Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Death of Education, Dawn of Learning

The Death of Education, The Dawn of Learning
John Hovell (klowey22)
May 2009

I took my five year old daughter to an historic town last week. We walked into a room with an old machine to which she pointed and said “Daddy, Daddy, what’s that do?” I said, “Oh, that’s what they call a loom, a long time ago they used it to make clothes. They would shear the hair off a sheep, step on this pedal, and slowly make clothes.” She said “Daddy, that’s weird, we just go to Wal-Mart and buy clothes, they use to have to hurt sheep?” I said, “No no, they didn’t hurt the sheep, but yes, it’s easier for us to get clothes, isn’t it?”

We walked into the next room where there was a man blowing glass. The room was really hot. My daughter pointed to the man and said “Daddy, Daddy, what’s he doing?” I said “Well, he’s making glass, he’s blowing into that tube and shaping things like glasses and vases and bowls”. My daughter said “Daddy, that’s weird, we just go to Wal-Mart to buy bowls and stuff, and there’s so much broken glass in here, and its hot, wow Daddy.” I said “Yes, yes, that’s why we’re here, to learn new things”. We walked into the next room and my daughter said, “Daddy, Daddy, I know what this is! It’s a classroom!”

It is time for us to re-think the concept of how we produce and impart ‘learning’. It is time for us to check our assumptions. The world has changed, we’ve moved from an industrial age to an information age to a knowledge age. Land, labor, and capital should no longer be our primary focus; now, we must put an emphasis on how we allocate time and attention, especially in an area as critical as learning. We must continuously be aware and have the ability to change/adapt, especially in the area of learning.

The amount of information available online is increasing exponentially and we soon may have the information of the entire human race at our fingertips – to include new information as it emerges. How do you handle that? The rate at which information and knowledge emerges has surpassed our ability to “keep up”. At what point do we shift our focus from “keeping up” to “my passions are” or “my happiness comes from” or “I value”? In other words, we started with reading, writing, and arithmetic, and now we’ve added the 21st century set of literacies that include finding, validating, synthesizing, leveraging, and communicating information/knowledge. These literacies also include innovation, collaboration and problem solving with raised awareness through a multi-cultural and multi-lingual mindset. Today, successful people exercise critical thinking, systems thinking, and strategic thinking. Everyone can benefit from learning emotional intelligence, IQ and leadership skills.

The problem is that the ‘winners’ of the current education system are those who become professors. It’s all about the ability to know answers and repeat them. This outdated approach makes sense because the designers of the system have created a self-sustaining system that produces exactly what they need for it to remain alive – more teachers. This is not all bad. Learning is happening in this system, but maybe it’s too focused on the institution and not the individual.

Maybe it’s time to truly embrace the passions of each individual. Maybe it’s time to design an approach or system that optimizes each and every student – putting students at their own individual, unique center. In the past, this was too complex and apparently just not possible. A new framework/approach/system/concept has been enabled because of the emerging world of technology.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” in a much different context, but I think it now applies to the world of learning. There are many great organizations trying to “re-build the classroom” – doing great things like connecting the best teachers with each other, with the best labs, with the best thought leaders. Many organizations and universities are bringing more technology into classrooms. This is great, but it is time to check our assumptions and re-think how learning occurs. What is the true value of a classroom?

Aren’t these additions, just that, additions to a classic system? It is time for a new approach, a new system. Technology can enable the transformation of learning and the continuous emerging life changes that we face. The learning transformation would allow those with a passion to be professors to become professors, those with a passion to be engineers to become engineers, those with a passion to be doctors to become doctors, those with a passion to be a musician to become musicians, ALL on their own optimal path with efficient and effective allowances for changing passions along the way.

I often think, well, this is too big, too great a shift. Is it really that bad now? Don’t we already have a map of critical skills that lead to specialized skills and it’s already up to the individual to find their passions and embrace their path? What about curriculums? What about earning degrees and testing knowledge and skills? These are valid questions and what we’re getting down to is this question – what is the value of learning? What is the optimal approach to maximize that value? How close is our current system to offering that value through the optimal system? This system has withstood the test of time, right? Doesn’t that mean something? Will there still be standards? What about the folks with just truly lower IQs, does self-led learning pan out? Some suggest that our decision making ability (and thorough understanding of consequences) isn’t developed in our brains until 18 years of age, doesn’t that disable self-led learning up to that point? Isn’t it valuable to be well-rounded? Does this system offer enough diversity? Can there be enough social interaction in a new approach?

So then I come back to the consideration if a whole new system would be better? I believe the answer is yes. Some of the current issues that can be addressed are: ‘underachievement is over-accepted’, spending too much time to develop a curriculum, providing the ‘right-answer vending-machine’ approach, preparing for standardized tests when we know it’s face to face that is the true test, having dependencies on physical area/wealth/teachers/friends, not having enough ‘room’ in universities today, and not having enough people “get it” in their respective fields (which usually comes from lack of perspective, practice and openness). Would this new approach just solve some of these problems, but present new (maybe worse?) problems? Maybe that concern can be thought through – or maybe the known benefits outweigh the unknown unintended consequences? Would this concept best suit emergent learning (i.e. adult learning post-college)? The future holds the answers to these questions.

It comes down to learning how-to-learn what you need to know to follow your passions. This approach optimizes the value of passion, because each person has their own path and will learn best, in their own way, which is the basis of this new approach.

So – here it is – the new approach!

Envision a blend of universities, markets and amusement parks. Universities focus on learning (imparting knowledge), markets focus on trade (the equilibrium of supply and demand), and amusement parks focus on fun (maintaining interest through entertainment). This blend would be both physical and virtual – in an environment that is similar to a mixture of the passion and happiness found in a small town in Italy and the energy and diversity in a bustling large city such as New York. Imagine a beautiful cobblestone street lined by both small cottages and high rises that block out the sun. Remember, this is real and virtual - in something like second life or tele-presence. Visualize one or two piazzas and a central gathering area lined with flowers, gardens and art. Further down the street is a lake and a golf course (and sports fields). Strategically interspersed in the community is an amusement park featuring rides and games. What’s in the buildings along the cobblestone streets (with no cars on them, by the way)? We don’t know, because that is driven by the learners – some may have people learning English, some may have people learning how to sing, some may be alive with live performances such as history re-enactments. All of these buildings are interconnected. Anyone on the street can be learning, teaching, sharing, and practicing with anyone else on the street. Imagine this extended so that every street in the world was interconnected.

So how do you get to this virtual street? How does this learning approach work? What do I do first? Everything starts with a personality diagnostic. You take the Trimetrix or Hogan for example. Diagnostics provide core motivators that drive human behavior. There are at least four core sets of behaviors that are displayed in conjunction with those motivators. So, if we focus on each unique combination of the top 3 motivators, then we have unique combinations. Let’s build a matrix with the twenty unique sets of motivators down the left column of a spreadsheet. Now, let’s put the four core behavior groups across the top. Now we have a matrix of 20 rows by 4 columns. These 80 boxes in the matrix can be pre-determined topics/ways/approaches that a person with that combination of motivators/behaviors will want to learn (oh, but isn’t this pre-determining like a ‘general doctor’. We’ll discuss later that these boxes are actually dynamic and have several ‘paths’ as opposed to pre-determinations)

So now you have your personality assessment – which, by the way, already provides tremendous insight into your passions – and we can map where you should ‘go’ to do your learning. Oh, you brought your friends with you today – great, we can map your collective best route for learning today. But it’s not just one day, it could be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semester based, annual, etc.

Maybe you earn ‘lifelong learning credits’ for each hour you learn as opposed to high school or college credits. These credits might help to validate and provide ‘rating’ for questions and answers. Certain plateaus of credits would emerge over time and that might prove to be the equivalent breaking points of the ‘degrees’ to which we’ve become accustomed.

To be more specific, let’s give some examples of what’s in those boxes.

We would need to ensure that all paths (i.e. areas of study, specialization, need, etc.) are available through all 80 boxes so that means that each box probably has multiple options.

That’s part of the beauty of this system- it is not necessarily taught by professors, it can be mentoring/coaching, thought leaders, experts or collaboration/diversity in thought that teaches the participants. Remember some of the boxes are markets, not just ‘classes’; so, for example in one ‘place’ you can have students, teachers, buyers, and sellers for pottery.

As an aside, another reason this concept has potential is because of the ‘free agent nation’ that we’re beginning to see and experience. In a ‘free agent nation’, each individual has a talent (i.e. passion) that they offer as they bounce from company to company (synchronously or asynchronously). We’re seeing more and more of this as baby boomers retire and just offer a few hours a week to several different companies. Generation X’ers are seeing this trend and beginning to capitalize on it as well. The learning approach we’re talking about in this document aligns nicely with the ‘free agent nation’ effect because it helps learners to follow, practice and immerse in their passions (even if they change over time).

We know the best learning model is ‘tell, show, do’, and we know the best learning is experiential (full immersion) with an engaged learner. We know role-models, mentors and leaders propel learners. We realize that family and culture play a critical role in the development and realization of potential. This concept sets up an environment to maximize those connections, that network, across the world – in real time. Here’s a little bit of a downside, in the 20 unique combinations of motivators, only 50% have to do with the motivation for knowledge. The other 50% focus on value or tradition or social – this is where the amusement park (and market) come in. Some folks are driven by value or social motivations, which means we should embrace and leverage that environment for learning. For example, let’s teach physics on a roller coaster or teach entomology in an ice cream shop.

We live in a transformative world right now where the newspaper industry needs leaders, the music industry needs leaders, the government needs leaders, and virtually every area needs leaders. I submit that people following their passions, learning value, learning leadership, learning how to learn in their own unique, engaged way can collectively bring us an improved living environment.

As a recap, this new approach to learning is a virtual and physical ‘world’ that centers on the individual and their motivations/behaviors. It couples those motivations/behaviors with learning opportunities. Based on the nature of human motivation, learning opportunities exist as a blend of ‘university’ meets ‘market’ meets ‘amusement park’. Learning is directly connected to buyers and sellers (of the goods and services that are produced from the practice of learning) and there is a noticeable element of ‘fun’. Learning opportunities are connected in a global manner, so that the learner and the learning is truly always the ‘latest and greatest’. A learner is guided and can guide them self through their passions and therefore attain their highest potentials. This new learning approach supports an individual in their journey of self mastery, vision(s), and passion(s) while moving with the pace of global change.

Tell me again exactly how it works? People come to a physical place (maybe it’s a new place or maybe it’s our current schools) or a virtual place (like second life), then they take a personality diagnostic (which can be taken numerous times throughout a lifetime). The person then receives a de-brief of the diagnostic so that they gain in personal awareness. Given their specific motivations and behaviors, they are guided to learning opportunities where others are learning as well. These learning opportunities are geared towards their motivations/behaviors and ‘offered’ in numerous formats (university setting, market setting, amusement park setting, audio, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) In these online and physical worlds, they are connected to resources (human and otherwise) that help them to guide themselves to the amount of learning that maintains their happiness. It is these resources (these connections/networks), and their interaction/feedback with these resources, that maintain the learning opportunities at the pace of human understanding (a self-sustaining/centralization/validation of worldwide learning).

I share this idea as an initial concept. This concept isn’t flawless and it’s not meant to be. Let this be the beginning of a fundamental re-assessment. Let’s re-assess how to optimize the value of the design/delivery of [global] lifelong learning. If we think we’re on to something here, then let’s form groups to share more research, brainstorming, innovation and planning, in a collaborative manner. Will you help?

References/Related Links

Learning to Change, Changing to Learn (YouTube video by CoSN)

Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Our Creativity (TED video)

Consortium for School Networking

Vision 2015 Delaware

Learning Is For Everyone (url listing public education support and resources)
• Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships
• Center of Reinventing Public Education
• Center on Education Policy
• The Imaginative Education Research Group
• National Education Association
• National Parent Teacher Association
• National School Boards Association
• International Association for K-12 Online Learning
• OWL Institute – Open Educational Resources
• Rethinking Schools
• Teachers Without Borders
• Global Campaign for Education

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

American Productivity and Quality Consortium (APQC) Process Improvement and Implementation in Education

Education Reform (Wikipedia)

Related Blog Entry by Bill Ferriter

Related Entry – especially first comment

Why Are Current Education System is Failing Us

Disruptive Idea: The Education Organization is Not Structure But Capability

Is The Education System Broken? (short video by Lee Hamilton - President & Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Former Congressman)

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (book by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen

Opening story credit - Tony O'Driscoll, Professor of the Practice, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, original slides

The Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) engages students in creative problem solving. http://www.fpspi.org/ FPSPI Mission: To develop the ability of young people globally to design and promote positive futures using critical, creative thinking.