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The Network School Essay

Technology has turned the impossible into the everyday, reshaping every aspect of our lives from entertainment to commerce to communication, but one tradition stands conspicuously unchanged: education. This contrast becomes even more puzzling as the world around us has become increasingly connected, prompting a lot of criticism, conjecture, and speculation about the future of education.

 

Visit most schools today and you will see learners with personal devices, access to the internet, and a variety of devices designed to support learning. Yet, if we look a bit deeper, we find the truth that schools today share a striking resemblance with schools of 50 years ago. The core architecture of schools is characterized by:

 

  • Standardization of curriculum and assessments 

  • Age-based cohorts 

  • Subject compartmentalization

  • Teacher-centric instruction

  • Time-based progression

  • Fixed academic calendar

  • Reliance on physical classroom

 

The world is changing. Schools are not. 

 

Emerging technologies like AI, AR/VR, and blockchain provide us with an opportunity to reimagine and redesign the architecture of schools. This is the aspirational vision of the Network School; a fundamental redesign of traditional learning systems that leverage the power of transformative technology.

 

The Network School can be defined as a dynamic interconnected learning community that leverages advanced technologies to link together experiences in both physical and digital settings. 

 

Instead of onboarding more and more services and experiences, Network Schools rely on a local and digital network of trusted learning coordinators, organizations, and other Network Schools to provide personalized and adaptive experiences to all learners. Developments in the area of AI, blockchain, and AR/VR, will enable the Network School to leverage complex networks to facilitate global collaboration, offer flexible learning pathways and experiences, and recognize achievements that move beyond conventional metrics. 

 

Let’s explore how the convergence of these new technologies will allow for the rearchitecting of learning.

 

In the Network School, AI will reshape the educational experience through multifaceted tools that personalize learning, serve as a guide to help learners navigate complex networks, and support a more holistic view of learner needs. This technology will be essential in building Network schools that are agile and attuned to the diverse needs of learners, facilitators, and the broader learning community.  In the Network School learners will leverage AI for:

 

  • Personalized Learning Paths: continuously adjusts learning to fit each learner’s needs.

  • Accelerated Mastery: quickly identifies gaps, speeding up the learning process.

  • Enhanced Understanding:  delivers interactive content for a better grasp of subjects.

  • Navigational Insight: guides students through their learning and future career options.

 

While AI will be critical for individual learners, it will be just as important for learning coordinators. AI can help learning coordinators support learners as they navigate a vast network of opportunities to learn. In this respect, AI will serve a variety of functions providing:

 

  • Data-driven analysis on learner progress for targeted support.

  • Curriculum personalization through agile learning content and experience adjustments.

  • Administrative efficiency helps cut down time spent on administrative tasks.

  • Providing professional development for learning coordinators.

 

Current conversations on AI in education are only scratching the surface, and often center around current use cases that fit neatly in the current education structures In comparison, Network Schools will leverage AI to rethink those structures extending the capability of schools.

 

Blockchain technology will play a critical role in shaping how we store and exchange data. While this technology is most known for its role in cryptocurrencies, it can be incredibly useful where data security, interoperability, and trust are needed. Compared to what we experience today where data is siloed in 100 applications, blockchain can be the key to unlocking the development of a learning ecosystem. Some of the uses of this technology include:

 

  • Credentialing and recognition systems: where learners can store and share verified learning.

  • Decentralized governance: through the use of blockchain tokens.

  • Security and privacy of data: managed through smart contracts.

  • Data interoperability: with blockchain as the substrate.

 

Augmented and virtual reality have had several false starts, but signal in this space is beginning to become a bit more clear.  Reduction in hardware costs, improvements in design, and greater access to high-speed internet point to a resurgence in interest and utility in the AR/VR space.  This technology and other wearable technologies will play an important role in the Network school. We can expect that AR/VR technology will support:

 

  • Immersive learning environments that offer complex simulations.

  • Global classroom experiences through AR/VR that connect learners around the world.

  • Accessibility for diverse learning needs. 

 

Learners in Network Schools will leverage a variety of technologies that can help them build their learning journeys in both the physical and digital world.  You’re probably wondering at this point, how do we get there!?

 

The roadmap to the Network school might seem a bit out of reach, but while forward-looking, it builds upon existing foundations of innovative learning practices. This roadmap is not a definitive guide, but rather an invitation to think, discuss, and explore our potential future. If we can map and coordinate small-scale innovations towards the creation of Network Schools, we set the stage for rethinking the architecture of learning. 

 

  1. Launch Pilot Projects: Initiate small-scale projects to experiment with emerging technologies specifically around the agency.  These could be exploring the use of AI tools, rethinking assessments, and leveraging new systems of recognition.

  2. Extend the Learning Community: Develop communities both in the physical and digital world that connect all stakeholders for collaborative and individualized learning experiences. Digital communities can serve as connective tissue while physical spaces can be used for high-impact learning and social opportunities. Start small, and focus on developing learner-centered approaches with trusted individuals and organizations across the network.

  3. Education Innovation Clusters: Establishing robust partnerships and developing internal systems of research and development can ensure that Network Schools stay on the cutting edge of innovation and help power co-creation and real-world testing of solutions for that approach fosters a vibrant ecosystem that iterates quickly.

  4. Develop and Implement Modern Data Structures: A critical cog in the success of the Network School is that the right users have access to the right data at the right time. This will require a new data architecture that requires emphasis on interoperability and security.

  5. This step includes the creation of secure, transparent digital credentials through the use of blockchain. These systems can help deepen the connection between and amongst learners and learning organizations in the network.

  6. Development of Learner Support Systems: The fluid nature of the Network School will require new methods of engaging, mentoring, and supporting learners. Supporting the whole learner will require careful coordination of supporting services that take into account the academic, social, and emotional needs of the learner.

  7. Scale the Network: Scale the successful elements of pilot projects and learning communities to form a comprehensive, digitally connected network of learning nodes. 

  8. Distributed Governance Systems: Distributed leadership is a well-traveled path in education research and can help guide us through the development of distributed decision-making in Network Schools. Holocracies, sociocracies, and DAOs can serve as helpful organizational frameworks as we distribute decision-making about curriculum, policies, and school operations through the use of blockchain-based governance systems.

  9. Systems of Continuous Learning:  Develop systems and resources that support ongoing learning for all stakeholders, creating and adapting to individual learners' evolving needs and global workforce demands.

  10. Recognition and Interoperability: Work towards a broader recognition of the Network School’s credentials and learning achievements, ensuring the interoperability of learner data with traditional and non-traditional education systems.

 

To meet the needs of our rapidly changing and dynamic world, we need to embrace the idea of a new educational paradigm. Network Schools can meet this demand by developing vibrant ecosystems powered by emerging technologies. This change calls for fresh, learner-centered approaches that go beyond the traditional classroom and leverage technology to deliver aimed at delivering personalized and connected learning experiences.

 

We all have a part to play in ushering in a future of education in which we shift to learner-focused techniques, that embrace learning experiences that transcend the classroom. Policymakers must create the conditions for innovation, by supporting ubiquitous access to technology, and by creating supportive regulations that recognize various types of learning. Learning coordinators and industry experts play a vital role in co-building the necessary infrastructure; close collaboration with educators is essential to align technology with pedagogical objectives. Lastly, learners are invited to contribute to designing this innovative education model by providing valuable insights into the growth and enhancement of the network. 

 

To bring the idea of the Network School to life, it will require coordination across education regulatory bodies, communities both in the physical and digital world, technologists, and so many more. However, through collective action, we can redefine education, designing it for a digital age. Let’s dream big, let’s endeavor to freshape education, creating systems that are designed to support human flourishing for all.

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