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Learning is the work of the future

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Editor’s Note: Four years ago, we held our first Global Education Symposium, where we invited ministries of education and thought leaders from around the world to join us in a discussion about education in our rapidly changing global landscape. Each year since, we’ve been humbled to learn alongside the folks who make important country and system-wide policy decisions that impact the world’s teachers and learners. This article is part of that ongoing effort - on the eve of our fourth Symposium -  to explore and understand the issues facing the education industry and share what we learn along the way.  You can find more at    

[edu] Google_GES_Andreas

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for the life of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that haven’t been created, to use technologies that haven’t yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we can’t yet imagine. That’s why Google’s Education Symposium is taking education head-on, with the premise that the future is not about more of the same, but about transformation.

In traditional school systems, teachers have been provided an exact prescription for what to teach and then left alone in classrooms. The past was about delivered wisdom, the future is about user-generated wisdom.

The past was divided: you had teachers and content divided by subjects and student destinations; and the past was isolated: schools were designed to keep students inside, and the rest of the world outside. The future needs to be integrated, that means emphasising integration of subjects, integration of students and integration of learning contexts; and it needs to be connected: that means connected with real-world contexts, and also permeable to the rich resources in the community. Instruction in the past was subject-based, instruction in the future will be project based. The past was hierarchical, students were recipients and teachers the dominant resource, the future is co-created, and that means we need to recognise both students and adults as resources for the co-creation of communities, for the design of learning and for the success of students.

The future also needs to be collaborative, and that means changing working norms. In the flat world, everything that is our proprietary knowledge today will be a commodity available to everyone tomorrow. Because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, value is less and less created vertically through command and control, but increasingly so horizontally by whom we connect and work with. Success will be with those who master the new forms of collaboration. Expressed differently, we are seeing a shift from a world of stocks – with knowledge that is stacked up somewhere depreciating rapidly in value – to a world in which the enriching power of collaboration is rising.

In the past, different students were taught in similar ways. Now we need to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices. The past was curriculum-centered, the future is learner centered. The goals of the past were standardisation and compliance, that is, students are educated in batches of age, following the same standard curriculum, all assessed at the same time. The future is about personalising educational experiences, that is building instruction from student passions and capacities, helping students personalise their learning and assessment in ways that foster engagement and talents. In the past, schools were technological islands, that is technology was deployed mostly to support existing practices for efficiency gains. Future schools are empowered and use the potential of technologies to liberate learning from past conventions and connect learners in new and powerful ways. The past was interactive, the future is participative.

Traditionally, the policy focus was on the provision of education, we now need to shift from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school. The future is also about more innovative partnerships. Isolation in a world of complex learning systems will seriously limit potential. Powerful learning environments are constantly creating synergies and finding new ways to enhance professional, social and cultural capital with others. They do that with families and communities, with higher education, with other schools and learning environments, and with businesses. We still have far too few innovators and game changers in education. We need to find better ways to recognise, reward and give exposure to their successes. And we need to make it easier for them to take risks and encourage the emergence of new actors. This is challenging, but it is possible. The symposium is an opportunity to move this agenda forward.

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