16 Modern Realities Schools (and Parents) Need to Accept. Now.

Will Richardson
Modern Learning
Published in
5 min readMay 14, 2016


It’s been interesting to watch over the last year or so a growing chorus of parents, authors, educators and even some policy makers begin to articulate their concern over the relevance of the current practices that we use in schools to “educate” our kids. While the arguments and discussions vary on the edges, it feels like there is finally an admission on the part of many that the world has changed, and that like most other parts of society, schools are going to have to change with it. Really change. I know we’re nowhere close to “most” believing that. But I also know that the momentum is picking up.

“I wonder, in other words, if we’re really peeling back the onion far enough when it comes to change in schools.”

Why? What’s happened to get people thinking and talking about “different” instead of “better?” Well, for one thing, I think parents are sensing the fact that many kids simply aren’t being prepared for their lives in the current system. Take note of the slew of movies and books that have come out this year that are pushing back hard against the fundamental structures of schools, especially in terms of assessments. Or the steady drip of stories of kids who are finding success based on the work they do on their own, built on their interests and passions. Or the stories of kids who are heading down traditional pathways only to wait longer for jobs that don’t require the amount of education they’ve paid for and are heading back to school to accrue more debt. It’s not that a bachelor’s degree no longer suffices; more it’s that many kids don’t seem to have the dispositions, the self-determination, initiative, and networks to problem solve their way out of their dilemmas. They’re waiting for the answer, just like they did in school.

But I still wonder the extent to which those conversations are truly grounded in some of the more challenging new realities that now confront us. I wonder, in other words, if we’re really peeling back the onion far enough when it comes to change in schools. And others are sensing that too. Here’s Pam Moran from Albemarle, Va. the 2016 Virginia Superintendent of the Year and one of the most modern, progressive education leaders out there:

“Imagining Education” is in progress across the nation but it demands more than tinkering around the edges — [there’s] no rethink, reform, reimagine, re — anything. We need full on transformation.”

Full on transformation can only be fueled by a deep understanding of how significantly out of step the school experience has become with the real world. If we’re honest, we know we’ve always been lacking in that regard. But there’s little question that the gap between school learning and life learning has become wider and more acute as the Web and mobile technologies continue to evolve as learning opportunities.

So what do educators, parents, policy makers and others need to fully understand about this moment in order to truly think in transformative ways about education?

  • The Web and the technologies that drive it are fundamentally changing the way we think about how we can learn and become educated in a globally networked and connected world. It has absolutely exploded our ability to learn on our own in ways that schools weren’t built for.
  • In that respect, current systems of schooling are an increasingly significant barrier to progress when it comes to learning. (See)
  • The middleman is vanishing as peer to peer interactions flourish. Teachers no longer stand between the content and the student. This will change the nature of the profession.
  • Technology is no longer an option when it comes to learning at mastery levels.
  • Curriculum is just a guess, and now that we have access to so much information and knowledge, the current school curriculum bucket represents (as Seymour Papert suggests) “one-billionth of one percent” of all there is to know. Our odds of choosing the “right” mix for all of our kids’ futures are infinitesimal. (See)
  • In fact, instead of being delivered by an institution, curriculum is now constructed and negotiated in real time by learner and the contributions of those engaged in the learning process, whether in the classroom our out. (See)
  • The skills, literacies, and dispositions required to navigate this increasingly complex and change filled world are much different from those stressed in the current school curriculum. (See)
  • Current testing regimes are inadequate in measuring a student’s ability to find and solve problems, think critically and creatively, deal well with failure, persevere, collaborate with others, etc, skills that are arguably more important than content knowledge.
  • “High stakes” learning is now about doing real work for real audiences, not taking a standardized subject matter test.
  • While important, the 4Cs of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication are no longer enough. Being able to connect to other learners worldwide and to use computing applications to solve problems are the two additional “Cs” required in the modern world.
  • Increasingly, as a variety of educational opportunities are beginning to take shape, traditional college is becoming one of many paths to a middle class existence, not the only path. Students need to “ready for anything,” not just college and career ready.
  • Our children will live and work in a much more transparent world as tools to publish pictures, video, and texts become more accessible and more ubiquitous. Their online reputations must be built and managed.
  • Workers in the future will not “find employment;” Employment will find them. Or they will create their own.
  • We’ve come to the end of “The End.” Everything we produce remains a work in progress, in “perpetual beta.”
  • Global connections and transparency mean the pace of change will increase. Embracing and adapting to change must be in the modern skill set.
  • We cannot predict with certainty the impacts of technological advances on the future of learning and work. Our students will have to be comfortable with fast-paced change and uncertainty.

There are others, I’m sure. (I had about 40 in my original list.) I’d love to hear what other compelling realities you’re sensing that will drive the conversation even further. But there’s no argument any longer that the old narratives and expectations of school are slamming into the new realities of the connected, networked world, and that moving forward, we’re going to have to rethink our practice based not just on our beliefs about how deep and powerful learning occurs in general but also on the the new contexts that the Web and other technologies bring to the table.

“Full on transformation” will not happen without it.

Would love to hear your thoughts, as always.

Learn with me this summer and fall!

Adapted from modernlearners.com.

Follow me at @willrich45 on Twitter

Want to explore more of these ideas around learning and education? Check out my latest TEDx Talk “The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools,” my blog at WillRichardson.com, or checkout my Amazon author page.



Will Richardson
Modern Learning

Parent, author, speaker, instigator, coach, blogger about the Web and its effects on schools, education and learning. Co-founder at bigquestions.institute