Old ideas and new

For the past couple weeks I’ve been setting up school visits and looking into the literature on 21st century skills and competencies, digital technologies, and authentic learning in education.

Here’s a few choice quotes that feed into much of the thinking in those realms.

If students are to be prepared to cope with new and changing conditions, they must be exposed to more than current factual knowledge and occupational skills…They must learn, for example, how to think, communicate, organize, interact, make decisions, solve problems, and assign priorities, but most of all, they must learn how to learn.

By using the community as a classroom, we are in a position to use natural situational frames as a means for integrating learning and practice and fitting patterns of formal learning to local patterns of informal learning…we can use the natural setting and events of the community to bring students into the flow of real-life experiences where they can acquire more pervasive and useful process skills.

That’s from a 1981 paper by a researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks making the argument for more project-centered forms of education rooted in local communities.

Now here’s the OECD, in its Education 2030 position paper:

Students will need to apply their knowledge in unknown and evolving circumstances. For this, they will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills…social and emotional skills…and practical and physical skills…

A concept underlying the learning framework is “co-agency” – the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals. In this context, everyone should be considered a learner, not only students but also teachers, school managers, parents and communities.

Sound similar? It’s a good reminder to myself and others thinking about education futures that often plenty of effort has been undertaken to think through these things in the past.

For example, is this a venture-funded micro-school, or just an effort supported by the design-thinking innovation gurus of of the School District of Philadelphia in the 1960’s?

…facilities such as abandoned warehouses, offices and schools along the Parkway were used for meeting places and to store materials and resources. Students and teachers met on a flexible schedule for various learning activities, depending on outside involvements and individual or group needs. Teachers served as tutors and counselors, and supervised student activities with cooperating agencies and institutions in the community.

The answer, of course, is the latter.

Humbly acknowledging that much of the way that we talk about education and many of the solutions proposed have already been explored in the past, I’m going to keep plugging away on this literature review with a couple of questions in mind.

1. What resources do we now have available to improve learning?

2. What realities do we face that compel us to test out those resources?

These, of course, aren’t new questions. Some of the best questions never are.