21st century skills and the future of learning

I know of no better way to leap beyond the current debate over whether 21st century “learning” or “skills” are anything different (and therefore worthy of educators’ special attention) than to spend an hour exploring the new education trends presented by the Ohio-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, which they’ve titled 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning. This isn’t your grandma’s education experience we’re moving into. The contexts of learning are going to be fundamentally different, whatever cries you may be hearing from the core knowledge lifeboats.

Many will recall the “Map of Future Forces Affecting Education” published in 2006 through a KnowledgeWorks partnership with the venerable The Institute for the Future, a 40-year old nonprofit research center specializing in long-term forecasting. Since then, KWF leaders have made presentations on the Map at many major conferences, piquing some interest but perhaps not reaching a larger audience because of the Map’s “strange factor” (visit and you’ll see what I mean).

At the new Forecast website, the map metaphor has been moved to the background in favor of a more user-friendly tab/jump approach – although KWF considers the 2006 Map on ongoing resource. They explain:

The first Map helped all those concerned about education to engage with the future, and, as a result, make better decisions in the present. The 2006-2016 Education Map is still relevant, but the trends presented have evolved and deepened over the past few years. The 2020 Forecast represents both new trends and the evolution of the themes from the 2006 Map.

We encourage you to review key documents and research from the 2006-2016 Education Map as they are still valid and meaningful in the context of today’s world and the 2020 Forecast.

The new website’s presentation is designed around these themes: Knowledge, Economy, Society, Systems, Organizations, and Self. The content is also more proactive, with many paths leading to recommended activities. To offer a single example, clicking on Society reveals this question: “Your sense of community and your own identity are changing in a global society. How will you shape our shared world?” Click on Learn More and you find the Driver of Change labeled “A New Civic Discourse,” with appropriate discussion and action resources. To the right you’ll find related Trends you can explore. Here’s KWF’s summary of the Civil Discourse change driver (the unusual terms can all be explored as well):

The convergence of participatory media culture, diverse diasporic movements (the formation of dispersed populations that share common roots and identity), and frameworks for creating new commons (bottom-up means of managing shared resources) set the stage for re-articulating identity and community in a global society.

Education will find itself a contested resource in the crossroads of these forces of change. It will become part of the civic discourse in multiple new kinds of public forums and spaces as “educitizens” make visible the status of schools and of educational decision-making, resources, and activities in their communities.School administrators, district level staff, and teachers will need to learn how to communicate and interact in a bottom-up world of engaged educitizens.

That’s something different, don’t you think? The Future of Learning homepage includes a link to KWF’s previously established “The Future of Education Is Here” blog – which has shifted its emphasis to news and commentary that relate to the Forecast. If you’re still fond of paper and ink, you can order a print copy (up to 150) at no cost, or download and print yourself.

There are so many fresh and challenging perspectives in the Forecast content that it’s better to point you toward it than try to summarize very much of it. I’ll leave you with the homepage teaser:

A Radically Different World

If you think our future will require better schools, you’re wrong.

The future of education calls for entirely new kinds of learning environments.

If you think we will need better teachers, you’re wrong.

Tomorrow’s learners will need guides who take on fundamentally different roles.

As every dimension of our world evolves so rapidly, the education challenges of tomorrow will require solutions that go far beyond today’s answers.

As America sets out to spend hundreds of billions on school innovations and “reforms,” how many education and policy leaders are even aware of the carefully considered trends and issues embedded in this Forecast? I hope it’s more than the perhaps too-cynical observers of eduworld like myself might predict.

— john norton

Image: Transliteracy, from the KWF website.

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