We’re undertaking this journey because museums are, first and foremost, educational institutions. The national standards for U.S. museums require that a museum “assert its public service role and place education at the center of that role.” Despite this mandate, and the extensive resources museums dedicate to education through exhibits and programming, the field has traditionally been relegated to a minor role in the educational landscape. Ghettoized as “informal learning,” the vital, experiential, multi-modal educational opportunities afforded by museums are too often regarded as expendable accessories. As the formal K-12 education system is paring back, narrowing focus and marginalizing or jettisoning content regarding arts, culture, history and experimental science, there is more need, yet less funding, for museums to play even this supplementary role. But America is on the cusp of transformational change in the educational system. The current structure has been destabilized by rising dissatisfaction with the formal educational system, the proliferation of non-traditional forms of primary education and funding crises at state and local levels. At the same time, new horizons are being opened by technological advances in communications, content sharing and cultural expectations regarding access, authority and personalization. We are at the beginning of a new era, characterized by new learning economies based on diverse methods of sharing and using educational resources.
What early signals herald the destabilization of the current era, and the possible nature of the next era?
1) The rapid increase in non-traditional forms of primary education.
- Homeschooling (77% growth from 1999 to 2007)
- Charter schools (in the same period, the number of students enrolled in charter schools more than tripled, to 1.3 million)
- Online courses (in 2007-08, ~1,030,000 K-12 students took online courses. In 2009, 27 states had statewide virtual schools with a total of 175,000 full-time students.)
2) Rising dissatisfaction with the existing formal primary education system
- Only 31% of American adults say they are satisfied with the nation's public schools; 69% are unsatisfied—and a third are very unsatisfied.
3) Funding crises for schools at the state and local level
- Radical cuts to education budgets across the country—in New York State, California and elsewhere.
In the coming months, with the help of some fascinating guest bloggers, I’ll be exploring where these trends may lead us. Meanwhile, if you want to start adding information on educational resources to your scanning, I recommend adding the following to your blogroll: