Just last week I was asked by a colleague for a readily accessible, engaging and stimulating short introduction and overview of 21st century learning he could provide his faculty, and, somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself a bit stumped.

I know of plenty of great books, but what the best single short and free resource?

One option, and it is a pretty good option, is the pamphlet from NAIS, A Strategic Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, (which I was pleased to be a small contributor to).   But it is written a bit more for school-leaders than for teachers, is a bit long, and is a little dry.     It is still a great resource though; I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post [after “more…”].

So it was with great satisfaction that I scanned the above first publication of Brain Food for Education, which comes from the innovation firm Unboundary and was produced by my good friend and highly esteemed educational blogger and thinker, Bo Adams.

This is a great tool for the purpose I described, and as such, includes of course great links for those who want to dig deeper and learn more.

4 things I like especially: 

1.  The visual look and graphic design is tremendous: bright, appealing, professional.

2.  The Discussion prompts shared on page 19 are very helpful: they could be a great resource for schools working to generate more and better conversation among all their constituencies as they facilitate change.    (for an additional resource, see the discussion prompts included in the guide to becoming a school of the future,page 36).

3.   The schools selected as exemplars are inspiring– from the nation of Finland (and I was glad to learn of the RSA video about PISA here) to High Tech High and Nueva Schools in California.    As Bo writes, “just seeing even one example can help us raise our aspirations and trajectories.”   Indeed– and I’d underscore, try to go and see them first-hand.

4.  The guide grounds its ideation about the future of learning in that most important topic: what do we want for our students: what skills and capacities.    I was appreciative for learning about the Top Skills for the Future report from the Institute for the Future; to quote:

Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future. This report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years.

It does not consider what will be the jobs of the future. Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labor requirements. Consistently over the years, however, it has been shown that such predictions are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong. Rather than focusing on future jobs, this report looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings.

I hope to return to this Skills for the Future report for further examination in a future post.

What might I have added?  This is a terrific guide, and I have no complaints.  But, there are a few things I might have considered adding.

1. Connectivism: peer and networked learning.  As regular readers here know, I have been a bit consumed this past year with the concept of connectivism, that we all learn better and more deeply when we are webbed into networks of learners who are exploring and sharing their thoughts as part of a collective or community.     Unless I missed it, there is no reference in this fine guide to the vision of John Seely Brown that is articulated in what I think is among the most important books in the past decade, A New Culture of Learning.   To quote:

Embracing change and seeing information as a resource can help us stop thinking of learning as an isolated process of information absorption and start thinking of it as a cultural and social process of engaging with the constantly changing world around us.

The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries.

2. There is an important reference in Brain Food on page 9 to the important truth that in the coming years, “internet literacy will be among the most valued skills.”  Excellent.  I would have built more upon this concept, expanding it to include reference to the critical nature of developing Digital citizenship and what Rheingold calls, in his incredibly valuable 2012 book, Net Smart(s).

3. Page 12 discusses the exciting field of gamification.  Indeed, gamification relates to my comment just above about networked learning, which may well be best exhibited in the past decade by online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft and now Minecraft (which is the obsession of my two sons).   But I would have taken just another sentence here or in a nearby box to reference the growing importance of Big Data and Learning Analytics, and especially how we need to work to find ways to bring LA to students and empower them to track, manage, and employ data to enhance their ownership of their learning journey.

4.  In the discussion prompts, I might have added another question or two in predictions and solutions to tease out further people’s vision of the school of the future and ground it in practice, questions like : what would you observe in a school which has addressed most of these problems and implements most of these solutions?   How would you know your school is succeeding, and what criteria would you use to measure that?    How would you build a road-map to the future that would help you know how far along this journey you have progressed?


I embedded below for quick access some of the recommended videos from this publication which most interested and excited me: Enjoy.  Let me again in closing extend my compliments to Bo Adams and the Unboundary team for this excellent publication and resource, which I expect to use often in the coming months.