Future of Work Opinion

2016 #YearInReview & Predictions for 2017

By Tom Vander Ark — December 12, 2016 6 min read
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The events of this year asked many of us to think differently about the world we live in--a full mental model revision. What’s going on? The global confluence of urbanization, globalization and automation is resulting in more unexpected shocks (so-called black swan events) in politics, economics and ecosystems.

For those of us that believe learning is a key lever for shaping society, five trends shaped life in 2016.

1. Global Populist Revolt. Surprising election outcomes came in waves shocking western democracies and marking the beginning of something new..but what the heck is it?

On one hand, disaffected voters appeared to revolt against a 30-year rise of neoliberalism--openness, tolerance, trade and innovation as the path to more widespread global prosperity.

On the other hand, the stock market is at record highs fueled by free money and promised tax breaks. Not exactly the end of capitalism. But also not at all clear how Brexit backers and Trump supporters will deliver the broad benefits promised.

2. Platform Life. Digital platforms have transformed the way we live, work, play, travel and learn. Five of thelargest firms run platform businesses (listed by market capitalization): Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.

The rise of the platform economy and lifestyle has been supported by improving access to broadband and a dozen megatrends technology inevitabilities summarized below (and based in part on Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable). Together this unconscious conspiracy of exponential technology has created accelerating and unceasing change unlike anything before.

What Tech Does

What Tech Allows Me to Do

Improve seamlessly and continuously (no more monolithic versions

Learn and grow between face to face interactions

Thin services (like Slack) are fast, extensible, interoperable and easy to learn

Freedom to learn, work, be anywhere; all of my information is fluid and linked across all of my screens

Filter the flow of information and allocating attention to the exponentially expanding universe

Create compelling images, stories, campaigns, tools, environments and experiences

Track everything (and that’s growing exponentially) and share it in simple useful visuals

Mix and match playlists and new constructions

Know my preferences, locations, competencies and interests

Connect on interests, events, and campaigns; to build collective solutions

Recommend and remind with increasing accuracy and usefulness

Share public products with broad audiences

3. End of Truth. It was not just a disregard for facts that was so disturbing about 2016, it was the intentional and viral campaigns of misinformation that made the year a disturbing turning point. The hope was that platforms would be a marketplace of ideasaround inarguable facts, but in 2016 social media disintegrated into opinion gullies with flash floods of made up stuff. This year may unfortunately mark the end of truth.

Our civic infrastructure can’t keep up with all of this change. As a result, trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. It suggests that we must double down on digital literacy and civic education.

4. End of Context. Despite a flood of information, it is apparent that modern media has crippled our capacity for making relative judgments. Despite a few widely covered western media stories, most of the 15,000 deaths by terrorism in 2016 occurred in the middle east, north Africa and Afghanistan.

It turns out sugarkills about 1,000 times as many people worldwide as terrorists. Sugar is a major culprit in diseases such as obesity, diabetes and dementia—and it’s in almost everything we consume.

In the U.S., gun deaths are 1000 times worse than terrorists attacks.

In education, context matters more than ever. We continue to observe (take Paul Tough’s new book as an example) that, despite advances in blended environments, learning continue to observe the primacy of face to face interaction. For most, growth is activated by relationship and learning happens in community. Platforms can make face to face time more productive and can provide engagement in the gap between in person experiences--but for most, learning is all about relationships.

5. Rise of Smart Machines. During 2016, artificial intelligence (AI) showed up in every facet of life including agriculture, retail, manufacturing, transportation, wellness and healthcare, and defense. AI is likely to eat some jobs (although there is big disagreement on the timing and extent) and augment other roles.

The rise of machine intelligence will have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of all young people-that’s why we’ve been encouraging teachers and parents to #AskAboutAI. Young people are likely to face an order of magnitude more change than we did; they deserve preparation for novelty and complexity. They would also benefit from role models making a difference combiningCause + Code.

6. End of Standards-Based Reforms. The reauthorization of federal education legislation a year ago marked the end of a quarter century of a strong federal role advancing academic standards, standardized testing and accountability. Reinforced by the recent election, the return to local control reinforces support for deeper learning experiences

Given these trends, the following are six things you’ll see more of in 2017.

  1. More SEL. There will be more emphasis on broader aims including social and emotional learning. National Commission on Social-Emotional and Academic Developmentwill advance the conversation and CASEL will expand its city and state partnerships.
  2. More PBL. Given the interested in mindsets, social and emotional learning, and career readiness, you’ll see more project-based learning and all of its more open-ended inquiry-based cousins.
  3. More AI. You’ll continue to see more forms of artificial intelligence (machine learning, deep learning, neural nets) in education including showing up in learning platforms, adaptive math and English software, writing feedback, transportation planning and communication tools.
  4. More choice. There will be more learning options--not just the school or course but to the experience--with a little more support from Washington, D.C.
  5. More microcredentials. An increasing amount of professional learning comes in small chunks and is demonstrated to colleagues and signified with badges or microcredentials (see Preparing Teachers for a Project-Based World)
  6. More platform networks. School networks are one of the most important innovations in the modern era of U.S. K-12 education. Like New Tech Network, these member networks are voluntary associations of schools focused on design principles and support services. All of them benefit from philanthropic contributions. Most of them share a common learning platform.

A growing number of school districts are adopting learning platforms aligned with their learning model. In some districts like Houston, all schools use the same platform and devices. Other districts like Denver and Santa Ana, support school and network decisions.

Given a couple active projects, we’re likely to see some progress on combining formative data for driving instructional improvement or managing student progress.

For more, see:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.