10 Educational Buzz Words that Challenged my Work and Thinking in 2013

I realize that we are not yet through 2013, but I couldn’t wait to start my list for this year.  So, a little early, here is my list of buzz words and trends that captured my attention in 2013 so far.

1. Hackademic, Unschooling and Uncollege – 2013 was the year of educational hacking, imagining new forms of learning that are free from institutional boundaries and formal standards, likely gaining increased attention because of the stark contrast with things like the Common Core on the K-12 level. Authors like Dale Stephens cast a vision for alternatives to going to college, and conversations about self-directed learning showed up all over the web.  This is more than a fad. It is a movement that is already changing the educational landscape, further distinguishing between learning and schooling.

2. Unbundled Education – Similar to the hackademic, this was the year of many interesting educational experiments, including the separation of a previously bundled educational experience.  Home schoolers can sign up for a virtual public school curriculum but also do some of their own homeschooling work. Experiments like the Black Mountain SOLE emerged, providing a physical place to network, innovate, and experience community while potentially studying at an online University, through non-credit MOOCs, or instead focusing on an idea for a start-up. More options appeared for learners to make educational decisions in a way that they fill their place at the buffet: A MOOC here, a traditional course there, social connections at another place, extracurricular options at another… I expect this to be an even more significant part of 2014.

3. Edupreneur – Already a buzz word the last couple of years, it represents the mashup of educator and entrepreneur. This continues to expand in 2013, inspired by a myriad of educational technology startup companies, the development of new educational apps, and the ability to reach a large K-12 audiences with a single product or service thanks to increasingly nationalized standards like the Common Core.  What the common core did was make it possible for a small educational startup to devise a product based upon these common standards and to sell the product to a larger audience (given that so many schools were looking for something that aligned with this same set of standards). I should also give credit to Anya Kamenetz and her 2010 book, DIYU: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.

4. BYOD – Bring Your Own Device schools and businesses hit the headlines in 2011 and expanded even further in 2013.  For the first time this year, I had multiple schools contact me for guidance and consulting on what it would take to become a 1:1 BYOD school.  While some schools and businesses sought to play it safe and mandate common devices, other schools took the position that they are device agnostic, focusing more upon the quality of work that one is able to produce, regardless of the device.

5. Personalized (and Adaptive) Learning – This is not a new term but largely inspired by some mainstream educational software packages and emerging apps, personalized learning took new strides this year. This also gained new attention as places like the School of One continued to receive positive media attention.  We are now seeing a new generation of educational technologies that truly offer the ability to create daily personalized learning experiences, with the software adapting to an individual student based on prior performance and a variety of other factors. There is no question that this will revolutionize how certain concepts and skills are taught and learned over the next 3-5 years, especially in subjects like math.

6. Homeschooling – This is the fastest growing sector in K-12 education today, and I am certain that it is connected to the growing disruptive tidal wave of personalized learning, the unbuilding mentioned above, the power of the social web to connect and support homeschooling families from around the world, combined with the unprecedented amount of free and inexpensive educational resources available on the web.

7. Maker Spaces – With the publication of Make to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, the conversation about learning by doing gained new traction, taking a few lessons from the maker movement.  Add this to the already growing acceptance of project-based learning, and we have a movement that is certain to show up in more educational experiments around the country. It doesn’t hurt that this movement gained traction as a result of the STEM push in American education, and it is further helped by President Obama’s 2012 call to add 1000 maker spaces in high schools by 2015.

8. Self-directed Learning – This certainly fits in any number of the above categories, but it deserves a spot for itself. More than any other term, this is the one that garnered my attention.  In the first half of 2013, there was increased public attention to the importance of people growing as competent, confident, self-learners and not going through life largely unable to develop new knowledge or skills without a formal learning experience led by an instructor. This is the education movement focused upon fishing lessons rather than fish distribution centers.

9. Learning Environment – In past years, it seemed as if learning experiences were the emphasis, and they certainly continue to get plenty of attention.  However, this year, likely inspired by the DIY movement, maker spaces, and Sugata Mitra’s Self-organized Learning Environment research, there is a  growing conversation about designing spaces that are conducive to self-directed learning as well as cultivating high impact learning communities. This encompasses both digital, physical and blended learning environments.

10. Gamification – This started in 2011 and 2012 with several notable books like Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, Kurt Squire’s Video Games and Learning and Karl Kapp’s The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Of course, I already started pointing people to this trend in the early 2000s with earlier works by helpful texts from people like Gee and Prensky.  Some of these focused more broadly upon games and learning, while others ventured into gamification, applying principles and features of games to non-game environments.  In fact, this captured my attention enough to write one of the top viewed blog posts this year, 10 Lessons That Educators Can Learn From Angry Birds.