15 Moonshots in Education
What’s possible in the next five or 10 years? It’s hard to tell given the exponential rate of technology related change. In the last ten years, we’ve seen the development of smartphones and tablets, Instagram and Snap, ride and room sharing, 3D printing and self-driving vehicles. We’ll see more important advances in the next decade than the last — most will involve artificial intelligence.
A few impact investors like Elon Musk are working on moonshot projects — massively ambitious endeavors that will change how well, how long — maybe even where — we live.
What big advances are possible in learning and education? Here are 15 ideas we’re tracking. They move from expected breakthroughs to more speculative advances.
1. Learning Platforms. Personalized learning is promising but hard to manage manually. Advances in learning platforms will enable individual learning pathways optimizing experiences (see #7 & #8). They will be easy to configure for specific learning models and school models (see #2).
2. Platform Networks. Personalized learning is promising but hard for individual schools to figure out. Schools join voluntary networks like New Tech Network to take advantage of a well-developed school model, platform and professional learning opportunity. Thousands of schools work with Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a curriculum network that offers courses on a platform with PD. As platforms improve, a growing percentage of schools will join platform networks.
Platform networks also make it easier to build urban, rural and thematic microschool networks.
3. Literacy. Boosting worldwide literacy — among young and old — might be the biggest and most important moonshot. X Prize is sponsoring a Global Learning Prize (for children) and an Adult Literacy Prize. Add second language acquisition and you have a really big goal.
4. Interoperability. It’s great that most U.S. students benefit from multiple forms of instructional feedback every week but it’s frustrating that little of it is easy to combine. The moonshot is interoperability agreements and super gradebooks that automagically combine many different kinds of formative feedback into a mastery tracker and surface it with simple data visualizations.
5. Lifelong Learning. With the rise of the automation economy, lifelong learning is the new imperative — the platforms, incentives and supports that help adults learn employment-relevant skills. Just beyond Coursera, Udemy and EdX are platforms that recommend, personalize and modularize learning. They may leverage relationships (e.g., college alumni), will support multiple providers and have strong links to emerging employment opportunities.
6. Regional Shift to Competency. The most interesting regional work in K-12 is the move to proficiency-based learning (also called competency-based) in New England. Great Schools Partnership is facilitating school transformation, state policy shifts to proficiency and recognition of proficiency-based diplomas by all the institutions of higher learning in New England.
Sponsoring state or regional shifts like the work in New England would advance competency-based learning and create demand for competency platforms. Extending opportunities to out of schools (see LRNG network) and adding weighted portable funding would an important development.
7. Portable Profiles. Personalized and competency-based learning, in K-12 and for life, will be unlocked by comprehensive learner profiles. Those are most likely to be made portable using blockchain, a secure and distributed learning ledger.
8. Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality. Last Christmas, virtual reality (VR) was the breakthrough gadget. With more economical devices and educational content, VR will be a regular and transformative part of every learner’s week. VR will improve career education, language acquisition and global competence. (Listen to why Seth Andrew is excited about VR.)
Augmented reality (AR) with a mixed real-time view of the real world and requested and suggested information will also become prevalent in education with improved interfaces (#5). Imagine field trips that cover the same local route — one week is art and architecture, then demographics and economics, then air and soil quality.
It will be a combination of user interface and powerful learning experiences that make VR and AR moonshot achievements in learning.
9. Operations. OK, this may seem mundane but kids will be riding self-driving cars and buses (or hovercraft) to school in the next decade. AI will be improving meal planning, supplies management and staff and student scheduling. All of these improvements will allow schools to invest more in relationships and supports.
10. Human-Computer Interface. Last month, Elon Musk launched Neuralink, which aims to make implants for the human brain that can wirelessly interface with a computer. Mind controlled computers would be a breakthrough in learning as well as business and entertainment. Breakthroughs in user interface — voice, gesture, eye and thought — will be transformative to learning.
11. SEL Supports. Productive ways to help young people develop self-management and social awareness will be a breakthrough. Biosensors, feedback systems and smart nudges are likely to be part of smart social-emotional learning (SEL) systems.
12. Assistive Tech. The advent of mobile and touch technology was a godsend for youth with special needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum. Advances in UI (#10), translation, text to voice, voice to text and SEL supports (#12) will aid special needs students. The breakthrough could be global access to AT.
13. Motivation. Young (and old) people are motivated by different experiences and drawn to different interests. Learning and behavioral science will unlock secrets of human performance particularly motivational profiles yielding sequences that produce persistence and performance. (See this six-part series on motivating and monitoring performance.)
14. Performance Enhancement. Three years ago it was little brain shocks — transcranial direct current stimulation — that were supposed to make you smarter. Two years ago there was a lot of buzz about magic pills — behavioral neuropharmacological enhancement — particularly nootropics that increase productivity and sharpen focus.
More recently mindfulness and meditation have become widely used to help hone performance. Some combination of practices and pills is likely to boost learning and performance.
15. Genomic Editing. CRISPR is a tiny molecular scissors that can alter nucleotides of DNA precisely and simply — and the safety and accuracy are improving fast. At some point soon it will be used to repair defects and boost intelligence. The ethical questions surrounding gene editing, and access to such life altering technologies, are monumental.
What’s on your moonshot list?
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