Most of us would agree that education systems around the world have significant room for improvement. At the same time, education is crucial for people and society. It´s the door to a better, independent, and successful life. It´s a fundamental building block of our future.
We´re living in a very dynamic world and facing accelerating changes which require new skills and competencies. A report by the World Economic Forum indicates that almost 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future are not existing today.
Having just watched with my family the inspiring movie Captain Fantastic - starring the magnificent Viggo Mortensen - I´m more convinced than ever that we need a bolder and much more innovative approach to education and to the way how we teach and learn.
We Need More Captain Fantastics!
Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), his wife Leslie and their six children live in the Washington wilderness. Ben and Leslie are educating their children to think critically, training them to be self-reliant, physically fit and athletic, guiding them without technology, demonstrating the beauty of coexisting with nature.
In this article I´m defining Captain Fantastic as someone with an inquisitive and education-obsessed mind who is looking for more creative, engaging, and fulfilling ways to learn, grow, and develop. Learning should be fun!
There are various reasons why education is not at the level where it should be. The most important ones from my perspective are the following ones:
Unfortunately, there seems to be an increasing level of disrespect for teachers and educators. Then there are also those who love interfering with the education process without knowing too much about it. In parallel, many educational bodies seem to be resistent to change and innovation; and lacking a much needed service and innovation culture. Worsened by political inertia when it comes to education. Finally, often there is no collaboration in the field of education between government, educators, private organizations, entrepreneurs, and local communities.
When money gets tight, governments tend to cut back on education and school budgets (and often not investing in required technology). The number of teachers decreases whilst at the same time the number of students per class increases. Resulting in poorer learning experiences and demotivation of all stakeholders.
In multiple countries many students live at or below poverty levels. There is a proven correlation between getting enough food and sleep and performance at school. The same is true for the family environment of students, i.e. students experiencing an unstable family situation often can´t deliver their full academic potential.
Fortunately, there are some highly effective strategies to develop our education and learning systems further:
Comprehensive Deep Learning Skills
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job.” The six Deeper Learning competencies encompass master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, communicate effectively, work collaboratively, learn how to learn, develop academic mindsets.
To assist students to develop their interpersonal and intra-personal skills, to collaborate in teams within a highly complex environment, and to look for new ideas, teachers will have to expand their thinking and teaching beyond the traditional classrooms. This will require new teaching approaches and a holistic "train the teacher“ strategy.
Competency-Based Learning (CBL)
With CBL (or personalized learning) students can learn and work at their own pace, i.e. transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning.
For example, the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School in Chicago, Illinois has moved away from tying credit to seat time and instead awards credit for specific competencies demonstrated at any point in a student’s high school career. Students earn credit for classes in which they demonstrate proficiency on at least 70 percent of academic course outcomes.
Also with the help of computer-mediated technology, CBL is particularly ideal for adults with or without an academic degree. It makes it possible for them to come back to earn a degree and/or to continue studying, which can mean a better job and a more successful life.
Math and STEM Competencies
The ability to apply logic-based concepts to real-world situations is closely linked with an effective education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) . For example, The U.S. Department of Education named STEM education a priority due to the high demand for graduates with these skills. As a result, many schools across the US now provide STEM curricula at all grade levels.
In recent years countries like China, Japan, Singapore, and Estonia have put a strong focus on STEM-related educational programs. In consequence, they were among those placing in the OECD´s top 10 markets for both science and math scores.
Challenge-Based Learning (CBL)
CBL is a framework for learning while solving real-world challenges. The framework is collaborative and hands-on, asking all participants (students, teachers, families, and community members) to identify Big Ideas, ask good questions, discover and solve challenges, gain in-depth subject area knowledge, develop 21st-century skills, and share their thoughts with the world.
The challenge-based learning framework emerged from the "Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow—Today" (ACOT2) project initiated in 2008 by Apple, Inc. to identify the essential design principles of a 21st-century learning environment (Apple Inc., 2008). Challenge-based learning also builds on the foundation of experiential learning, i.e. learning through learning and experience building , and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing.“
Social and Emotional Skills
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, social and emotional skills, also known as non-cognitive skills, include “academic behaviors, academic perseverance, academic mindsets, learning strategies, and social skills.”
Social-emotional learning is a child’s ability to experience, manage, and express emotions; develop close relationships with others; and actively explore his or her environment and learn.
For parents who want their kids to become global citizens, travel the world, do community-based work, there's e.g. the THINK Global School: A traveling high school without classrooms; instead students live and study in a different country every semester, combining a comprehensive education with place-based learning in four countries per year.
Tech-Based Learning Experiences
Teaching with technology can enhance student learning. Tech tools, products, and services such as lecture-capture tools, course management tools, collaboration tools, tablets, etc. allow both teachers and students to share documents, to edit in real time, to communicate through text, videos, etc. and to get instant feedback.
Take e.g. the High Tech High schools in California. Developed by a coalition of San Diego civic leaders and educators, High Tech High opened in September 2000 as a small public charter school with plans to serve approximately 450 students. HTH has evolved into an integrated network of thirteen charter schools serving approximately 5,300 students in grades K-12 across three campuses. The HTH organization also includes a comprehensive adult learning environment including a Teacher Credentialing Program and the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, offering professional development opportunities serving national and international educators. High Tech High is guided by four connected design principles—equity, personalization, authentic work, and collaborative design—that set aspirational goals and create a foundation for understanding our approach.
In the education space, also - and especially - innovative start-ups are changing how we learn. For example, ByteKnack teaches computer science, computational thinking, and programming to kids ages 6 and up using storyboard-style online lessons. The company aims to get more girls interested in computer science.
Technology can also be very well applied for Blended Learning which incorporates both face-to-face and online learning opportunities. The degree to which online learning takes place, and the way it is integrated into the curriculum, can vary. The strategy of blending online learning with class room-based instruction is often utilized to accommodate students’ diverse learning styles. Online learning has the potential to improve educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning, taking advantage of learning time outside of classroom hours, reducing the cost of instructional materials, and better utilizing teacher time. These strategies can be particularly useful in rural areas where blended or online learning can help teachers and students in remote areas overcome distance.
Technology is also widely used with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC); online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants. The industry has an unusual structure, consisting of linked groups including MOOC providers, the larger non-profit sector, universities, related companies and venture capitalists. The Chronicle of Higher Education lists the major providers as the non-profits Khan Academy and edX, and the for-profits Udacity and Coursera.
Initiative, Ownership, and Curiosity
Most curricula are not geared towards inspiring initiative taking, innovating or entrepreneurial thinking and acting. Seeking out new opportunities, generating new ideas and strategies, and transforming them into bold concepts will be key for the future success of many students. We should empower students to challenge, to ask questions, to experiment and to fail. We should encourage them to go new ways and to enjoy discovering unknown territories.
In the future students will have more opportunities to learn along individual learning processes at different times in different places. Very often outside of traditional classrooms and conducting project-based, real-life assignments supported by technology and in collaboration with fellow students from all over the world.
To positively influence and to change the future of education, all education stakeholders such as educators, researchers, teaching bodies, entrepreneurs, and community members (including us!) will need to combine forces to come up with innovative and engaging learning processes and methods. To excite students and themselves all over the world.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Andreas von der Heydt
Andreas von der Heydt is Director of Talent Acquisition & Recruiting at Amazon. Before he held various senior management positions at Amazon and L'Oréal. He's a leadership expert and management coach. He also founded Consumer Goods Club. Andreas worked and lived in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Asia. Currently he lives with his wife and daughters in Seattle, USA. Andreas enjoys blogging as a private person here on LinkedIn about various exciting topics. His latest book is about what makes a future leader. All statements made, opinions expressed, etc. in his articles only reflect his personal opinion.
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