What will learning look like in the near future?

Someone recently asked me, “What do you believe schools will look like in five years?” Until recently, I would have had an insightful response that included something about individualizing instruction for all students, utilizing technology to bridge gaps, incorporating more authentic, project-based learning and blurring the lines between subject areas. Today, however, I am not sure that would be my answer.  I am not certain what schools will look like in five years.  Look at how much they’ve changed in the past two years.

As much as I want to avoid referring to the pandemic, schools have had to make giant leaps in a short amount of time.  No one projected that things like individualized learning and leveraging technology to learn regardless of location would be “normal” so quickly, yet here we are.

And despite the fact we collectively hit the fast forward button on learning reform, there continue to be inequities to overcome.  Broadband access to enable students to learn outside of school or in nontraditional ways is not ubiquitous.  Resources, including those needed to continually train educators, vary by school depending on their location, socio-economic status, and so on.  Last but not least, the obstacles schools have faced over the past two years made worse an already significant pre-pandemic shortage of qualified educators.

What I’ve observed is that some schools have done an amazing job managing the challenges, some have struggled mightily and a few are in the middle just trying to get by.  There’s hope of course.  The whole experience has taught us a lot about change, and has galvanized the definition of equity and excellence.  

So, when asked what schools will look like in five years, the most logical response could be a resounding “I don’t know.” Of course I would follow that by saying what I believe to be important is not what they look like, but how prepared they are to handle change.  And the answer has more to do about the learning process than school itself.

Access to learning will continue to vary based on each context, so systems and practices need to be equitable and value diversity.  Methods of learning will be constantly evolving, so educators and students need to have experiences and resources that enable them to be agile and entrepreneurial. 

Finally,  external forces will increasingly work to affect the perception about what students are learning, so school leaders and boards will need resources to communicate their message and the stamina to endure direct and indirect mettling by those not responsible for the educational system.

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