When Learners Call the Shots


This guest blog post is part of a series from Educational Leadership authors. The following post comes from Will Richardson, whose article, “Students First, Not Stuff,” appears in the March 2013 issue, “Technology-Rich Learning.”

March 2013 Educational Leadership CoverSo what has been the biggest, most profound change that the Web has brought to our world in the last 15 years? Is it the amazing amount of information and knowledge that’s now within easy access? The ways in which we can connect and work with people from almost anywhere on the planet anytime we like? The ease with which we can make things and share them with the world? The endless supply of cute cat videos on YouTube?

Although I know cat lovers may argue for the last, I would suggest none of the above. To me, the biggest change is this: At this moment, each one of us can now stand as the central organizing force in our own learning, in our own education, and in the work we choose to do. With our growing access to the sum of human knowledge and to billions of people around the globe, we are deciding what we need to learn when we need to learn it. Increasingly, we are constructing our own unique pathways to an “education.” And we as individuals are now inventing, creating, and bringing beautiful, meaningful, important products and ideas into the world–on our own. The institutions that used to mediate those interactions, schools, universities, corporations, and publishing houses among them, are all now struggling to find a new relevance in this connected, transparent, learning-is-everywhere world.

And if we adults have the potential to do that for ourselves today, just imagine the potential our students will have as they and the Web grow older. I look at my own two teenagers, and I can’t help but feel a charge of excitement and a good bit of awe at the prospect.

These are the questions for parents, and for schools: How do we help our children seize this moment to its fullest? How do we develop and nurture children as designers of their own learning, education, and work, designers who are able to self-direct, innovate, create, collaborate, and share in ways that help them earn both influence and success in the world? What new skills, literacies, and dispositions will that require, and how will we know our children have acquired them? (As far as I can tell, current assessments aren’t really measuring that stuff.) And how do we become good at all of that ourselves?

I have little doubt that those who understand these powerful new affordances of the Web will flourish and those who understand how to fully leverage those affordances for the greater good will lead. But I continue to wonder whether schools can unlearn and relearn their roles in helping our students become literate, self-directed masters of learning and work in this new, interconnected world. That, more than figuring out how to improve test scores or get higher world rankings, is the challenge of our times.

Will RichardsonWill Richardson is a parent, educator, speaker, and author, most recently of Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (TED Conferences, 2012). He blogs at willrichardson.com