What Will Sustainable Learning Look Like in the Future?

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

Photo by Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

By Briana Krompier

“A simple question to ask is, ‘How has the world of a child changed in the last 150 years?’ And the answer is, ‘It’s hard to imagine any way in which it hasn’t changed!’ But if you look at school today versus 100 years ago, it is more similar than dissimilar.” Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The stifled progression of those 100 years is about to come crashing down on schools across America. When it does, education will emerge, unrecognizable.

What will learning look like in the future?

Some anticipate a large scale shift toward community schools. Community schools are centers for social services. They are large organizations that combine educational practices with in-house programs to cover children’s and families’ social, emotional, financial and other needs, like the growing Kent School Services Network and the post-Katrina Mahalia Jackson Elementary and Early Childhood Center. After all, responsibilities for these services already fall on the school community, with educators playing the role of nurse, nutritionist, psychologist, family mediator, legal advocate or fundraiser on any given day.

But are community schools sustainable? As Congress continues to slash funding for social services and the public continues to abandon its public education system, the community school seems a less viable contender in meeting our future needs.

A more likely scenario is that, in as soon as ten years, students might attend Wells Fargo Middle School, Ernst & Young Elementary or Google High. Corporations already maintain a strong presence in education, from Colorado School District 11’s Coca-Cola contract to the carnival-like settings of national conventions for educators, where big business peddles everything from text books to vending machine options.

Still another version of education in the future is the diffusion of academic and extra-curricular services across many different providers and venues. Students might be assigned Learning Agents who create customized educational experiences based on assessments of learning style, health needs, and socio-emotional needs, as well as student interests and familial scheduling requirements. All learning might be outsourced and brokered, meeting our growing desires for individualism, flexibility, do-it-yourself lifestyles, global interconnectedness and enriching out-of-school educational opportunities.

Early indicators of this future can be found in the recent surge in home-schooling, as more and more parents choose to keep their students out of local schools because those schools either can’t or won’t provide the educational experiences that parents desire. Through services like Skype in the Classroom, BetterLesson, and MIT’s OpenCourseWare, individual families can be better equipped to educate their children and may render the school – public or private – obsolete.  Teach Street provides a marketplace to support this future as well. The company serves as a match-maker for learners to find teachers and teachers to find learners based on subject, medium, location and cost.

Schools of the future may not be schools at all. The real question is: how do we prepare educators to fit into this picture?

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