Powerful Learning is Agile and Student-centered

There’s no shortage of different opinions about how the education system should adapt to a shifting world and a future with unknown demands, but for the most part, only two dominant narratives of education reform have emerged. Most teachers didn’t sign up for this shifty moment we are in. But I find it interesting.

school is broken

The predominant perspective is that schools are broken. Our test scores aren’t great and children and students aren’t learning what they need to be successful. This perspective is dominated by those who believe schools need to be organized and funded differently. But will it flip the system? I doubt it. Different isn’t really different. It’s the same outcome, but maybe different paths to get there. I think that the essential outcomes of improved test scores and other measurable results are the same as the current system.

school is not broken

The other dominant perspective is that schools aren’t broken. It’s this idea of preservation and improvement rather than doing it in any way fundamentally different. They just need to do what they’re already doing, but better. To improve education society needs to support teachers more and limit standardized testing.

third perspective

But neither of these perspectives represent the core goals and elements of a successful education. I believe there are many educators that don’t completely agree with one perspective dominating the debate about education. They want to define a third perspective for those who think education needs to radically shift away from current models. That third perspective would help articulate what goes into creating powerful learning experiences and holds that technology will be a crucial factor in future learning.

third perspective

powerful learning

We need to begin to think about schools in a fundamentally different way. In my vision of this third perspective, the focus is on creating an education system that supports inquiry-based, student-centered learning. Students are encouraged to find entry points into the mandated curriculum. These entries must be meaningful to students. Technology is an integral part of this perspective because it allows students to create and demonstrate their knowledge. Using technology allows students to create things and connect with other people.


Progressive educators discussed other qualities that successful future citizens will need and that a good education should offer. A successful student should be able to manage massive amounts of information, a crucial skill as life becomes more digital. Students should learn in ways that disregard traditional disciplines and focus on real problems that allows multidisciplinairy collaboration and interplay. The focus should be on providing student-centered experiences that bring out qualities in students that aren’t necessarily measurable. Students should learn to build and manipulate computers, not just use them. Perhaps most importantly students should be taught how to learn, especially since the content or specific skills needed in the future are as yet unknown.

efficiency vs quality

These qualities are different than what one might find in an average university, but they aren’t impossible to achieve. It’s hard to convince people that a new perspective can work until they see a physical manifestation of it. Inquiry-based, student-led learning may not be the most efficient approach, but it could be the most quality thing to do. Modern learning is about the ability to self-organize your education, to create meaning for things that have value in the world and not answer to the institution.

efficiency vs quality

dialogue about learning

But as educators discussed the issue more in depth, it became clear there was more than one definition of what a third education narrative would look like. I’m not sure if we all wrote down our definition of modern learning right now or defended the status quo. The underlying problem for any new kind of education is putting out there that level of uncertainty, that level of messiness that exists in the world, the ugly problems that are going to need to be solved by people, not by corporations. An agile, ambiguous vision of education is hard to sell to politicians, parents, and students. But more than anything, we agree that educators should guide students on a learning journey through the lens of their interests and help them discover who they are as learners.

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