Who Decides What Should be Taught & Learned in an Age of Educational Choice?

Dozens. There are more choices in education than there are cereals at the typical US grocery story. Where I live there are dozens of choices for schools. There are community public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, independent schools, and faith-based schools. There are classical schools, core knowledge schools, self-directed learning academies, project-based learning programs, game-based learning, blended learning schools, and place-based schools. This has empowered families with choice about curriculum, pedagogy, and anything else that they consider important. While some would rather us have a single uniform community public school system (with limited and select options through magnets), that is not where we are in education today. This is true about early childhood, elementary, secondary, and higher education. In addition to these educational organizations, there are hundreds of education startups and established companies that offer even more choices about what and how to learn. It is also true about the what and how of lifelong learning. With the digital age comes more educational options than any time in history.

That is the thing about democratized knowledge. It not only increases access and opportunity, but it gives voice and choice when it comes to determining what knowledge is worth acquiring and when to acquire it. Personalized and adaptive learning movements in education are growing quickly, but many of these early efforts are focused upon training and education that is largely standardized (e.g. math and foreign language). These are often complex product designs that require a large audience to get a reasonable return on the investment. That is why it is no coincidence that developments like the Common Core State Standards parallel the growth of education startups and the education sector at large. There is a reason the market share of educational assessment and testing companies has increased over the past couple of years. We see adaptive software gaining traction in areas like math, language instruction, and computer programming. What do these have in common? There is far less debate about the scope and sequence for areas like this.

Depending upon your perspective, these are delightful or troubling times withe regard to choice. For the business-minded, there are experiments like Draper University, probably one of the only schools that has a business curriculum that focuses upon futurology, bitcoins, and the warrior mindset. At this point, it seems that the startups and education sector in the business world are leading the way for more choice. As I shared in a presentation to University presidents yesterday, consider projects like Lynda.com, General Assembly, Udacity, and Learn Up. These are samples of the creativity, innovation, and infusion of choice that exemplifies the modern education landscape. These are not only efforts to sell products to schools. These are also standalone education companies that do what schools often do not or cannot do, reaching out directly to the learning, bypassing the educational establishments.

  • To what extent will we see some of these education companies filling the gap for schools and Universities?
  • How much will come from partnerships between these companies and schools?
  • Will more schools begin to embrace similar offerings and innovation from within their organization?
  • Which organizations are most insulated from growing choice and which are least?
  • Will the broader culture of choice redefine standard operations in many schools, driving them to provide more choice to learners?
  • How much with regulatory bodies limit the growth and impact of educational choices?
  • And, will the heavy regulations drive most of the innovations out of schools and into education startups and companies that are less bound or completely unbound from such limitations?

These are the types of questions that intrigue me in this age of educational choice.