Curriculum of the Future

  • We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet. - Margaret Mead

In the age of the Internet and Google searches, what does a curriculum have to do with learning? If anyone can simply look up anything with a few clicks of the keys, is it important to guarantee certain nodes of knowledge? Many current educational researchers argue yes, noting that foundational knowledge is an important aspect of analysis and critical thinking. Quoted in Schmoker (2011), Andrew Rotherham, founder of the 21st Century Schools project notes that "content under-girds critical thinking, analysis, and broader information literacy skills. To critically analyze various documents requires engagement with content and a framework within which to place the information. It's impossible, for instance, to critically analyze the American Revolution without understanding the facts and context surrounding that event." The 21st Century Schools project website argues that curriculum that will best prepare students for life and work beyond traditional school will be interdisciplinary, project-based, relevant, rigorous and real-world.

Current research on curriculum and pedagogy

In What Works in Schools, Robert Marzano (2003) argues that 35 years of educational research have actually culminated in an exciting time for educational reform, as the research continues to point to the same evidence. Culling the years of research, Marzano makes the case that one of the most important factors in student success in school is a guaranteed and viable curriculum - a curriculum that provides each student with the opportunity to learn (guaranteed) and provides adequate time to do so (viability). The first action step for schools is to explicitly articulate what content is considered essential for all students, and in order to make it viable, Marzano argues, that content needs to be pared down from the long lists of state standards that have shaped classrooms as teachers have been forced to go for "coverage" over learning.

Mike Schmoker (2011) argues that 21st Century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, etc.) aren't new, but rather that they are newly important as every student needs them to be successful in the post-manufacturing age. He urges schools to say "no thank you" to faddish activities that take valuable time from real learning and to incorporate a "powerful combination of the following strategies for all students:"
  • Adequate amounts of essential subject-area content, concepts and topics;
  • Intellectual/thinking skills (e.g., argument, problem-solving, reconciling opposing views, drawing one's own conclusions); and
  • Authentic literacy - purposeful reading, writing, and discussion as the primary modes of learning both content and thinking skills.

He goes on to argue that content does matter, and that foundational knowledge is key to our ability to think and reason. While Schmoker does not argue that technology itself is bad, he suggests that we should back off on implementing technology that is separate from or takes time away from articulating a clear and coherent curriculum.

At Global Education 2025 we agree in the importance of foundational knowledge and skills to facilitate critical thinking and analysis, but we also find that much of the traditional research ignores the new ways in which students learn. Technology can facilitate the acquisition of that foundational knowledge through engaging students more deeply in the curriculum, and we argue (see Literacy in the Digital Age) that in fact authentic literacy in the year 2025 will necessarily include literacy in the digital world.

Three trends that will shape the future of curriculum

Advances in technology and the rise of the interconnectedness of the world through traditional and digital age technologies will necessitate a change in curriculum for the year 2025. Writing in the KQED blog Mind/Shift, Tina Barseghian (2011, Feb. 4) reports on three trends she has identified that will shape the future of education:

  1. Digital Delivery: With the Internet, teachers and student will move beyond the traditional textbook. This will be in the form of digital delivery through such means as Google apps for education, Kahn academy, TED talks and other digital sources. At right is a TED talk by Mike Matas, highlighting a "next-generation digital book." As augmented reality begins to become more mainstream, "books" such as this may soon become outdated when people can interact more physically with their information.
  2. Interest-driven: The term "student centered" learning is not new, but new technologies allow students to pursue their own interests more easily than before. By allowing each student to pursue his or her passion, educators are seeing that students are more engaged in their own learning. For an example, see the Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina where technology supports individualized learning.
  3. Skills 2.0: Getting information from the Internet has been likened to getting a sip of water from a fire hydrant. Students must have the skills to "leverage the collective wisdom that thrives on the Internet" by navigating the many sources of information and connectivity available to them.

Next: Universal Design for Learning (UDL)