It has been more than ten years now since Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, hypothesized that we are moving from an information age of knowledge workers to a conceptual age of creators. “In short, we’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.” P.50
This big idea was ground breaking. It provided meaning to the rapid change we are all living through and allowed us to see that creative work will be in the highest demand in an increasingly connected and automated world.
The implications of Pink’s conceptual age are large for education as well. With this view of our economic state, we have a compelling answer to the “why” for the now familiar call for educational system reform. For decades we have been collectively seeking the means to improve the school experience for students. Now, with conceptual work recognized as a gateway to the future, our rationale for educational system reform has been re-framed; from an equity or judicial lens to a practical one. Of course we want our children to enjoy school. But this desire has now shifted from simply the right thing to do to the necessary thing to do. We also know that the key to developing conceptual workers is through creativity. And while creativity is inherent in all of us, it isn’t something to be “taught” in the traditional sense of industrial era education. The creativity in all of us can only be nurtured through self-ownership and personalization of the learning process. Refer, for example, to:
"The Relevance of Creativity in Education" by Rosa Aurora Chávez-Eakle,
"All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education" by Ken Robinson,
"Creative Learning Environments in Education" by Dan Davies, and
"Innovative Learning: Key Elements for Developing Creative Classrooms in Europe" by Stefania Bocconi, Panagiotis Kampylis, and Yves Punie.
In their book Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg provide additional insight and clarification. “Without motivation, no amount of teaching can produce learning. Motivation comes from within, not from without – it cannot be imposed on students. Without motivation, young students and adults learn, and they do so by means they select.” P.2
Accordingly, it is also suggested that "ideal school environments need to demonstrate the following characteristics:
Learning takes place through self-motivation and self-regulations.
Equal status is given to all students.
The output of learners is judged through self-evaluation, a concept that includes the freedom to seek outside feedback.
Learning groups form based on common interests.
No artificial distinction is drawn between learners and teachers and all members of the learning community participate fully in regulating its activities.” P.13
So, are there teachers and principals trying to do this? Clearly yes; they are the innovators and early adopters at the front end of an educational change movement that is gaining momentum. However, there is an overriding issue that needs to be addressed to support this momentum; our educational systems, organizations and processes aren't designed to promote student engagement through self-motivation. We know this. Our industrial age systems were designed to support teacher ownership of the learning process. When we see evidence of innovators and early adopters transferring this ownership over to students, we need to acknowledge that this is happening in spite of current system design, not because of it. As this momentum continues to grow, it will become increasingly evident that the design of our current educational systems is unsustainable if student learning through creativity is the desired outcome, which we now know it needs to be. In short, we need to create client-focused educational systems. Of course the "client" in this type of educational system refers to each student, whose personalized needs the larger system is intentionally organized to support.
Moving from the early adopters to the early and late majority will be difficult, if not improbable, for educational systems lacking the proper structure. The same way that classrooms belong to the organizational unit of the school, schools belong to the organizational unit of the larger system or district. Client-focused educational systems have district level organizational structures that are intentionally designed to support the individualized needs of their students. In a knowledge age organizational structure, the resources of the system are allocated to adults for transfer to students. In a conceptual age client-focused organizational structure, the resources of the system are allocated from the student perspective to support relationships with adults that are founded upon mutual consent. In this organizational structure the student is empowered to assume greater ownership of the learning process that works for them. And associated with this organizational re-design is an expanded role at the district level to assist the personalized needs of students.
Think for a moment about how our personalized needs are being increasingly addressed through client-focused system structures; from music streaming systems that recommend play lists based upon listening preferences, to retail reward points based upon purchasing habits, to dating sites that connect people based upon personality profiles. In a conceptual age, client-focused educational organizations provide this same type of personalized support - which can only be reasonably supported at the district level for several reasons.
1. Client-focused educational systems require the ongoing retrieval, analysis and application of information in response to the individualized needs of students. Aligning these information processes at the district level creates economies of scale so that school staff can focus their efforts where they are needed most – to support their students.
2. The learning world is no longer confined by the walls of classrooms and schools. At the district level, information can be applied from a larger perspective to help connect students and staff across a variety of platforms and locations; both within the district and beyond.
In essence, this district level information support represents the new type of prescriptive educational research described by Clayton M. Christensen et al in the book Disrupting Class; How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. “[E]ducation research must move toward understanding what works from the perspective of individual students in different circumstances as opposed to what works best on average for groups of students or groups of schools.” P. 186
This is about the incremental growth of educational systems through district level resource support that moves from numbers to names. In many respects, school systems are better positioned than private business to take on this transformative work because of a reasonably stable and established client base. In other words, the foundation is already in place for any educational system to initiate a 15 year plan, beginning with their most recently registered cohort of kindergarten students. As a parallel process, personalized system support can also begin with those students who have already disengaged from school.
Key to the ability of educational systems advancing this transformational process is a deep and accessible understanding of the personal learning environment (PLE) of each student served. With this starting point, the connection between student needs and personalized learning opportunities can be assisted at the district level for application by school staff.
Rarely, in the history of public education, have we had such an opportunity. With purposeful organizational design we can advance personalization as a means to motivate learning; moving beyond knowledge application to creativity for growth and well-being.