Welcome to Educating Modern Learners

We live in a moment of unprecedented change, and our conceptions of schooling and education are being challenged in fundamental ways. Educational leaders around the globe are grappling with unfamiliar new contexts for learning which demand new ways of thinking and leading around an increasingly uncertain future. EML Publishers Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon unpack some of these new contexts, and articulate a mission that is focused on helping our readers become not just modern learners but modern leaders as well, leaders who are better informed and make better decisions for the modern students in their charge.

In the time it takes to read this, about 7,500 people from around the world will gain regular access to the Internet for the first time. Twelve in the next second. One point one million in the next 24 hours.

By the end of this decade, 5 billion people around the globe will have access. Access to what is already close to becoming the sum of human knowledge. Access to millions of tools and apps that now run from ‘the cloud’ or on the devices we carry in our backpacks and our pockets.

And, most importantly, access to one another.

The opportunities and challenges of access at this scale are staggering for educators. For the first time in human history, individuals can learn, create, communicate, and share their own lives with the world anytime they like, anywhere they are. Institutions that used to mediate those interactions with the world are losing their power as those of us with access begin to self-organize our lives in groundbreaking new ways. And in the “losing their power” category, schools are no exception.

When we educators stop to think deeply about the effects of access on our ability to learn, can we come to any other conclusion than this moment is simply amazing? All the knowledge we can absorb, all the technologies and tools we can use to make meaningful, beautiful, world-changing works, all the people, each with the potential to be a powerful teacher in our lives…it presents a stunning opportunity to learn on our own anything we have a passion to learn. We can create our own classrooms, find our own classmates and teachers, and develop our own curriculum to learn whatever we have a desire or need to learn. Opportunities for learners with access and a healthy sense of how to use it well are transcendent.

In short, in an education context, access changes almost everything.

All too often in schools, however, access changes almost nothing. Collectively around the world, we’ve handed out millions of devices with access to our students and teachers at a cost of billions of dollars (or euros or pesos or yen,) devices that have primarily attempted to make current education practice incrementally “better.” Millions of tablets primarily to read traditional texts and complete traditional assignments. Millions of laptops to produce age-old documents or spreadsheets or presentations. Hundreds of thousands of whiteboards to support a decidedly teacher-centric classroom experience. But more often than not, we’ve been handing out devices with access and powerful computing potentials and then letting students use neither in the service of anything more than delivering the traditional education experience “better.”


Access offers all learners an unprecedented freedom to learn. New tools and technologies offer learners an unprecedented freedom to create and connect. Why do we tease our students with these freedoms, freedoms they (and we) enjoy outside of school, freedoms we almost universally restrict once they enter our classroom walls? Are we afraid? Are we just too comfortable in the traditional school narrative which most all of us experienced in our youth? Respectfully, are we simply ignorant of the full power of access in our own learning lives and therefore unable to apply it in truly transformational ways with our children?

Is it possible that even if we are aware of many of these possibilities, we just don’t have the confidence…or most importantly the depth of understanding, to know what to do next? While we might be overwhelmed with what we see, hear and read in the popular media, is there a lack of an informed dialogue that addresses the needs of educational leaders?

We think it’s a mix of all of those…and more. But we also think that more than a freedom to learn in these modern contexts, traditional ways of thinking about education deny students a basic right to learn. No longer can we believe that every child simply has a right to an education as delivered by an institution that was created for a world without access and technology. Instead, this moment demands that each of us recognize every child’s fundamental right to learn on his or her own, unmediated by any institution, given the amazing affordances and connections of the new, modern learning world.

Anything less is unacceptable.

…if we believe in an inherent right to learn in a modern context, how does that find its way into every child’s hands?

This is not an easy shift. This changes us, our roles, our value to our communities. But, whether we like it or not, regardless of what part of the world we live, we’re convinced that we now find ourselves at the beginning of an inevitable transition to a different conception of education and schooling. Each day, the outlines of a new narrative for modern learning and education become clearer, and every school leader, policy maker, teacher, and learner will inevitably be touched by it, sooner rather than later.

For us, the questions that remain are not “if and why” but “who and how.” Who will write the new narrative of schools? Will it be politicians who seek more than anything that which can be quantified? Businessmen and women who see billions to be made in the privatization and “personalization” of education? Or will it be the educators who work with our children every day and who understand best what real learning looks like and requires? And if we believe in an inherent right to learn in a modern context, how does that find its way into every child’s hands?

Who, in essence, will lead?

As educators ourselves, we feel the changes must come from a well-informed education community, one that understands fully the challenges and opportunities of the modern learning world, and one that appreciates deeply every learner’s right to learn given what’s possible today.

That, in fact, is our mission in creating this site: to help every school leader become better informed to make better, more relevant decisions for the children they serve in this new, modern world of learning.

We’ll do that by commissioning some of the smartest, best education writers in the world to help make sense of the huge changes afoot (and the small ones too.) Over 100 articles a year, a slow and steady stream of independent, thoughtful analysis that you’ll think about and talk about well after you’ve finished reading. Subscriber-funded writing whose only agenda is to help you serve the children in your schools more effectively, and prepare them more fully for the very different world in which they will live.

Your subscription to EML will move you not just toward becoming a modern learner in your own right; it will help you develop as a modern leader as well, a leader with a fresh context for schooling, a deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges of this moment of change, a global perspective, and an ability to guide the complex conversations that will reframe and revitalize our work with children.

In addition, our subscribers will receive free whitepapers, e-books, webinars, and more. In the coming months, you’ll hear more about our plans to build a global community of school leaders who can articulate and advocate for a different type of education for kids, not one that’s just a little better than it used to be.

So, welcome to what is possibly the most disruptive moment ever in education.

But welcome also to a most inspiring time to be a teacher; to a most exciting time to be a learner; and to a most challenging time to be an educational or policy leader.

At EML, we’re up for the challenge. We hope you are too, and that you’ll join our global community of educational leaders who are seeking to provide the sort of  modern learning environment that truly addresses the needs of our young people today.

Image credits: Lars Plougmann, Lucelia Ribeiro, Chris Radcliff

2 thoughts on “Welcome to Educating Modern Learners”

  1. Jack J

    Thank you for prompting me into action and for affirming my role as an education leader who can instigate real change for the next generation of students and teachers/leaders.

  2. Jill K

    Looking forward to participating in this community of change leadership. Thank you for providing the opportunity. See you at Illinois ASCD in the coming weeks.

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