Fritjof Capra is a physicist who plowed the systems thinking ground for Peter Senge and the new science ground for Meg Wheatly. He opened his seminal piece "The Turning Point" by noting that man always assumes he is at a turning point. As a pattern spotter, I'm particularly susceptible to seeing turning points, but from the standpoint of global learning potential this decade really does appear to be pivotal in human history.
With Wikipedia, the last decade was the beginning of almost anyone can learn anything anywhere (Bonk, The World is Open). In this decade, the world will put the power of anywhere anytime learning to use through new and revitalized institutions and by empowering individual learners.
While economic concerns abound, I'm bullish on the global economy (particularly the back half of this decade) in large part because the appetite for and access to learning is changing the world. Here's the macro equation:
While cultural norms and family supports will vary, it will soon be possible to extend quality educational options to every young person on the planet. Free content, cheap devices, and low cost blended schools will extend secondary education to hundreds of million of students in developing economies.
This virtual cycle of learning and increased levels of prosperity will also bring about increased consumption -- a profound problem we will all need to confront. Where policies block job creation, unrest will follow (i.e., more Egypts) but the macro trend of higher levels of literacy and more young people gaining access to post secondary learning and idea economy careers will be an enormous contribution to peace and prosperity.
If we drill down, it appears that 2012 will be the year where five mostly disconnected streams of tech-rich K-12 learning are finally connecting:
Districts and networks are beginning to mix and match innovations from these strands in new blended models that extend the day, personalize learning, and combine the best of online and onsite learning.
In the U.S., this confluence is being driven by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the planned shift to online testing in most states in 2014.
Worldwide, schools are benefiting from cheaper access devices -- it just doesn't make sense to buy a backpack full of books for kids anymore.
Behind the scenes, the improvement in application development platforms in the last 36 months has made it much easier and cheaper to develop great web and mobile apps. It's now possible to build an app and gain some global traction in a fraction of the time and cost of a few years ago.
This confluence of forces is creating another virtuous cycle -- new talent and investment. For many talented young entrepreneurs, the potential to power the shift to personal digital learning -- to build an organization and make a difference -- is very attractive.
Your history teacher probably told you the printing press was a turning point in human history. Just watch what the shift to digital learning will do. Better yet, create your way to lead the shift.
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