According to which futurist you ask, we stand to lose between 38%-50% of today’s jobs to automation over the next 20 years. The jobs predicted to fall to automation include those which are repetitive, predictable, and routine. The jobs predicted to continue to be relevant and to multiply are those which require genuine creativity, focus on building complex relationships, and respond to the unpredictable. With today’s students heading into such a highly unpredictable job market, we need to immediately shift the focus from teaching content in traditional subjects to all students to teaching 21st Century skills of agency, collaboration, creativity, communication, and problem-solving in a personalized manner. In other words, the time for personalized learning is now and the need is imminent!
But personalized learning is not about the automation of teaching through technology. I want to state that a different way for emphasis and clarity as the phrase “personalized learning” has been vastly misunderstood, misrepresented, and subsequently maligned. Personalized learning is not about what technology is being used in the class, and it is certainly not about technology replacing teachers. Anyone who has had the experience of feeling inspired by and connected with a teacher (which hopefully is everyone) can attest to the truth that software alone can do neither. The best use of technology brings teachers and students closer together and provides tools through which students can build agency and creative problem solving skills. In other words, personalized learning is about each person. Any effort to bypass the valuable human-to-human connection in learning will inevitably fail.
Having said this, it is essential to note that we as educators must evolve in our roles. We must recognize those practices which are routine, repetitive, and predictable. These components of teaching can be relegated in part to video instruction and adaptive technologies. To remain relevant, and more importantly, to truly maximize our impact on student learning, we must transform the core focus of our efforts to creativity, connectivity, and responsiveness to student needs within our classes. So what does this focus look like in a 21C classroom empowered by technology?
Teacher as Creator and Conductor of Creativity
Creating multiple pathways for student learning
Engaging students in co-creating their learning pathways
Creating learning spaces that inspire learning and creativity, both online and offline
Creating projects and learning experiences by curating interesting resources and planning explorations online and offline
Virtual field trips
Open Ed Resources
Providing multiple tools for design thinking and creativity to engage students in next-gen learning and problem solving
Teacher as Connector
Using different ways of learning about students on a personal level and soliciting valuable student insight
Engaging students in ongoing self-reflection and learning to foster a growth mindset and connection to self
Connecting students with peers in meaningful discussions both in and beyond the classroom walls
Using conference time gained from blended models to truly connect with learners on an individual and small-group level
Blended instructional models
Teacher as Early Responder and Mentor
Using multiple pathways to understand and communicate with students and to help students through challenges
Reading and responding to the data narrative which can inform each student’s personalized learning path
Formative assessment software
Setting up systems of peer support and digital citizenship to facilitate healthy relationships and support social-emotional learning
Facilitate intervention by connecting students with resources when in crisis or in need of social emotional support
Online resource hubs
Mentor students through co-creation of personalized growth plans which include academic and social learning goals
When we get it right, the role of the 21st Century teacher will most closely resemble a mashup of guidance counselor, coach, and teacher. As I shared a few years ago in a post about teacher style, every teacher will continue to bring that special element to the experience that makes their unique connection with students the strongest. For some, it will continue to be an impassioned lecture, but perhaps in a flipped delivery with more time spent engaged with students in the relevant application of that information. For others, it will be the combination of humor and sincerity they bring to their teacher-student interactions, perhaps sometimes shared in discussion forums. Whatever way we as educators continue to put the teacher in teaching, it will have to be in ways that enable technology to do what technology can do best while we continue to do what only humans can do best...create, connect, and inspire our students.