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Much has been written and discussed about the importance of not returning education to the “old normal” as we exit the pandemic. Obviously, what we mean by “normal” encompasses many dimensions, including culture, structures, routines, and practices. Our goal is to capture all that we can from our experiences over the past year and apply what has been learned in ways that make the “new normal” richer, more inclusive, and more effective for students and learning.


Our challenge is to give students experiences that accelerate their learning, build their learning skills, and prepare them for success in a rapidly evolving workplace and to enjoy a rewarding and satisfying life. Unfortunately, for most students, pre-pandemic school experiences fell short of meeting this challenge. Now, as we think about what lies ahead, we have an opportunity to make changes that deliver on this promise and create a new normal for learning.


We might ask: What criteria or indicators will define or identify learning experiences, programs, and opportunities that will deliver what we seek? As we consider the best uses of the new federal support funds, what outcomes should we prioritize and monitor? What indicators of learning in our classes point to the type of learning that will serve our students well for a lifetime? Here are seven design elements to consider:

  • Build learning skills and motivation to learn. It’s no longer enough for students to absorb what is presented to them. The world is changing quickly and learning will be a lifelong pursuit. Knowing how to learn will be crucial. Not all learning will come from a professional who provides organized, sequenced, easy-to-follow instruction. The ability to learn independently will be a differentiator. In addition, we need to instill in students the motivation to learn, including the curiosity and confidence to pursue what may not yet have been discovered.
  • Nurture ownership of new skills and knowledge. Traditionally, students have often seen learning as something they do in response to adult expectations and to avoid unpleasant consequences. The learning experiences we offer need to position students to see value and take pride in what they learn. Learning increasingly needs to be something learners do in response to goals and purposes they own.
  • Place the learner at the center of experiences. Instruction and other learning activities must begin where the students are, not where we would like them to be, or the curriculum imagines them to be. Learning needs to be responsive to the readiness and needs of learners, not part of a standardized routine, pre-set schedule, or a predetermined pace. The guiding questions need to be, “What is this learner ready to learn?” and “What do they need to move to the next level?”
  • Nurture goal setting and “way finding” skills. Goal setting and the skills and habits necessary to reach them have long been important life skills. However, in the workplaces where our students will build and spend their careers, knowing where they are going and charting the way to reach their destinations will become even more important to success and satisfaction.
  • Build commitment to consistent quality in learning and work. As freelance, contract, and other flexible work roles become an ever-larger part of the workplace landscape, delivering consistent quality will be essential. No longer can we assume that students will work in environments where supervisors will monitor work to ensure that it meets quality standards. Long-term success will likely be determined by the level and consistency of quality present in products and services workers deliver.
  • Provide opportunities to use new learning to generate new solutions, applications, and ideas. It’s no longer enough for learners to apply what they learn in predictable and predetermined contexts. Learning that prepares students for their future needs to include a generative component that reveals how they can enhance and add to the value of what they learn.
  • Grow personal and professional networks. Work is increasingly a social activity. New ideas, innovation, and novel solutions are increasingly the products of teams. Connections, relationships, and networks open doors to resources, supports, and opportunities that will be crucial for success. Learning experiences must build networking strategies and skills if we hope to prepare students to compete and succeed and enjoy a rich life.


The future of work is changing rapidly. The pandemic has accelerated emerging trends and stimulated others that promise to transform work as previous generations knew it. We must commit today to give students the experiences and build the skills necessary for success and satisfaction regardless of the life path they choose.


Adapted from Key Criteria for Learning Innovation, The Institute for Personalized Learning.

Thought for the Week

AI can teach and share knowledge, sure, but it lacks the key elements of human modeling, nurturing, and connecting that are essential components of a comprehensive learning process.

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