Classroom Learning – 4 emerging trends

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“There’s another problem with the prevailing narrative about jobs of the future: some advocates have a habit of relying on bad data.”

This is a timely reminder about the problematic nature of future-focused research and discussion. In truth, no one actually knows what’s going to happen, and advocates who make predictions about the future of work (and learning) can seize pieces of information and incomplete research to make assumptions. We have to recognise our own biases, along with tendencies to assume and make connections that don’t necessarily exist.

That said, it is important to recognise trends, and apply thought to what those trends might mean. Questions that guide our thinking are:

1. What trends are emerging in the changing of work that people perform as a result of exponential technologies and disruptive innovation?
2. Which trends are likely to continue and accelerate, and how is work likely to be disrupted?
3. What knowledge, skills and competencies will people need to thrive in this new era of work?
4. What are the implications for learning?

The questions can vary, but the general theme does not.

The article above closely questions tendencies for educators and policy makers to focus on technology as an unproven solution to an uncertain future. The learning here is that technology is likely part of the solution, along with very human understandings of knowledge, soft skills and competencies.

Arguably, the two most critical factors driving the types of teaching and learning in a learning environment are (a) assessment and (b) the learning environment. Assessment is important because if student achievement is measured and teachers are held accountable to data that’s produced, then the perceived best method to achieve positive results will eventuate. For example, cramming knowledge and ‘teaching to the test’ will result if data is generated and success measured solely through knowledge-based testing.

The second critical factor is the learning environment. For example, if an observer were to enter a classroom in which students are seated at individual desks in rows facing the teacher, then it is likely that the bulk of the instruction in that classroom is teacher-centric and instructional. There may be reduced opportunities for student collaboration and critical discussion, and a desk in rows layout will likely not suit different learners at different stages of their learning.

Our team has been fortunate to be involved in helping teachers transform learning spaces over the years, and this article from The Hechinger Report looks at how simply changing the learning environment forces changes in teaching practices. Different types of furniture and design with students and learning in mind rather than just the teacher can transform student engagement and autonomy, and demands more of the teacher than simple lesson preparation.

The next time you visit a classroom, have a look at how it’s arranged. What are your observations, and what might this mean for the learning that’s taking place?

This is a fascinating article from Farnam Street about the pros and cons of generalised or interdisciplinary learning versus specialisation. The question threading through this is ‘Should I specialise, or become a polymath?’, while suggesting that if a person can’t adapt, changes can be perceived as threats instead of opportunities. The article describes various costs and benefits to each approach, with persuasive arguments made for settling on the idea that interdisciplinary knowledge allows us to “see with new eyes”.

The Generalised Specialist specialises most of the time, but takes time to become actively informed about and developing some knowledge in other disciplines. The article describes this as being fundamental in a time of rapid change, and that school curricula do not provide opportunities for general specialisation to develop.

Is it time to make this change happen in our schools?

Data analytics and machine learning is becoming a big part of education, and these methods are being applied to the question of how to raise student achievement. In the next article, McKinsey & Company has done deep analysis of achievement data from PISA exam results globally, and have identified some critical factors in raising student achievement across all global regions, with two included in this link being:

1. The right mindset matters more than socioeconomic background.

2. Students who receive a blend of teacher-directed and inquiry-based instruction have the best outcomes, and are ‘something skin’ to a universal learning style.

In many classrooms globally, the predominant method of instruction is teacher-directed, with authentic inquiry and exploration not happening.

If a blended approach is desirable, how can we develop a learning system to make it happen? How do we develop institutional and pedagogical capability?

We have some interesting reading from today about the rapid reemergence of behaviourism (conditioning) in education through apps that are now in wide-spread use among some schools and districts. Schools can track behaviour, reward it, share incidents and provide rewards for positive behaviour. Where this might become problematic is that the ‘correct behaviour’, although largely defined by school administrators, is determined by Silicon Valley engineers. The surveillance and control of student activities is raising privacy concerns, and it’s important to ask questions about the role of technology in our schools and unintended consequences, especially as the use of big data becomes more widespread.

It’s not hard to foresee a near-future in which schools constantly monitor thousands of data points in real time, from lateness, noise levels, movement around school and amount/type of activity, student engagement and achievement, with everything being optimised and setting completely personalised student goals, again communicated in real time.

Could there be any possible unintended consequences here?

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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