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Nex-Gen Learning

April 9, 2015 Vander Ark blogpost in Education Week.This post is a repost from Dr. Hilvitz-Stokes portfolio Transform Learning.

As an individual who uses big picture and systems thinking to create plans of action, I thought it necessary to share key learnings about digital ecosystems within the field of education. In the April 2015 article written by Tom Vander Ark, he discussed the underinvestment and feeble articulation of learning platforms within institutionalized learning organizations. The contention was that schools were approximately 5 years behind in creating learning spaces that included competency-based and learner centered activities that shape future citizens to problem-solve, ideate, and test solutions.

My mind began to wonder… “Why are we so behind in our thinking?” ,,, “How is it that a field dedicated to life long learning, inquiry, and knowledge sharing continue to operate in a reactive versus proactive state?”

My contention is that we are so busy making sure that our content is delivered through reliable and valid outlets that we miss transformational opportunities to scale our field’s actions to build the human capital needed in a world with access to rapid information exchange.

Please do not misinterpret the statement above. Validity and reliability within knowledge sharing is vital to societal growth in skills and capacities. But maybe, the field of formal education should take a page from the book of inventors and explorers. Maybe, we need to put some of our resources into design thinking techniques to extend our capacity beyond what we know to be true and dabble in uncharted waters.

So let us journey into dissecting current ecosystem of learning. A plan of action needs to include: collection of the current state of learning institutions’  use of digital tools to provide content and socialization, iterative discussions of why we function within this paradigm, creation of a system that builds on the current ecosystem, and finally ideation of future functioning.

To provide background information about digital ecosystems I have included information from Vander Ark’s blog post, recently reprinted in Education Week’s April 15th issue, to gain more information regarding the idea of a digital ecosystem. Here is what he said,

[There] are 12 components of next-gen learning and 12 development vectors, groups of organizations on a similar path to next-gen learning, and 12 suggestions for philanthropies that want to accelerate progress.

Digital Components

Digital Curation Tool Box Image

Digital Curation Tool Box Image

When defining components Vander Ark described them as digital platforms. Digital components such as  learning, relationship, content, integration, and assessment tools tend to be found in many schools today. What is not seen is the use of these tools to integrate the entire learning experience. If advising, cross-collaboration, data bases for knowledge sharing, integration of data across courses or grade levels, or a comprehensive personalized area that allows for artifact usage were intentionally applied within the student experience these components would enable learners to shine brightly.

Development Vectors

Forces that bring about change within the system can be referred to as development vectors. Re-envisionning social interaction, time, space, place and engagement might create pathways to non-identified learning options. Our field appears to be dabbling in this idea. I believe that many learning and training systems are just beginning to redefine how the concepts listed above have an effect on learning. The challenge is to change our lens as we envision the future. If we take this risk, a door will open to new ways of thinking about competency, data, dashboards and universal design of learning.

Alignment of Services

These groups of constellations create important and beautiful images when discussed in isolation. Each are important and have functions within learning that are all inclusive. However, the amazing power of alignment of student, faculty, institution and administration services is at our fingertips. With intentional integration through strategic planning; day to day operations could become more effective and powerful.

Questions to ponder:

  • What future benefits are derived, within the ecosystem of learning organizations,  through choosing use digital tools to drive systems thinking and learning?
  • What components are important and why?
  • Can they be used to scale effective societal growth?
  • Does mapping future structures, overarching themes, and concepts toward intentional use of these tools catapult institutionalized learning from yesterdays’ intended purpose?
  • Are learning organizations creating a planned digital ecosystem that includes vectors, components and constellations?
  • Is there a blueprint within each institution that shows the relationships between these components and how they will enhance society overall?


Vander Ark, T. (2015). How learning will work in the near future: 12 features of nex-gen platforms. Education Week Blog Post April 15, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015 from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_innovation/2015/01/how_learning_will_work_in_the_near_future_12_features_of_next_gen_platforms.html

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