Modern Learning: Not For Our Past But Their Future

Education is in the futures business in that it is responsible for preparing students to live successfully in the future … But it should not be about preparing them to cope with the future or simply wait for the arrival of the future. It should be preparing them to proactively create the future. To train future-creators, we need future-oriented educational institutions, which are drastically different from institutions of the past and present. -Yong Zhao

All learning should be personal. Whether we talk about personal learning or personalized learning our focus should be on the twenty-first century process by which students are given a greater say in what they learn and how they demonstrate that learning. The need for this focus on student agency is largely facilitated by the transformations in learning rendered possible by the digital landscape of our day. Josie Holford tells us that we are poised on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution. A transformation characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, Holford challenges us to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation that are shaping this imminent future. She reminds us that Dewey insisted we are obliged to prepare children not for our past but their future. What does this mean in the context of the fourth revolution? For Holford, it means that schools need to be considering the following questions when deciding on the learning programs we are providing to today’s students:

  • For what roles are we preparing our students?
  • What skills will they need to thrive and how have we determined what they are?
  • How will they learn them, from whom and where?
  • What experiences should they have now that will have the best chance of providing those skill-sets and mind-sets?
  • And if the future world is to be one of rising social tensions and inequity – what ethical compass will they need to help them navigate the changed ethical and moral boundaries?

Holford raises some compelling questions. Indeed, if we are educating students for their futures and not our pasts, then the perpetual red herring of “it’s not about the technology” must be seen for what it is. The discourse surrounding educational change has one constant: the erroneous view that technology is a panacea, a threat to human relationships, rather than a simple acknowledgment of an efficient set of potential realities. Where technology has failed to transform learning environments and learning outcomes, we should ask ourselves why this is. Yong Zhao contests that we have, in too many instances, introduced technology to do merely what we have always done. In order to ensure integration that empowers students and enhances teacher depth, Zhao suggests we need to:

  • See technology as a complement rather than a replacement
  • Embrace its creation potential over consumption
  • Encourage personalized learning, autonomy, and creativity over outcomes
  • Celebrate digital competence over curriculum improvement
  • Focus on tech-pedagogy over product usage

We have arrived at a juncture in our schools where the opportunity and need to make learning more personal has never been greater, has never been closer to realisation. We can get lost – as is often the case with education – in the semantics of theories, theorists, owners, and experts, or we can honestly try to address the contexts and challenges that Holford and Zhao present us with.

Is it then as simple as asking students: what would you like to learn in school today?

Yong Zhao – Leading Modern Learning: A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools (McTighe, Curtis)
Josie Holford –  On the Brink: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means and What to Do
Yong Zhao – Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes