Are professional conferences an effective learning experience? By effective, I mean can a 60 minute conference session actually produce dramatic and sustained personal change? Knowing what research suggests, as well as my own experience, I would have to answer “no.” However, I have experienced truly inspiring sessions that have launched personal learning journeys lasting for weeks, months, or even years after the conference concludes.
This week, I attended SXSWedu which aims to foster innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders across a variety of backgrounds in education. There were at least three diverse experiences I had in Austin which lived up to the vison of the planners and also hold the promise to energize continued exploration on my part.
1 – A New Nexus
ACT Foundation and the Institute for the Future have created a provocative publication that vividly describes how the boundaries between learning, working, and living will dissolve over the next ten years. Digital technologies will power changes in flows, resources, platforms and programs that make it possible for learners to continuously engage in individually-driven, adaptive learning, anytime and anywhere, in a mind-blowing array of formats and modalities, and from an ever-expanding collection of individual and institutional providers. But what is really intriguing is that technology is making it possible for this vast array of experiences to be seamlessly captured, documented and linked to opportunities, such as employability and financial reward, through a dynamic record for every learner.
2 – A New Innovation Requirement
One element of the emerging flows described above is illuminated in the research of Amy Edmondson, HBS professor and author of Building the Future. She challenges leaders to consider, “What does it take for determined visionaries to mobilize people and technologies to build the future?” Edmonson answers the question in part by describing how the innovations that are re-shaping our world can no longer be developed by individual players as they may have in the past (think the refrigerator). Today’s innovations require multiple players and involve multiple industries. Appreciating the challenge of cross-sector teaming and supplying research-based advice on how to solve those challenges, Edmonson suggests that what she terms “Big Teaming” is the pathway to audacious innovation and future-building.
3 – A New Learning Model
I love considering the future possibilities described above and what they might mean for learning today. For instance, what does learning need to look like so that students can fully engage in a world of abundant and unbundled learning resources, and what must they experience so that they can create the sophisticated and complex collaborations that modern innovation will require? Fortunately there are great answers to these questions emerging. One answer can be found in Acton Academy, a micro-school founded by Laura and Jeff Sandefer. Guided by the concept of the Hero’s Journey, the school is committed to “learner-driven education” in which students are responsible for designing their own learning, leading each other, and creating the conventions that characterize a vital school culture. At Acton, building “future-necessary” skills, including agency and curation, is embedded in the learning process. Students articulate their objectives and identify required learning resources with the assistance of adult “guides”. Collaboration is naturally integrated as groups of students engage in project-based “quests” and embrace joint responsibility for the classroom environment.
I am definitely excited to continue to learn and explore the ideas behind all of these efforts and I am sure I will do so for the weeks, months, years to come. Thanks for living up to the promise of learning SXSWedu!