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Can Museums Step Up?

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Today’s guest post is by Jesse Moyer, manager of organizational learning and innovation at KnowledgeWorks. KnowledgeWorks is dedicated to “transforming education in the U.S. from a world of schooling to a world of learning.” As a nonprofit that has spent over a decade helping society envision a better future, it has been a model for CFM from our inception. You can follow Jesse’s exploration of the future at Welcome to the World of Learning blog.

When people talk about the future of education, you invariably hear about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and/or Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). From what I have read and understand about the concepts, the difference between PLEs and PLNs is that environments involve taking advantage of different technologies while networks leverage person-to-person relationships. Instead of arguing over vocabulary, let’s just call them personal learning ecologies.

The 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning defines personal learning ecologies as, “families looking outside the traditional ‘system’ to create ecologies of learning experiences.” Put another way, families do not wait for the traditional education system to change in order to meet currently unmet needs; they take responsibility for their own learning and find their own solutions. Obviously, this has huge implications for the learner, educators, and for institutions inside and outside the “traditional system.”

For the learner, it means they can take control of their own educational destiny. Some people call it anytime, anywhere learning; some call it any place, any pace learning; and some call it differentiated instruction. Whatever you want to call it, personal learning ecologies empower the learner because they are created by the learner, for the learner. Below is a video that contrasts the current system with a learning ecology:

There are also implications for educators. In our current system, teachers have to be everything to everyone: instructor, counselor, social worker and sometimes the only positive influence a child has in their life. In a network of content providers where instruction is differentiated to meet the needs of each and every student, it seems logical that learning agents (educators of the future) would have differentiated roles too: a learning journey mentor, a learning fitness instructor, a community intelligence cartographer, or an eduvator, explained in the video below:

Finally, there are major implications for institutions inside and outside the education system. For those inside the system; schools, districts, boards of education, etc.; the repercussions are too vast to discuss here. It’s the changes for organizations outside the traditional system that are relevant to museums.

Places like museums, libraries and theaters have all sort of interesting knowledge to share, but are often thought of as one-day field trips, at best, instead of legitimate educational providers. What would it look like for museums to take the lead on becoming important contributors to the future education landscape?  Well, it is already happening.  The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has established a preschool with the mission of, “creating extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families.” The New York Public Library (I know it’s not a museum, but the concept still applies) hosted a “Find the Future Game” as part of their centennial celebration.

My challenge to museums is this: follow the examples above and step up to this opportunity. As Personal Learning Ecologies erase the boundaries distinguishing “inside” from “outside” the educational system, how can museums, how will museums become a vital part of the new ecology? How will museum staff integrate the role of learning agent into their work?

There are very few things, if any, more important to our society than the education of our children.  Take this opportunity to innovate, shift the role museums play in our society, and become an important part of the most crucial experience in children’s lives: their education.
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