Death of Education, Birth of Learning

We are witnessing the death of education, but the birth of learning. I’ve always loved this sentence. It captures both the frustrations and future hopes in decades of reform.

Kids are bored. A lot. Education does not always bring out the best in them. Somehow, they manage to get through it. There are people who can easily sit down for eight hours, take notes and then two weeks later say what they wrote, but for many, the system is broken. There is a huge population of extraordinarily talented and engaged people who can’t learn that way. They are made to feel like something is wrong with them.

It’s crazy when you think about it. We take kids and force them to adapt to this really complex bureaucracy instead of adopting the system to them. This is especially crazy in a world full of surprises. Surprises of the economy, of society, of invention and technology. Everyday is going to be a surprise. Education prepares you to cope with certainty. There is no certainty. Learning, however, prepares you to cope with the surprises of the world.

I want to see environments where kids are restless until their need for learning is satisfied. Where kids are allowed to pursue their curiosities and taught to solve interesting problems, not to memorize answers. These pedagogies do exist. What is new, however, are the technologies that have the power to shift the paradigm. To kill education and give rise to learning, but only when you place pedagogy first. So what are some of those shifts?

Curriculum: A shift from content-based to skills-based curriculum

Knowing something is probably an obsolete idea. You don’t actually need to know anything. You can find out at the point when you need to know it. We are going to see less and less of education as the conveying of content because that is going be a commodity. A lot more of what we think of as education today is going to go back to its roots of teaching. Where the instructor engages in dialogue with the student and helps them develop thinking skills, problem solving skills and passion for a discipline. The rise of models like General Assembly and coding bootcamps are indicative of a growing movement towards curriculum focusing on employability and applied skills (i.e. critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity etc.).

Instruction: A shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning

The role of the educator is to spark and nurture student’s curiosities. To build stronger relationships and scaffold student ownership of learning. It’s the teacher's job to point young minds towards the right kinds of questions. A teacher doesn’t need to give any answers because answers are everywhere. The maker learning movement, Sugatra Mitra’s SOLE model, and school like AltSchool are leading the way in creating learning environments where students take ownership.

Assessment: A shift from summative high-stakes to formative low-stakes assessment

Education has been very, very slow to look at data effectively and determine what is actually happening in the classroom. In large part, it’s because a lot of assessments today are focused on lower order thinking. What the student knows or does not know. There is a lot more potential in the process of learning, and in those moments giving the right feedback. If you watch a gifted instructor in the classroom that’s exactly what he or she is doing.

If we think of the purpose of assessment as being able to provide information to teachers about what to do next, high-stakes summative tests don’t give us enough actionable information. What is needed are more sensitive ways to measure and support low stakes formative assessments. Advances in artificial intelligence and companies like Knewton are starting to unlock new ways of measuring what the student has learned.

 

These are signs we are at the death of education right now. The structures and rules of school, learning from 9 to 3, working on your own and not working with others, is dying and learning is just beginning. Stay tuned.