The future of learning

The growing disconnect between the education we continue to serve and the learning our 21st century students demand cannot be ignored

Curriculum maps are well-meaning and eminently practical documents that have guided educators – and education – for years, but now a study where students create their own learning experiences will shed new light on the process of teaching and learning.

How these documents function in classrooms, schools, and districts is highly variable. They can be general skeletons, common to-do lists, or the ‘do-or-die’, ‘alpha and omega’ of planning and instruction, products of an education system seeking to establish some sort of common direction, pace, and coverage.

Traditionally, the first school-level factor is a guaranteed and viable curriculum, which has the most impact on student achievement. This ensures that no matter who teaches a given class, the curriculum will address essential content. But while a common and viable curriculum including units and lessons may indeed have the single greatest impact on student achievement, this is assuming that what we’re after is test born proficiency of academic standards.

Education has long-sought to encourage creativity in the classroom, but not necessarily by creating the means for students to become the creators of their own learning experience. If anything, this approach seems to fly in the face of both current academic standards, and the curriculum map itself. If learners are indeed to become creators of their own learning experience, then the “curriculum” becomes much more than academic content: it becomes a composite that embraces the networks, access, and endless modelling that these physical and digital networks provide to the students’ learning experience. [A1] 

This kind of “new curriculum” would inevitably redefine what students “study” since its goals would be defined by student experiences, their history, their passions, and geographical and socio-economic communities. The curriculum is authentically personalised, based on thinking and making (which is internal and intrinsic) rather than an ability to parrot a carefully choreographed teacher-inspired “performance”.

Obviously we need to marry new concepts with trusted approaches. The burden of reconciliation and proof has always fallen on those seeking to make substantial change, which implies that we are obliged to make a compelling case for radical change.

Historically, policy makers find it challenging to bridge new learning pathways with existing means of assessment, accountability, training, and other moving parts of public education. We “schoolify” and over-rationalise all the best ideas and thinking until their magic and efficacy are lost in analysis.

Yet the growing disconnect between the education we continue to serve and the learning our 21st century students demand cannot be ignored. We need to explore new ways of teaching and we need to break away from modes of teaching which remain rooted in the last century. Students cannot continue to be treated as mere receptacles of knowledge, when they are in fact, communicators, connectors and collaborators in their own right. We need to encourage teachers and parents to challenge long-standing mindsets that associate teaching and learning with the use of textbooks and academic resources and the teacher’s obligation to teach is limited to testing the student.

The use of technology inside and outside the classroom is a start in encouraging students to create their own learning experiences. Technology will enrich and update learning and start to introduce some notion of parity in the networking between students and teachers. We need to nurture the right conditions within our schools such that students can indeed collaborate with their teachers in developing and sharing education content. Within this context, teachers become the trusted guide to connect students with the right resources and construct more personalised learning pathways.

The trust relationships that teachers nurture with students are likely to have a much more long-lasting impact on young people’s education than the assimilation of prescriptive content. In a scenario where information is available online, on demand, 24 x 7, teachers also need to evolve into co-learners, whose focus is to empower students to regard themselves as the ones who really made a difference in their education and lifelong learning journey.

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