Learn! 2050

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Learn! 2050  |  How We Transformed America's Learning System
by Arnold Wasserman

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

June 15, 2050
To the reader: I am writing this article from the year 2050. I look back at how we moved from the parlous state of American public education in the early decades of this century to our vibrant lifelong learning system in 2050. For the generations that were not around then, I describe how we figured out “where we want to get to” in learning and the 2014 Call to Action that committed America’s design community to redesigning learning as its public service mission for this century. This initiative helped kick-start a transformation that today in 2050 encompasses more than 300 Metropolitan regions and 200 Micropolitan areas.

A personal note: I am writing this article on my 80th birthday. I have observed and participated in the
transformation of learning over the 50 years since 2000.

Where are we? How did we get here?
Today’s Generations Alpha and Beta cannot remember a time when all public education, from pre-school through college, wasn’t free. They can’t believe that today’s public curriculum, rich not only in science, technology, engineering, and math but also the arts, design, creativity, history, language, and all the other humanities—plus exercise, sports, yoga, and meditation—was not always the norm. Were we once forced to make the binary choice: either a broad humanistic education or technical career preparation? Was there really a time when we did not apply state-of-the-art cognitive neuroscience, learning science, sociology, and electronic technology to student-centered, self-paced, creativity-based open learning?

Did students back then actually spend their entire day “butts-in-a-chair” at a single location? Today, learning takes place everywhere—out in the community and at cultural institutions, at fab labs, tech shops, tinker spots, arts studios, innovation hubs, and at learning incubators and accelerators. It takes place online, on-demand, and just-in-time. It is flipped, blended, and open. An American student learns in peer study groups with partners in other countries. Her e-learning coach may be anywhere in the world. Teacher-coaches are expert at knowing which students need more scaffolded structure versus self-directed “messing around”—and when.