Personalized Learning Pathways & the Gig Economy

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Individual learning pathways,

21st century skills,

Embracing the whole child;

These empowering phrases are being used to sell the public on a technology-centric, radical redesign of public education. Why? So our students will be able to keep pace in the highly competitive global economy.

David Coleman, father of the common core standards, let slip a rare insight into the real role individual students are to play in the new personalized education landscape of college and career readiness. Coleman’s statement was in response to the common core writing standards’ emphasis of analysis over opinion writing.

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s— about what you feel or what you think,” he said. “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”

Forgive me, but workers bowing their heads and biting their tongues before the boss, who doesn’t give a shit about what they think or feel, sounds more like a 18th century skill to me – going back to the industrial revolution and persisting today in almost every workplace in the United States.

Personalized Pathways: Empowering or a Re-Branded Subjugation?

Katherine Prince of KnowledgeWorks, had this to say about the radical personalization of education:

Not only will schools take many forms but teachers will be those in the classroom and beyond. Prince calls these “learning agents” and they include developers and technology experts who will help create technologies that can measure learning and help teachers know when students understand what is being taught and when more instruction is needed. A blend of online learning and classroom instruction could be part of the redesign as it now being put in place in a growing number of universities.

Students also need to be prepared for the reality that full-time employment will continue to decline and workers will increasingly be hired for short-term jobs. Students need to be prepared for “mosaic careers,” Prince says.

The key skills they will need for future employment will be the ability to embrace change, appreciation of experimentation, problem solving and the ability to quickly analyze information. Young people must be trained to expect continuous learning and manage disruptions.

Wait, what?

Students need to be prepared for short-term jobs and not expect full-time employment. How empowering is that?  Sounds like the goal of this radical re-imagining of education is to produce workers willing to eek out a precarious existence in the gig economy.

The Global Education Futures: Agenda GEF.Agenda_eng ( pages 12 ) gets even more to the point: education has to be re-structured to support a jobless economy and provide an avenue to ease social tension caused by this mass financial hardship.

The transformation of economy structure inevitably changes the structure of employment. In coming years, automation of manual and intellectual routine labor will lead to substantial job reduction — which may increase social tension unless displaced workers can acquire new skills and enter job markets in new sectors. Education may serve as a social buffer that helps this shift — and educational institutions should proactively prepare for the coming transformation.

If workers are the losers, there must be someone benefiting from the new economy. Again from the GEF Report ( page 25).

Besides that, a new and extremely important trend in education is the emerging opportunity of direct talent investment (e.g. a recent crowdinvesting platform Upstart allows to invest up to US$ 200,000 into a talented young person who then shares a small share of their income over 5 or 10 years). This model has for a long time been employed in athlete and actor job markets, but it can soon become a mass solution as big data models of competence profiles would allow to estimate the most beneficial educational & career tracks. The beginning of 2020s may see the emergence of first ‘man-llionaires’ — owners of investment portfolios, made solely of talented people investments, that worth more than one billion dollars. Later, the same model of direct talent investment could be applied by pension funds — in fact, it can be described as a modified version of Bismarckian pension system where highly performing youth would work in the interest of retired investors.

The rising demand for personalized education from employers and investors will spur the development of personal education management systems (and respective market infrastructure). In particular, we expect the standardization of descriptors defining the contribution of specific courses and other educational products (e.g. games & simulators) to the competence profile (much like ‘nutritional facts’ on food products packaging). We also expect that within next 2-3 years a fully functional search engine for educational online services will appear, most likely as a search option within major search engines such as Google, Baidu, or Yandex. In addition to that, it is highly probable that specialized educational content aggregators will offer ‘branded’ educational tracks: a path to create a target competence profile, e.g. an average profile of a skilled industry professional or a profile of a ‘hero’ such as an industry leader (e.g. Bill Gates or Jack Welch). These ‘branded’ tracks will gradually develop into 24/7 (artificial intelligence) virtual instructors that could make flexible adjustments to the educational trajectory to adapt it to the current results, objectives, and body-and-mind state of the student.

Lots to discuss here.

First, who benefits from this education re-design? Investors, for one, and the ‘man-llionaires’ who will own portfolios of talented people and get a cut of their holdings’ earnings for the next 5-10 years.

Of course, whoever wins out and becomes the most popular platform delivery system for connecting workers to gigs will profit greatly as well.

And how is a branded learning track possibly personalized?

Selling kids the online Bill Gates “hero” learning pathway, complete with an AI virtual instructor, symbolizes for me all that’s wrong with personalized learning.

Conclusion

Luckily, the dystopian future of personalized learning pathways isn’t set in stone. Even GEF admits it (page 8).

BASIC PRINCIPLES OF MAPPING THE EDUCATION FUTURES:

The future can be created, it depends on our efforts;

There are many possible futures — it is not determined by the past, but depends on current decisions taken by participants and stakeholders;

There are areas in relation to which one can make predictions, but in general, the future is not reliably predictable; we can get ready for the future or prepare the future the way we envision it to be.

As concerned parents, educators, and citizens, we need to reject personalized learning pathways and the rise of the gig economy. There’s many possible futures, time to start creating the one we want to live in.

-Carolyn Leith

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From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

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If we hope to preserve neighborhood schools for future generations we must recognize how reformers are reframing the idea of public education in dangerous new ways. A coordinated campaign of ALEC legislation, philanthropic investments, and slick re-branding is underway with the ultimate goal of replacing school buildings and certified, human teachers with decentralized, unregulated learning eco-systems and non-credentialed mentors and/or AI “tutors.”

It is a challenging concept to grasp. Therefore, I have decided to work on a series of posts. Taken together, I hope they will provide a base of information that people can share with others. This initial post will provide a framework for understanding the concept of a learning eco-system. Subsequent ones will cover: school redesign, digital badging, credit-bearing ELOs, Social Impact Bond financing, and changes to teacher training/hiring.

What is a learning eco-system?

Proponents of a data-driven, technology-mediated approach to public education see 21st-century learning as a “quest” in which participants diligently work to assemble proof that they’ve obtained the assorted skills and bits of knowledge they need to compete for jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than a humanistic approach that values individual creativity and civic discourse, the focus is on gathering data and shaping children to become standardized cogs in service of the global economy. The intent is to maintain the status quo, not to develop thinkers who might tip the apple cart and create a future that better serves the needs of the masses. Screen time trumps face time.

By shifting how we think about education-from a human process that happens within a community of learners to a game in which students demonstrate standards and accumulate badges-reformers aim to move much of the  K12 education process out of physical school buildings where face-to-face interaction is the primary mode of instruction, and into virtual classrooms, game environments, cultural institutions, and work settings. This is how they will attempt to replace neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.” Katherine Prince, Knowledgeworks

Financialization of the education sector requires separating “education” from school buildings that remain under the control of local school boards and unionized teachers and administrators. Free market principles cannot prevail if educational experiences remain subject to local oversight and trained, veteran teachers continue to be part of the conversation.

Reformers propose to replace our “outdated, factory-model” neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems. There is considerable talk about redesigning education for 21st-century learners. The Ed Reform 2.0 landscape for K12/P20 is built upon the premise that “anytime, any where learning” is the best option to train students to navigate the gig economy. Proponents of learning-ecosystems seek disruption and radical reinvention. They picture a future where big-data and algorithms create efficient pools of human capital for use by global markets. For them grade levels, peer groups, report cards, and diplomas are a thing of the past.

The above quote, by Katherine Price, Director of Strategic Foresight at Knowledgeworks, indicates that even the private sector has qualms about how this transformation may play out. The essay “A Learning Day 2037,” by Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums uses Moya’s story to show what happens when the “vibrant learning grid” doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise, especially for children on the margins of society. It is interesting to note that Knowledgeworks, a long-time partner with the Gates Foundation, is a major player in the push for learning eco-systems. Knowledgeworks is also involved with community schools initiatives through their program StriveTogether that promotes data-driven decision-making for children from “cradle to career.”

Widespread adoption of “personalized” digital education platforms underpins the learning eco-system model, as does reliance on big-data (academic and social-emotional) to guide students on their appropriate workforce “pathway” and reinforce desirable behaviors like “deep learning.” They see children as dynamic sets of skills, competencies and personality traits that can be quantified, sorted, and placed in digital portfolios.

The story of your personal evolution as a thinking, questioning, curious member of society? Not important except to the extent that you can put a badge on it, and they can use it to profile you. Learning in community, learning in relationship to others, also not important. If they can’t match it with a data tag, it does not factor into the equation. Those life-changing memories we hold in our hearts from our time in school are not the kinds of things you can easily upload to a “Learning Record Store.”

So, what types of experiences could a learning eco-system contain? Really, almost anything to which you can assign a standard and slap on a badge. Sample personalized playlists might include:

Watching a video

Listening to a podcast

Completing an audiobook

Playing a online-game

Participating in a virtual reality experience

Going to a museum-even a “virtual museum tour”

Participating in an online community forum

Doing a webx chat with an online “tutor”

Completing a virtual “lab” experiment

Working at your after school job

Participating in a after school club

Going to a rock-climbing gym

Providing “volunteer” tech support to your school district

And you can see how this approach to education expands to encompass workforce development in this eye-opening video from the Institute for the Future “Learning is Earning.” Data and proof of achieving mastery or competencies tied to standards will be tracked and documented through software like xAPI. The items in the above list are not “bad.” It is the idea that they could, in the present climate of austerity education budgets, become substitutes for authentic, in-school learning that concerns me. I’m sure in the hands of a thoughtful educator, many of the ideas noted could be used in moderation to enhance a school-based educational experience.

BUT the learning eco-system model is designed to MARGINALIZE the human teacher. Teachers are meant to be “guides-on-the-side,” staying in the background, checking the playlists, pathways, and portfolios, rather than providing direct instruction to students, building relationships with them, or creating classroom community. Most of these activities do NOT depend on children actually being IN a school building. As 1:1 device initiatives become the norm, students can demonstrate their “mastery” from almost any location that has Wi-Fi. And this is how we end up outsourcing oversight of our children’s education to unknown parties. I fear the day we allow education to become an elaborate game of Pokémon Go, where “anyone can grant an edu-block.”

In the personalized learning environment, children, young children who have very limited experience in the world, are expected to find their own direction, their own passion, which is incredibly troubling. Or worse, they may have their direction chosen FOR them based on analysis of unknown data generated from online stealth assessments or third-party survey tools. It is scary to consider a child may have their future life choices constrained by unknowingly expressing an interest in an academic subject in elementary school. Perhaps the high school junior will be denied access to a graphic design class after having expressed an interest in medicine as a ten year old? If children step off the assigned path, will they be castigated for not being gritty or resilient and then remediated until they comply? The government has set up a maze of developmentally inappropriate standards, and now the “personalized” learning model is forcing teachers to take a spot on the sidelines and watch as things unfold.

Is it not the purpose of K12 education to provide a rich set of experiences and material that children can draw upon to craft, adapt, and refine their identities based on their own ways of being in the world? Aren’t connections to their teachers, classmates, and school staff paramount? We know that economic circumstances will require coming generations to be creative problems solvers, so why put our kids in educational and emotional straightjackets under the guise of giving them “personalized” cyber educations? It is about control, limiting access to information and human contact, and monetizing our children’s data.

It would be very naive to think given the limited public funds being invested in children, we would EVER have the resources required to maintain THREE systems of education: neighborhood schools, virtual schools, AND community-based learning eco-systems. If past experience is any measure, bricks-and-mortar neighborhood schools are going to get the short end of the stick. Which may be why districts seem intent on investing in so much technology as their facilities fall into decrepitude.

In the land of learning eco-systems everyone goes it alone. You might mix with others here and there, peers or mentors or pathway guides, but it is a “personalized” journey. They seem to be tapping into some sort of warped American ideal of individualism. I am special. I have an education “playlist” designed just for me. It is exclusive. It is one of a kind. And the reformers are thinking…Don’t ask questions. We will optimize you based on our exhaustive knowledge of who you are. We know all your 1’ and 0’s. We know more about you than YOU know. We will put you in your place, but we will be very careful in making you believe you had a choice in the matter.

Neighborhood schools are among the last public spaces where open, civic discourse can take place. They are supposed to be safe spaces where children are nurtured. They are spaces where people can come together. It is imperative that we fight for their continued existence. Trading them in for learning eco-systems or community drop-in learning centers would be a very bad idea. Next up-Future Ready Schools.

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-Alison McDowell

How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?

 

You cannot fully understand what is happening with Future Ready school redesign, 1:1 device programs, embedded assessments, gamification, classroom management apps, and the push for students in neighborhood schools to supplement instruction with online courses until you grasp the role the federal government and the Department of Defense more specifically have played in bringing us to where we are today.

In 1999, just as cloud-based computing was coming onto the scene, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13111 and created the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative or ADL.

Section 5 of that order set up “The Advisory Committee on Expanding Training Opportunities” to advise the president on what should be done to make technology-based education a reality for the ENTIRE country. The intent was not only to prioritize technology for “lifelong learning,” but also shift the focus to developing human capital and in doing so bind education to the needs of industry and the economy.

Representatives of Cisco Systems and Jobs for the Future co-chaired the committee. Others around the table included the e-learning industry, student loan financiers, educational testing companies, human resource managers, labor market analysts, universities, community colleges, chambers of commerce, city government, and a futurist. George Bush incorporated Clinton’s work into Executive Order 13218, the 21st Century Work Force Initiative, the following year giving the effort a bipartisan stamp of approval. The Obama administration continued this push for online learning in the National Broadband Plan, which contained an entire chapter on digital education, as well as through a variety of 21st century school redesign efforts like ConnectEd, Future Ready Schools, and Digital Promise.

ADL began as an electronic classroom for the National Guard and later expanded to serve the entire Defense Department. In 1998 the government decided to use it for ALL federal employee training. And by leveraging its influence over federal contracting the government successfully pushed for standards that enabled wide adoption of cloud-based instructional technology.

As the Department of Defense worked on e learning for the military in the mid 1990s, the Department of Education put together the nation’s first educational technology plan, which was completed in 1996. A tremendous infusion of federal funds was released into schools to support technology purchases and expand Internet access. The FCC’s E-Rate program was established that year.

At the same time IMS Global began to advance implementation of e-learning systems. This non-profit began as a higher education trade group and now has over 150 contributing members, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Pearson, and hundreds upon hundreds of affiliated companies and institutions that use its open source specifications. The Gates Foundation is a platinum level sponsor of four major IMS Global initiatives.

Over twenty years IMS Global members shared research and resources, and built up an industry now valued at $255 billion annually. So if you still wonder why they won’t give education back to human teachers, you simply need to take a close look at the many politically connected interests that are counting on digital education becoming the new paradigm.

IMS Global and ADL teamed up to establish common standards for meta data and content packaging of so-called learning objects. In the world of 21st century education reformers anticipate school will become largely about children interacting with these online learning objects-a playlist education if you will where based on your past performance algorithms will serve up what they think you need to know next. For folks like Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg, such an education where students consume pre-determined content seems the ultimate in efficiency. Gamified experiences and online simulations being developed through ADL and DARPA in partnership with many universities and non-profits, will also provides a structure for to capture students’ soft skills and shape their behavior.

The first product ADL and IMS Global came up with was called SCORMor Shared Content Object Reference Model. SCORM provided pathways for the bits and pieces of e-learning content to get to a particular learning management system, like Dreambox, accessed by a particular student. It tracked elements like course completion, pages viewed, and test scores.

By 2008, there was a desire to track a student’s interaction with devices OUTSIDE of fixed learning management systems. New devices and games often did not work within the SCORM framework. Ed-tech proponents wanted students to be able to interact with online content in new ways, so they could record interactions taking place on mobile platforms, directly through browser searches, or via Internet of Things sensors.

ADL commissioned a new specification that could track activity streams as students interacted with online media. The result was xAPI or Tin Can API, which debuted in 2011. Now all sorts of data can be monitored, tracked, and put into data lockers or learning record stores. LRS’s can store information about what videos you watched, what online quizzes you took and the results, what websites you visited, what books you purchased, what games you played, what articles you read or annotated. It can also capture data gathered via sensors, RFID chips, and biometric monitors. LRSs collect data about all sorts of so-called “informal” learning experiences. The MacArthur Foundation has been funding considerable research in digital media learning (or DML) in informal settings for youth.

With the development of xAPI, the Ed Reform 2.0 vision of “anytime, any place” learning, learning where human teachers and school buildings are no longer required, could proceed more quickly. IMS Global is now supporting Mozilla’s open badge initiative. xAPI meta data could eventually be combined with badge programs and Blockchain/Bitcoin technology to create e-portfolios (online credential systems). And if automatic credential verification and micro-payment systems come to fruition, a virtual wallet voucher system could devastate already precarious public education funding.

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative is a major player in the development of mobile, game-based, and virtual learning environments. They also conduct extensive research and development on online “personal learning assistants” and with the aim of creating digital personal tutors for all of us. Their research is carried out at four Cooperative Laboratories or co-labs, which are located in Madison, WisconsinAlexandria, Virginia; Memphis Tennessee; and Orlando, Florida. Each lab supports partnerships with private sector interests and institutions of higher education.

The Wisconsin co-lab works specifically on academic projects, many involving the Florida Virtual School with whom they have a long-standing relationship. The co-lab’s focus is on competency-based education. They’ve partnered with the Educational Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin Madison to create educational gaming platforms and maintain over 60 other partnerships to research and refine game-based online instruction. Another focus has been on developing MASLO or “Mobile Access to Supplemental Learning Objects,” which is enabled by xAPI technology. The Tennessee co lab has been doing research on an intelligent tutoring system that even recognizes human emotion in the person using a given device and tries to counteract negative emotion.

DARPA-the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also in the business of developing gaming simulations and intelligent tutoring systems. They work closely with the office of the Navy. Their “Engage” program was set up in 2012 and through partnerships with Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, UCLA, and the University of Denver, created numerous games for K12 students based on Alternate Reality Teaching “Our Space” in virtual environments. Instruction in Social Emotional learning was built into the games. Their Full Spectrum Learning project aims to create an online platform that can monitor students and identify their strengths and weaknesses and revise the experience adaptively based on the data generated.

The arrival of ADL, changed public education in a very fundamental way. It is no coincidence that the destructive No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in the year after it was created. Over the next fifteen years, with bipartisan support, education incrementally gave way to training, creativity to compliance, serendipity to standards, and human connection to digital isolation. As the curriculum became narrower and narrower, emphasizing standardized test scores and demonstrations of skill, education became a hollowed out exercise, something could be digitized and outsourced to corporations.

Data-driven, standards-based tactics have been intentionally employed to regiment the very human process of teaching and learning. During ADL’s first decade, the imperative was to get technology and Internet into schools. Once that infrastructure was in place, they could concentrate on restructuring the curriculum making screen-based education central and pushing the teacher into a secondary role on the sidelines.

Common Core State Standards were a big part of that process. The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created the standards in 2009. Not as many people know about the Common Education Data Standards that were established at the same time. CEDS enabled the collection and sharing of vast amounts of data across sectors from Pre-K through Community College.

The Learning Registry is another important piece of the puzzle. It was created in 2011 as a partnership between the US Department of Education and once again the Department of Defense. It is an open source distribution network of learning resources that holds meta data and para data. It is important to understand that learning objects can be tagged in many ways, including adding tags for a variety of standards. For that reason even if we get rid of Common Core State Standards, it wouldn’t necessarily make a dent in slowing down the rollout of adaptive, digital curriculum.

In addition to meta data, which is data that describes individual education resources, the Learning Registry also collects para datathrough the use of emitters that can be mounted on smart boards in classrooms.

Para data describes how online learning resources are used:

  • Who’s doing the searches?
  • What students are in the room with the person doing the searches?
  • A history of searches conducted
  • What is being viewed, downloaded and shared?
  • What is favorited or embedded?
  • To which standards is the selected content aligned?
  • What tags have been added to content?
  • How is it being incorporated into the curriculum?
  • What grade is it being used in?
  • Where is it being used?
  • What is the audience is for the item?
  • What the instructional setting is.
  • What is the experience level of the class and the teacher?

The devices in our children’s classrooms are largely there because a specific set of government policies have prioritized technology over human educators for the past fifteen years. These devices are watching us as much as we are watching them. And we should be aware that many of the programs in use are direct outgrowths of work done by the Department of Defense in partnership with private sector interests and institutions of higher education. Technology can be used for good, but not if it is given an unconditional pass in our classrooms. Shine a light on educational surveillance. Ask questions. Talk to others and organize!

-Alison McDowell

Save the Date.

Alison McDowell will be speaking in Seattle on March 25th, from 10AM-1PM at the Lake City Branch of the Seattle Public Library (12501 28th Ave. N.E. Seattle, WA 98125 ).

Her talk Personalization or Profiling: Childhood in the Ed-Tech Era Ed Reform 2.0 is free and open to the public.