Musings about a Future Educational Ecosystem


Musings about a Future Educational Ecosystem

By Duane Sharrock

As an educator participating in various discussions online, I have often come across  the question about education reform: How can educational experiences become more effective, more relevant, rigorous? I have responded to this question in its various guises.


When I was first participating in these discussions, I would often promote the “Four Cs” of 21st Century Learning. Soon, though, I thought deeper, reflecting on what a future learner would specifically need to know and be able to do in a world of increasing use of predictive analytics, expert systems, “big data”, the Internet of Things, robots, and artificial intelligence. I came up with a laundry list of skills and experiences students should possess before they graduated secondary school. Even more recently,  I took a different tack. I looked back to the past in order to see the future like Michio Kaku suggests that we do as possessors of a 3rd level of consciousness.


I look back.


I was always a curious kid, so there were many topics that interested me that weren’t normally taught in school. I was, and still am, an avid reader. I especially enjoyed myth and folklore from all over the world. The stories feature visitations of magical beings teaching lessons about being kind to strangers, especially old people and poor people, and to be kind  to anyone who is different. There are tricksters who discover their talents (or expressed their talents) on the way to satisfying their greedy or lazy or lustful ways. There are bindings and taboos and geasa that operate both as weaknesses, like kryptonite for Superman, but also as opportunities and strengths. Anyone could be the hero of a story, and greatness was something each person discovers “while seeking their fortunes.”


In those days, there was no publicly accessible world wide web, and I hadn’t even heard of the Internet in any of its developments, so I had found these stories by visiting brick and mortar libraries. Now, with the variety of ways we can instantly communicate and share with others beyond  the library buildings, I imagine how I might have benefited if I were that kid in the world of today or in the not-too-distant future. These imaginings are inspired by the website of a conference captured here By looking at the images and pages, you might glimpse some of the ideas behind this vision which includes gamification strategies and ways  technology might encourage learning, but also how learning coaches could support inquisitive students.


Looking back, I wonder what I would have done if I were approached by a librarian who was interested in what I got out of those stories. What if that librarian could videocall (like Skype) a few storytellers? What if the librarian introduced me to appropriate storytellers and shared my interests with the mythologists? Maybe a storyteller might share an interest in psychology–Carl Jung, in particular–and might quickly send me some URLs of some YouTube interviews or general introductions to Jungian psychology. What would I have done if I were introduced to concepts like archetypes or motifs? In my digital folder, I might collect explorations of archetypes or review lists of prevailing archetypes in certain countries. What if one or two of these contacts began setting appointments with me so that we could discuss stories in more depth? I might get assigned certain activities like listing the archetypes and motifs that I come across in the stories I read. Maybe one of them might forward my summaries and reflections to someone skilled at explaining philosophical ideas in simple language. This person might suggest that what I was looking for was entertaining stories but that I might begin a correspondence that explores my questions about living the “right way”. My questions might flag me for religious instruction and an education site might email a brief summary of world religions. And so on. Ultimately, though, I would grow and develop communities supporting me and guiding me based on my interests.


Meanwhile, each day, for about 3 hours, I might receive regularly scheduled instruction for using thinking tools, note-taking methods, visual thinking tools, writing instruction, physical education, history and culture exploration using text as well as virtual reality, multimedia, art classes, music classes. My attention and level of engagement with instructors and activities would be monitored and measured. These measurements would impact activities and choice of lesson delivery.  Also, there would always be the option to extend my learning using virtual reality or alternate reality hypertext-like portals to differentiated activities/experiences. Gamified assessments would challenge my understanding, show what I know, and recommend scaffolded projects that would help me to improve my understanding when weaknesses are revealed in those assessments. My performance would help me “level up.” I might choose which direction the leveling up might take me–one direction might lead me towards topics that explore interdisciplinary units that might generalize my learning while another direction might lead me towards domain-specific topics most appropriate (statistically) for my interests and skills.

Arts and crafts and music instruction would be based on recommendations generated by predictive analytics as well. Booklists with study guides, learning guides, activities that build skills and designed to encourage me towards  reflection; poetry with textbook like questions/assignments and varied interpretations of kids and people from different walks of life and questions would explore what resonates personally; types of artworks of artists responding to certain poems or poet topics/interests; physicists or other experts of STEM domains would be asked to interpret or respond to or share their appreciation of specific poems/songs/art forms so that students could recognize connections between disciplines and domains. The quality of these explorations would be ranked or progressively charted in various ways demonstrating the dynamics and positioning in animated webs.

Student works responding to the same artworks could be uploaded– whether the works are two-dimensional as pictures or three-dimensional as sculptures/constructs or four dimensional as narratives or vids. The audience–students, lurkers, instructors, etc–would be encouraged and rewarded for evaluating these works. Evaluations could range as well, from general appreciation to targeted assessment using formal rubrics to more detailed long answer critiques. Expert aestheticians might link the art to educators or masters of this particular media or technique or approach.

People might interview students to explore the cognitive loads and insightful leaps students make. Machines will assist experts in categorizing student contributions as various types (art, solutions to problems, interesting questions, connections, insights, comparisons, wherever they fall on a chart similar to a revised Bloom’s taxonomy). The student’s products would be mined for similarities or approximations of ideas of others, of philosophical concepts, intellectual periods, movements, eras, aesthetics, in order  to provide recommendations leading me to pursue and continue exploring, eventually resulting in the ultimate development of differentiated instruction and targeted “teachable moments”.

These levels of learning and participation will be valued in a knowledge economy where deep learning machines improve their problem solving skills and algorithms and their appreciation of connections and aesthetics to better serve humanity with targeted services, products, and experiences.

The weird values of this knowledge economy and societal environment would drive learning and improvements of various types. Using sophisticated voice recognition systems, dialogues could be automatically arranged based on themes, topics, types of problems, solutions, suggested approaches, etc. Voice-recognition may lead to citations or suggested citations with voice-to-text publishing of debates or information-seeking dialogues that can be later edited and revised to improve value. Group discussions, like the discussions we have on LinkedIn, might be “remastered” and reformatted in order to appear as one, unified, continuous piece with occasional pauses for voiceovers or informative animations to support utterances with fact-checking, explanation, or the citing of references that might have been overlooked or glossed over.

This kind of society would encourage everybody to express themselves, their interests, showcase their skills in whatever medium or space or articulation possible, so that some expert can appreciate them, and could in turn suggest directions and resources to increase personal mastery or experience. Every act has an aesthetic of thought, expression, form, style, etc. Others exist who appreciate these acts and actions so a community can emerge around the aesthetics. Such a development will encourage individuality, creativity, and even more innovation. As people share and prepare food recipes, apply checklists, produce new knowledge in new academic domains, create new diagnostic tools and sensors, new experiments, validate findings, reproduce experiments and findings, and perform in new ways tricks, techniques, skills, and more, people will connect in hundreds of ways with hundreds of others.

This socio-educational  innovation would depend on a technology that could provide near-real time support for conversations, documentation of ideas and insights, and recommendations of all types of information services, information products, research topics, authors, artists, artworks, competition and performance vids, courses, mentors, or coaches, and more, while academics and scientists are fed “food for thought” and research directions. The infrastructure might result from the use of bitcoin technology called blockchain technology which would offer a kind of copyright service on the fly so that creators and thinkers can be credited.

These would indeed be interesting times.


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