Designing New Learning Pathways for Adult Readiness

What should high school look like?

Last night we had a great evening of designing new learning pathways. Well, pre-designing. We “caucused” into like-minded interest groups. (In Design Thinking, we might call this conceptual clustering.) Most of the work remains to be done, but this early event got disparate groups thinking about working together.

For example, a Boy Scouts planner connected with a manufacturing skills developer and a History Center coordinator. In the coming months, they’ll talk more about giving teens paths to better career readiness.

In under an hour, the forty or so groups represented in the room split up into 8 ‘caucuses’ focused on career areas. After introductions, they paired into subgroups sharing more specific objectives and approaches.

In Hackable High Schools, we want to run this exercise every day. We want to help changers-of-high-school to find like-minded co-conspirators, and work together. In the process, they’ll redefine the universe of common (and not-so-common) high school ‘coursework’.

As a nation, we’re far from consensus on what high school should look like. What people are coming around to is that it should not all be focused on college prep. We don’t want to ‘track’ kids out of college readiness, but we also want to serve those who are going to enter adulthood with “only” a high school diploma.

At Hackable High Schools, we’d like to use Ohio’s innovative law and the power of crowdsourcing to evolve 100 new model ‘courses’ and pathways to prepared adulthood. They won’t all be a year or semester in length. They’ll be just long enough to impart some critical core knowledge young adults in 2020 will need.

We’d like to see at least half of Ohio’s 700,000 HS teens engage in such new courses and pathways. 40,000 in the next couple years.

Last night’s ‘caucusing’ was informed by two earlier day exercises. The Learning Pathways Summit 2014 introduced many local organizations to the idea of earning Open Badges for out-of-school learning. From this came pathways like Civic Engagement, Art& Design, and Coding&Robotics.

The RemakeLearning Network hosted these events. They work with community groups to develop badges and learning pathways to track skills learned outside school.

For example, an art institute might offer photography classes, and a film society offer film-making class, while a writer’s collective might offer a workshop in script-writing. RemakeLearning helps students connect and document skills between these and other “Media and Story-Telling” pathways.

In RemakeLearning, we find one of the finest early examples of the future of learning and the expanded learning ecosystem.

But What About School?

What if we could also include schools in this mix? What if these pathways and microcredentials weren’t just experimental, but counted directly toward a high school diploma?

That’s the experiment we want to run here in Ohio.

Ed Jones is author of the forthcoming book Hacking High School: Making School Work for All Teens. He is bootstrapping A Statewide Laboratory for Student-Driven Learning, and looking to test a new High School OS.