8 Things That will be Less Dominant in Learning Organizations of the Future

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 10.54.52 PMWhat will schools look like in fifteen or twenty years?  There are plenty of educational futurists that embrace the challenge to cast visions of these futures.  While I don’t consider myself a futurist, I certainly dabble in informed and imaginative predictions about the futures of education, considering which trends and innovations will stick around long enough to effect change, and which ones will soon fade away. With that said, many look to the future of education by thinking about broad transformations and about what will exist that does not today.  I’m going to briefly attempt the opposite, to predict which current practices will be less common in ten to twenty years.  Of course, any good set of predictions need a bit shock value and controversy…enough to challenge our thoughts about the current state of affairs, and I’m sure that this list will not disappoint on that front.

Row -less

The traditional classroom design of rows and desks is already moving out of many schools, but with the continued expansion of personalized learning, differentiated instruction, blended and online learning, project-based learning, competency-based learning and various forms of in-person and remote collaboration, I have little doubt that the school of the future will have a fundamentally different use of space.

Letter Grade -less

While the technology of letter grades remains embedded in most schools, the number of challenges to this aging technology will soon overcome the current domination of using letters like “A” and “F” to represent student learning.  Increased learning analytics, competency-based education, standards-based report cards, advance learning analytics, adaptive learning software, portfolio assessment and many other emerging and future models will continue to make this traditional approach to grading obsolete.

Textbook -less

Look at the products promoted by leading textbook companies and we see evidence of this.  Many traditional textbook companies have even re-branded themselves as something other than a textbook company.  In fact, a growing number of textbooks are increasingly less text and less book. Web-based supplements, multimedia simulations, and embedded formative assessment are just the beginning of this emerging “post-textbook” product. In ten years to fifteen years, I doubt that we will call them textbooks.

Bell & Schedule -less

Plenty of P-12 schools don’t use bells today, but the idea of a scripted schedule that most to all students follow in many schools will continue to unravel into more personalized paths and plans.

Seat Time -less

As I mentioned in a recent post, the future of the Carnegie Unit and measuring quality by the amount of time that students spend in a class is bleak. Future educational models will not be dictated by time as much as mastery or documented learning.

Grade Level -less

As competency-based education, mastery learning, portfolio assessment and other assessment models take center stage in learning organizations, they will also transform the way that we think about largely age-based grade levels in school systems.

Course -less

Influenced by assessment innovations, breaking down learning experiences into discrete courses becomes increasingly unnecessary as we see some of the other above attributes of traditional schooling move toward obscurity. Expect to see more interdisciplinary learning experiences, more course-less learning experiences that are driven by monitoring of progressively increased competency and confidence of students. While I expect that disciplinary thinking will remain valued and significant in schooling of 15-20 years, the use of distinct courses will not be necessary to teach such thinking.

Classroom Teacher -less

On the surface, this is perhaps the most controversial in the list. I’m not suggesting that learning organizations of the future will not need educators.  What I am suggesting is that the idea of classroom teachers leading and running individual classes of students will become less common and less useful as we see some of the other elements listed above fade away.  There will still be people who serve as guides, advisors, mentors, subject-matter experts, coaches, tutors, assessment specialists, educational technologists and learning experience designers.  These are roles that are often fulfilled by the teacher of today.  In fifteen to twenty years, expect to see more of these roles being unbundled from a single teacher.  We already see that today in many schools.  Again, this is not a critique of teachers. Rather, it is a recognition that emerging models of education will call for different roles for educators. Notice that I’m seeing a long and important future for educators, just not the current concept of the classroom teacher.

What is my source for these predictions?  They come from looking at the current trends in education, analyzing the history of education over the last three hundred years, and studying the profound influence of digital technology (an influence that genuinely will challenge the influence that we once saw from the printing press). I’ve also spent the last decade studying alternative schooling and one of the fasting growing sectors in P-12 education, homeschooling. In addition, I’m paying attention to the movements outside of formal education, those areas where learning innovations often incubate before they find their way into the schools and formal organizations. Of course, I started this post by noting that I’m not a futurist, but my confidence with these predictions also comes from the fact that each of them have already happened in some schools.  We can find examples of high-impact schools that have abandoned many or all of the items in the list above.  As a result, my predictions may be flawed in the degree to which they will dominate learning organizations of the future, but I have little doubt that the the row-less, textbook-less, schedule-less, seat time-less, grade level-less, course-less and classroom teacher-less organization will become increasingly common over the next twenty years.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.

2 thoughts on “8 Things That will be Less Dominant in Learning Organizations of the Future

  1. David Paul Zimmerman

    Intriguing analysis, Dr. Bull. Over the past 4 years, our school, Amazing Grace Christian (Lutheran) School, Seattle, Washington has redesigned our Middle School by creating a 1 to 1 laptop learning community (school) that is row-less, textbook-less, bell-schedule-less, seat-less, grade level-less, course-less and classroom teacher -less, it is encouraging to be reaffirmed by your research. This LESS approach works incredibly well for all of our learners representing 26 ethnic groups because it levels the playing field for all students. It is a genuinely authentic environment in which students and teachers accept and embrace the reality that we are all learners. We hope to complete the LESS list by tackling the letter grade-less as our last major frontier to conquer. Thank you for your insights. They are not only accurate but doable and we believe IS the future of authentic education.

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