3 big shifts, 8 building blocks, and some guiding questions


3 Big Shifts That Our Schools Need to Make
(from http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2013/09/3-big-shifts.html)

  1. From Low-Level Thinking to High-Level Thinking. From an overwhelming emphasis on students doing lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall, procedural regurgitation) to students more often engaging in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication).
  2. From Analog to Digital. From local classrooms that are largely based on pens/pencils, notebook paper, ring binders, and printed textbooks to local and global learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology-infused (devices + Internet).
  3. From Teacher-Directed to Student-Directed. From classrooms that are overwhelmingly teacher-controlled to learning environments that enable greater student agency (ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn).

Download graphic of this table


8 Building Blocks for the Future of Schools
(from http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2013/08/7-building-blocks-for-the-future-of-schools.html)

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  2. Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work.
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  5. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  6. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  7. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.


Guiding Questions for Moving Forward
(from http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2012/09/what-should-be-my-our-guiding-questions.html)

  1. What can we do to increase the cognitive complexity of students’ day-to-day work so that they are more often doing deeper thinking and learning work?
  2. What can we do to better incorporate digital technologies into students’ deeper thinking and learning work in ways that are authentic, relevant, meaningful, and powerful?
  3. What can we do to give students more agency and ownership of what they learn, when they learn, how they learn, and how they show what they’ve learned?
  4. What can we do to better recognize and assess when students’ deeper thinking and learning work is (or isn’t) occurring?
  5. What can we do to build the internal capacity of both individual educators and school systems to be better learners and faster change agents?
  6. As we move toward more cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments, how do we bring educators, board members, parents, communities, policymakers, and higher education along with us?
  7. As we move toward more cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments, how do we ensure that traditionally-underserved student and family populations aren’t further disadvantaged?
  8. As we move toward more cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments, what individual and societal mindsets – and local, state, and federal policy supports and/or barriers – need reconsideration?
  9. How do we balance competing (often unproductive) demands from other fronts so that we can do this important work?


  1. Mark Egli

    Am wondering if/when any of this conversation will take place at the post-secondary level. My stepdaughter just entered ISU, and I don’t see anything happening there that is any different than when I went to IU over 40 years ago. Her book bag weighs 20 pounds again; she came from our 1 to 1 program at MNW and must now regress. With all of the pressure on K-12 to change and embrace 21st Century modes of doing and thinking, who is talking to the colleges and universities?

    • Scott McLeod

      As you might imagine, this concern comes up a lot. I always tell people that if they think P-12 moves slow, come to higher ed. Most university faculty are far behind their P-12 counterparts when it comes to effective integration of technology into instruction. With ‘profess’ (i.e., ‘lecture’) as the root of the job title, I don’t expect this to change anytime soon, unfortunately.

      I encourage any and all P-12 educators to express their concerns on this topic to university provosts, deans, department chairs, and faculty. We’ve got a L-O-N-G way to go on this front.

      All that said, like in schools, there are many university faculty and projects doing some really interesting things with educational technology. EDUCAUSE and ProfHacker and similar sites (e.g., Google ‘digital humanities’) are great places to learn about some of these!

  2. CurtLieneck

    Glad to see your letter I item. I’ve said repeatedly in pubilc and private fora that it is not our time that needs to be managed, it is our attention. We create time problems by not properly managing attention.

    Technology typically gets short shrift as getting it right takes more focused, sustained attention than most folks realize if and when they ever really do get under the hood with it — just the dynamic, disruptive nature of the beast.


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