There’s no question that education is changing.

Students have increased opportunities to learn any time, in school, throughout the community and on the web. There is growing interest in learning through virtual reality, digital games and social media platforms. Stakeholders are placing more importance on immediate student-level data to help adjust learning in real-time.

As learning continues to change and adapt to the times, educator roles will need to adapt to expanded learning environments in which students learn in new ways.

Students are able to earn credit by volunteering throughout their communities. And competency-based and project-based learning are on the rise throughout more and more classrooms.

As learning continues to change and adapt to the times, educator roles will need to adapt to expanded learning environments in which students learn in new ways. The sector will need to create and fill jobs that focus on tracking competencies and verifying credentials to ensure students are succeeding in rigorous learning environments. More jobs will need to focus on data privacy and analysis. Other roles will need to help students and parents develop learning goals while navigating educational experiences in and out of the school building.

With this potential, we need to take a close look at what kinds of roles we need and want for the future. Having more differentiated roles promises to expand possibilities for individual learners and provide unique professional opportunities for educators and leaders.

Imagine that the year is 2026.

Imagine that you want to develop your career or help a friend enter the education field. You may or may not have a background working in a traditional K-12 school. Even if you do, you may crave new career development pathways…

Besides, learning looks pretty different than it did back in 2016. A larger variety of organizations are contributing. Students might learn primarily from one brick-and-mortar school, but they could also learn in other place-based settings such as museums, libraries, science centers, and sports venues. They might engage in multimedia experiences that draw upon not just the web, but also augmented reality, virtual reality and social platforms. Even if they are affiliated with a school, its structure is likely more fluid than was the norm in 2016.

Curriculum has also changed. Learners commonly pursue customized learning pathways that meet their needs, interests, and goals. As they do so, they work with a wide range of educators and other learning partners.

You might think of it as each learner having a “learning pit crew” of caring adults, peers, and digital assistants that respond to immediate needs while also optimizing for long-term success.

An Expanding Learning Ecosystem

This scenario might feel exciting, destabilizing, or daunting. We can’t know whether it will come to pass, but, trends shaping the future of learning suggest that it is plausible.

Throughout these few years, we have considered what kinds of educator roles might contribute to more flexible and rigorous learning environments in 10 years. Education stakeholders need to consider what they want the future of learning to look like and how to staff it.

Future Educator Roles

Here are eight potential roles to help guide that exploration:

  • Learning Journey Mentor – Guides learners in working through their learning experiences and helping them execute their learning pathways.  This role is closest to that of today’s typical classroom teacher.
  • Learning Pathway Designer – Works with students, parents, and Learning Journey Mentors to set learning goals, track students’ progress and pacing, and model potential sequences of activities that support learning experiences aligned with competencies.
  • Competency Tracker – Tags and maps community-based learning opportunities by the competencies they address in order to support the development of reconfigurable personalized learning pathways and school formats.
  • Pop-Up Reality Producer – Works with educators, subject matter experts, story developers, and game designers to produce pervasive learning extravaganzas that engage learners in flow states and help them develop relevant skills, academic competencies, and know-how.
  • Social Innovation Portfolio Director – Builds networks in support of meaningful service-based learning and community impact by linking student action-learning groups seeking to develop core skills and knowledge with organizations seeking creative solutions.
  • Learning Naturalist –  Designs and deploys assessment protocols that capture evidence of learning in students’ diverse learning environments and contexts.
  • Micro-Credential Analyst –Provides trusted, research-based evaluations and audits of micro-credential options and digital portfolio platforms in order to provide learners and institutions with comparative quality assurance metrics.
  • Data Steward – Acts as a third-party information trustee to ensure responsible and ethical use of personal data and to maintain broader education data system integrity and effective application through purposeful analytics.

Some of these roles might attract current teachers and administrators. Others might attract people from other backgrounds, including the data sciences, anthropology and ethnography, neuropsychology, and media design. Some of the roles would be likely to involve full-time employment for a single organization, while others could reflect more ad hoc, network-based employment structures.

Early Exploration

Some schools and other organizations are beginning to explore new educator roles. As highlighted by Education Reimagined, California’s competency-based Lindsay Unified School District describes its educators as Learning Facilitators that help students access relevant experiences. Advisors at Cardinal Academy in Kentucky’s Taylor County School District help high schoolers coordinate customized learning pathways that can include off-campus opportunities and internships. Educators at the highly individualized New Directions Alternative Education Center in Prince William County, Virginia, act as curators, mentors, and advisors, with Professional School Counselors supporting social and emotional well-being.

Pushing further, ReSchool Colorado is experimenting with learner advocate networks that would help learners navigate a rebundled alternative state system. AltSchool, a private, highly personalized micro-school, draws upon a community-based Expert Network to supplement educators’ support. Lastly, the Hack School pilot uses a split staffing model to involve people from industry alongside teachers in helping future leaders solve the world’s toughest problems.

These early explorations of new educator roles signal interest in reconfiguring roles to complement new approaches to learning.

From Pipelines to Professionals

Diversifying educator roles will require shifting our attention from cultivating the teacher pipeline to attracting broad talent as well as training and supporting people as professionals. We also need to rethink surrounding systems, including educator licensure, preparation, and professional development.

For example, new educators might devote time to developing core pedagogical skills while also pursuing specialized concentrations in areas such as data analytics, natural assessment design, or multimedia experience production. Experienced educators seeking to develop their careers might pursue very targeted or experience-based learning engagements in place of traditional masters’ degrees. Sabbaticals or externships could support experienced educators in bringing new capacities into learning ecosystems.

Identifying new approaches and transitioning today’s programs and approaches will present significant opportunity and challenge. It will take time to foster cultural acceptance of more varied backgrounds and preparation pathways. Current educators will need significant support in transitioning to new roles or in adapting to new structures. Even those who work as learning journey mentors, the role closest to that of today’s classroom teacher, can expect to be working in new contexts and with new partners.

Better for Students, Better for Teachers

Diversifying educator roles promises to enable learning ecosystems in providing learners with the best possible support. It also promises to give teachers more flexibility to contribute to learning in ways that they find compelling and that make best use of individual strengths. Even more profoundly, reimagining educator roles promises to put educators at the center of learning by fostering networks of trusted professionals who can collaborate in bringing together their diverse expertise to facilitate rich and rigorous learning across multiple settings.

A paper, “Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for in Expanding Learning Ecosystem,“ explores these roles in greater detail, and a companion simulation website, VibrantED, illustrates what it might look like to recruit for them in ten years’ time.

One of the United States’ foremost educational futurists, Katherine Prince leads KnowledgeWorks’ exploration of the future of learning. As senior director of strategic foresight, she speaks and writes about the trends shaping education over the next decade and helps education stakeholders strategize how to become active agents of change in pursuing their ideal visions for the future learning ecosystem.

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