Future of Learning Top Reads for week of August 7

If you want to sketch the contours of the future of learning, it helps to read beyond educational publications. Here are 3 short articles that can help you sense the shape of where learning will (or should) go next:


"The majority of Harvard's incoming class is nonwhite," by Deirdre Fernandes / @fernandesglobe, in the Boston Globe

"The majority of students accepted into the incoming freshman class at Harvard University are not white, the second year in a row an institution that prides itself on educating future presidents, CEOs, and world leaders has reached that milestone."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? This news is a leading indicator: demographically, the United States will be a majority-minority country within the next three decades. As a spokesperson for the university said of this news, "To become leaders in our diverse society, students must have the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives." In the future, schools that thrive will design for pluralism.  For more on the power of pluralism, I strongly recommend Whiplash, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe, which has a chapter titled "Diversity over Ability." Ito and Howe argue, "Due to an increasing body of research demonstrating that diverse groups are more productive in a wide range of applications, diversity is becoming a strategic imperative." I would add that it is table stakes for a just and equitable community.


"Survey: College business officers are increasingly concerned about financial stability," by Pat Donachie / @patdonachie, in EducationDive

"71% of chief business officers indicated that they agreed with an assessment that higher ed institutions were facing financial turmoil, an 8% jump from the year prior. [...] [T]he biggest challenges to retention and student trust in higher ed institutions may require a holistic reassessment of how a school intends to educate and credential students."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? The average student now graduates from college with $30K in debt and a credential that likely has prepared her for a job won't exist in the near future. In addition, supply (too many colleges) and demand (too few students) are out of balance. I am an optimist about most of education, because it is built upon a belief in fulfilling human potential. But that won't pay the bills. Kevin Carey provided an early cogent diagnosis in The Future of College, in which he pointed out that "credentials are the true business of education." In the future, schools that thrive will re-align their credentialing to account for exponential technologies, which will cause widespread disruption. Other colleges will disappear. This is not just the task of higher ed: K12 must ensure that their students can create with exponential technologies. [On the plus side, Georgia Tech is using lessons learned from its exceptional online Masters in Engineering to "shave off up to a year and a half of in-person instruction for students pursuing a bachelor's degree."]


"VR Is the Fastest-Growing Skill for Online Freelancers," by Isabel Gottlieb, in Bloomberg Technology

"Demand for online freelancers with VR expertise grew far faster than for people with any other skill last quarter. Billings on VR projects grew more than 30-fold from the same period a year earlier [...]. Overall, tech-related skills accounted for nearly two-thirds of Upwork’s list of the 20 fastest-growing skills."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? Virtual reality is just one of several exponential technologies that will shape the next decades. While online freelancers are a sliver of the overall economy, they are leading indicators for the kinds of skills the rest of us will need (because right now it's cheaper for companies to hire online freelancers than it is to build the infrastructure). VR set-ups may be expensive and tethered for now, but with Moore's Law placing evolutionary pressure on manufacturers, they will soon be relatively inexpensive and totally mobile. In the future, schools that thrive will design opportunities for students to learn how to use and create with VR.


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Christian Talbot