural, social and economic background and ethnicity. Even if efforts are made to make them work in teams, they are lacking in diversity. How can we expect them to build the emotional and social skills required to succeed in a diverse society and workplace?
Technology is making it very easy to create diverse learning communities that students can join based on their profiles, learning stage, and interests. Through their interactions with community members they will learn more about themselves by gaining valuable insights on their values and beliefs as they learn to deal with conflicting points of view in an open and respectful way. They will learn to “listen to understand” as opposed to “impose and judge”. Community managers will make sure to keep learning communities safe and in constructive mode by managing the rules of participation, and weeding out toxic members. We are close to reaching 100% real-time global connectivity. A good part of our day will be spent in several digital social, interest and work related global networks, rather than on one- to-one, face-to-face conversations with people we trust and know well. There is an increase in discussions guiding public policy and participation in solving society issues being held online through social networks. Learning early how to contribute in a meaningful and positive way on these networks, through tolerance and respect for diversity, may be the key to achieving world peace.
These 3 trends require a restructuring of the education system. The way it works must change. Unfortunately, obstacles will remain in the form of schools’ cultural resistance and outdated faculty unable or unwilling to learn to teach in this new paradigm. Also, in our government’s inability to keep up and make the necessary public policy and regulation changes that allows for innovation and transformation to flourish in the education sector.
Schools should seek long-term partnerships with educational technology companies or technology companies with education solutions to introduce and develop changes with adequate training and support for teachers. The private sector can also help by funding non-profit initiatives developing innovative and scalable new educational models and support their introduction in public and private schools.
Students aren’t going to wait. Even today, they are learning more about life outside of school by watching YouTube videos without any guidance. Educators shouldn’t turn their backs on this inevitable transformation. It’s uncharted territory, but as true pioneers, educators must dare to tread new paths for learning, applying these three trends as guiding stars.
Mariana Rodriguez Risco | Presidente Laureate Perú