Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Sept 4 2017

 Photo by  Jamison McAndie  on  Unsplash

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

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"From Cicero to Trump, they're all in Plutarch's Lives," by Rebecca Burgess & Hugh Liebert, in the Wall Street Journal

"When the Founding Fathers clashed in political pamphlets, they wrote under names like Publius, Cato and Brutus. Alexander Hamilton was a huge Plutarch fan. So was his rival Thomas Jefferson, who recommended the Lives to several correspondents and made sure the University of Virginia had a copy. For more than a century after America’s founding, the classicist Meyer Reinhold has claimed, Plutarch’s Lives was the country’s most-read book after the Bible. What made Plutarch so popular? He offered an education in civic virtue [...]. Thanks to Plutarch’s taste for the fine details that he says reveal 'the signs of the soul in men,' citizens of the new American republic could intimately know the legends of antiquity and shape their own souls accordingly."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? As exponential technologies accelerate life in the 21st century, it is more important than ever to form learners who will ask and engage with the great questions of civic purpose. What does it mean to be an active citizen in the United States in the 21st century? What do we mean when we talk about civic virtue? The goal of such curriculum would not be indoctrination or fill-in-the-blank definitions of civic purpose or virtue, but rather student inquiry: how do they want to contribute to causes greater than themselves? Plutarch's Lives is only one source; Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is probably even better (although until the video is available on YouTube for free, it's prohibitively expensive!) In the future, schools that thrive will take an intentional approach to educating students for civic purpose and virtue through active engagement with classical and modern sources of wisdom.

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"What if high school diplomas were microcredentials and experiences?" by Tom Vander Ark / @tvanderark, on LinkedIn

"BackgroundHigh school graduation requirements have been pretty static since the Committee of Ten recommendations in 1894. They focus on the traditional path of scholarship and success in college.

Opportunity: Create new standards for high school completion and post-secondary acceptance. Participating universities would/could offer automatic entrance and a year of college credit.

ConceptAsk students to complete and present 20 projects (or more broadly, successful learning experiences). Four to six per year over three or four years..."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? Sometimes innovations stem from one organization's intellectual property and will to execute. When more than one organization has the same big idea, take note. Both the Mastery Transcript Consortium (which consists of independent schools) and Tom Vander Ark's Getting Smart (which tends to focus on charters and public school networks) are promoting the reconceptualization of the high school diploma. Gone will be grades, and in their place will be portfolios reflecting levels of proficiency and mastery. And this isn't empty talk: the MTC received a $2M matching grant from the EE Ford Foundation to build the software platform that will bring a mastery transcript to life. As Vander Ark writes, "If graduation requirements were described as 20 projects and 20 microcredentials, it would allow students to attack the requirements in their own way and at their own pace, often working in teams and cohorts. The key would be sustained relationships with skilled advisors who could help construct projects mapped to important skills." In the future, schools that thrive will enable every learner to reach her potential through mastery-based assessments and portfolio-based communications.

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"The college lecture is dying. Good riddance," by Amy X. Wang and Allison Schrager, in Quartz

"For the first time, “we can do a diagnosis for kids—and not an autopsy.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning? Blended classrooms and flipped learning approaches are hardly new. What struck me about this article is the thought experiment it implies: What if we were to skip to a future in which all of the best content has already been curated by the best possible teachers; in which artificial intelligences assess student understanding precisely and often? What then would be the role of the teacher? That future is already here for the hero of this article, Professor Jon Meer of Texas A&M: "Now that the prep is all out of the way, [Meer] can refocus on individual students who’re genuinely interested in a deeper pursuit of economics. Meet with them. Speak to them. Inspire them." In the near future, schools that thrive will use blended and online platforms to liberate their teachers to "diagnose" and promote the personal formation that each kid needs, rather than perform an "autopsy" on his learning after it's too late.

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