What should children in K-12 be learning today?

Anna Padte: I am giving a talk next week on Education in the 21st Century. When parents think about their child’s education, K-12, it is often focused on the goal of getting to a good if not excellent college. In updating my research for this talk, I dug deep into the future of American higher education and came upon some gait-stopping ideas.

American higher education, considered some of the best in the world has faced looming challenges in recent years. The cost of going to college is unreasonably high. This makes college education less accessible, affordable and appealing to high school graduates. It is also true that less and less students (especially male) who go to college actually finish college. Job hirers claim that those college graduates that do finish college don’t always have the skills needed to perform on jobs. They question the kind and quality of American higher education.

It is these kinds of challenges that have provoked articles like this one in the Washington Post by Sarah Kaufman in which she lays out how some parents, business leaders (she quotes a successful hedge fund manager in the article) and even leading education thinkers question the value of going to college. This thinking comes ripe at the heels of predictions on how American higher education is expected to change.

Here are some predictions laid out by pundits including, most notably, Futurist Thomas Frey:

  • iTunization of college education: It will not be uncommon for students to take a smattering of courses from multiple universities. Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence course, taught online by two leading researchers in the AI field has received sign-up from 56,000 students worldwide this fall. Harvard and MIT already share several of their courses online. And just a few days ago, the big thinkers at Big Think announced The Floating University, that will offer its first course this Fall with guest lecturers that includes the likes of psychologist Steven Pinker and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
  • Personal digital coaches: Not only are students expected to take courses online, they can also expect the course content to be adjusted to their learning pace, style and even interest. A personal digital coach will lean in and help a student through the sticky part of a topic and also suggest other courses and topics based on the one being studied.
  • Worldwide professors: As students take courses from multiple institutions, professors will not remain attached to any one learning institute. They might instead become free agents offering courses online through many different channels.
  • Credit banking: Imagine taking courses from multiple universities or institutes and then banking your credit with a credit bank, a ratifying and certification agency that will then verify your credits and issue your degree.
  • Learning on the job: If students can take courses online, from a variety of institutes, they don’t need to be tied to a single college, to its routines and structures. It will become increasingly common then for students to work part-time while “in college” applying the knowledge and skills they learn as they go. Think about the rich and real learning experiences students will have — applying what they learn, learning more based on their work experience.
  • Lifetime learning: If you can work part-time while “going to college”, then why not “go to college” while you are working? Colleges and universities will move away from the mode of admission and full-time enrollment to lifetime membership, allowing students to have a membership to a university for life, taking courses whenever they want and as they need.
  • Personalized “majors” and eventually jobs: With students taking courses from multiple institutes, working part-time as they take courses and evolving their “college” experience as they work, I imagine that more and more students will have personalized majors comprised of courses that teach skills and knowledge that are uniquely suited and needed by a learner. This, I believe will begin to change the nature of the kinds of jobs a person will do. I imagine that we will come to a point where a person won’t need to fit a predefined job but will instead it will become increasingly common for the job to fit the person. People will move towards creating their own work in the world.

How far in the future are these changes? I predict they are not too far out. Today’s Kindergartners will be ready to head to college in 13 years and I predict that many of these changes will be in effect, even though they made not be enmasse by then. This then begs the following question — What do we think our children should be learning K-12 if they are not going to head to a traditional college. What do you think?

Photo credit: Blackoard

Via The art of education