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Voices: Here comes the future

Adam Rubin, a principal with the education design firm 2Revolutions, was a featured speaker at the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Hot Lunch series Friday at the Hotel Monaco. He wrote this post with 2Revolutions co-founder Todd Kern.

What do you think of when you think of the future? Global warming?  Smart houses? Driverless cars? Personalized vaccines?  Colonization of space? The predicted “singularity,” where humans and computers merge?  While each of these ideas conjures a new and decidedly different reality than our world today, the future can be both exciting and scary.

For this reason, thinking about the future generally causes people to either dream or dread. When you dream about the future, exciting ideas flow, but they may not be grounded in reality. When you dread the future, fear governs your actions and often, you unwittingly work to maintain the status quo. But there is another way to react to the future: design. The designer sees the future as a challenge to be tackled or a problem to be solved.  Design is a form of activism that makes it possible to engage the future, to make sense of it in a way that is both bold and feasible.

At 2Revolutions we approach the world as designers. Then we apply that lens to a set of problems we’re passionate about: reinventing a broken and outmoded education system. We’re working to build the future of learning. Specifically, 2Revolutions (2Rev)


designs, launches and supports “future of learning” models and helps catalyze the conditions within which they can thrive. By working on both sides of the equation at the same time, we think we can be better designers. We apply an action-oriented approach to each project in our portfolio. We are currently collaborating with a range of forward-thinking state and local governments, funders, not-for-profits and entrepreneurs to build or accelerate the future of learning.

Our work begins with the belief that the state of education in America is mired in the status quo, not working for far too many students, families or educators.  Based on an array of indicators that compare performance within a district, across regions, states or among different global economies, it is safe to say that today’s education system is leaving our kids unprepared. This, in turn, raises real questions about our national security, economic competitiveness and social wellbeing as a nation. Many economists agree that a majority of future jobs have yet to be created.  The world is changing more rapidly than our strategy to prepare young people for it.  We can’t tinker our way out of this problem.  We need fundamental change.  We must accelerate the shift from education to learning.

Over the past few years, through the course of our work, 2Rev has developed a Future of Learning Framework, which we use to make sense of the transition from education to learning.  One part philosophy and one part taxonomy, it is constantly evolving and comprised of our research and experiences and those of colleagues across the field, and informed by trends we see impacting our students, schools and the way we think about learning. This framework provides one way to see how all the pieces can be designed to fit together in ways that yield the kind of change we all seek:

  • Conditions This set of factors operates at the level of a system – district, state or network – that either enable or constrain the success of “future of learning” models.
  • Model design parameters Drawn from our own and others’ research, this is a synthesized list of the broad principles or characteristics around which future of learning models should be designed.
  • Model design levers These concepts define the structural core of any learning model.  Together with their interplay with the model design parameters, they represent the foundation for driving the development of future of learning models.
  • Model implementation levers With a learning model in place, these six implementation levers represent the next layer of development – and mark a transition from conceptual design toward models that can be implemented.

As an industry, we usually tend to direct our scarce resources and energies at one end of the spectrum or the other – either building models or focusing on the revamping of systems. But we must do both. By thinking critically about models and conditions, and the interplay between them, we believe we will help catalyze models (like a new blended, fully competency-based high school model in Vermont, an innovation accelerator lab in Ohio and a unique new approach to leveraging social entrepreneurship to foment the future of learning) and conditions (like a statewide network strategy to pursue innovation and improvement for 17,000 educators in New Hampshire) that are more successful at promoting and sustaining the kind of learning that will prepare our next generation of learners for success in the complex future that awaits them.

Ultimately, we hope to look back on the models and systems that helped them succeed and recognize that they were designed to be that way.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.