What we as adults experienced in school, as educators and students, will bear little resemblance to what lies ahead. Here's a look at current trends, their implications, and changes to watch for.
The Three Key Trends
1. Digital delivery
No longer shackled to books as their only source of content, educators and students are going online to find reliable, valuable, and up-to-the-minute information. Sites like Shmoop’s fun-focused content on everything from SAT prep to the Civil War;Google’s Education apps and sources that teachers can use as teaching tools, such as the SketchUp design software and Google Earth are just a few of the free, easily accessible sources available online.
The open-source movement has further pushed online content to include learners and educators in the actual content-creating process. Wikipedia was one of the first open-source sites, and though many still question the accuracy of Wikipedia entries (note the 2005 study showed that the popular website is as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica), there's a movement afoot to make it a more trusted source. Revered institutions like Harvard and Georgetown are creating coursework for students out of editing Wikipedia entries.
Watch for: 1)Google's role in providing content, and how states and districts work with the institution. 2) Open-source sites and content publishers working collaboratively in the same content space.
Though students typically have to wait until their third year of college to choose what they learn, the idea of K-12 education being tailored to students' own interests is becoming more commonplace. Whether it's through Japanese manga art, Lady Gaga, or the sport of curling, the idea is to grab students where their interests lie and build the curriculum around it.
The idea of learner-centered education might not be new -- research from the 1990s shows that students' interests is directly correlated to their achievement. But a growing movement is being propelled by the explosive growth in individualized learning technology that could feed it and we're starting to see the outlines of how it could seep into the world of formal education.
"The better way is to motivate each student to learn through his or her passion. Passion drives people to learn (and perform) far beyond their, and our expectations. And whatever is learned through the motivation of passion is rarely if ever forgotten," writes Marc Prensky in his book Teaching Digital Natives.
Watch for: The growing importance of the student's role as content-creator and decision-maker in devising his own curriculum.
3. Skills 2.0
Eleven years into the 21st century, the buzz words "21st century skills" are being thrown around in describing what needs to be taught in schools: real-world readiness. Things like collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, and communication are thought to be just as important as U.S. history and calculus because they're practical skills that can be used in the world outside the confines of school.
"One thing is certain," writes Will Richardson in the comprehensive tome21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn: although schools may continue to fundamentally look and act as they have for more than one hundred years, the way individuals learn has already been forever changed. Instead of learning from others who have the credentials to 'teach' in this new networked world, we learn with others whom we seek (and who seek us) on our own and with whom we often share nothing more than a passion for knowing."
The ability to leverage the collective wisdom that thrives online is an important part of building those muscles. But more than just practical skills, it's crucial for students to be able to navigate the digital world around them without fear. To make sense of the deluge of information online, to learn what to trust, what to dismiss, to be able to find the gold that exists in the infinite number of Google searches. To know how and what to contribute to the online global community, and how to be responsible digital citizens.