Sea Change In Knowledge and Education

Education has been on my mind the last year or so. On one hand we have this public push to devalue all college education for not being some kind of magic bullet leading to getting a job in a down economy. While I agree student loans and college prices have gotten out of hand, I think to devalue education and knowledge for not having enough immediate monetary “ROI” is something we will come to regret as a society. On the other hand we have knowledge for the sake of knowledge – completing something for the sake of having done so – these things have merit to individuals and to the world we live in.

I’ve given a few presentations to universities and high schools on using social media in the classroom and in the organizational structure of the school itself, but those presentations largely focused on the mechanics of “school” and “tactics”. It is my opinion that we need to move beyond the institutional thinking and institutional process to really ride this sea change in education. While most are focused on the process, people in their infinite thirst to learn are building a new global process for eternal, immersive, self directed, multi-faceted learning and knowledge that will leave the traditional school system far behind.

Take a look at Twitter, for example. This super simple service has been making its way into the classroom a little at a time since 2007. Twitter has a long history of varied use at the administrative and classroom level (here are 60 quick examples out of thousands), and still makes headlines each time a new school like Wise High School finds a new way to adopt the service. Twitter makes learning accessible in a school environment, and is part of the overall change in the face of education itself. Access to knowledge in your pocket can break the institution of “school” out of the concrete, rigid shell it lives in and turn it into organic knowledge that students yearn for.

Everyone wants to learn something. It’s human nature, this quest to know. Some folks want to learn a new language (the BBC is one of many places offering free immersion language courses), some want to know more about Snooki’s life beyond the Jersey Shore sitcom and some want to learn how to fix a car or quantum physics, but we all yearn for more information and deeper understanding of something beyond ourselves. Innovative schools like MIT, with it’s new free online education program, are beginning to deliver a future that takes knowledge and sets it apart from “school”, putting us in control of what and how we learn, and what quality of learning it is.

Even our search tools are starting to cater to this quest for knowledge – for good, vetted knowledge. Take a look at MentorMob (“Learn what you want, teach what you love”), for example – bringing you knowledge from around the web that is then sorted by trusted sources and people who have demonstrated topical savvy. Will it work? That’s not clear yet, but it definitely stands as one result of this new thirst to know everything, anywhere.

My takeaways from obsessing about education are several:

1) Education will become multi-media (and richly cross platform, moving fluidly from PC to phone to tablet to augmented reality and more not yet imagined)
2) Education will become portable (leaving the rigid institutional “school” structure far behind)
3) Education will become free (eventually)
4) Education will become completely student driven (gone are the days of the rigid, semi-applicable “core curriculum” concept)
5) Education will have two clear and more divergent paths: immediate ROI (job training, trade training) or life enhancing (broad knowledge based)
6) Teachers will become more like mentors or knowledge sherpas than the current system of educational drones chained to the ideas of a school district far removed from the needs of its students

7) Education becomes game-ified

Just think, education is going to be changing so much that the days when you can plug in to the Matrix and learn like Neo are nearly here. Are you as excited as I am for where this is going and how we can teach and learn from each other?

What did I miss? What other cool things are being cooked up in education that aren’t mentioned here? How did I do on my predictions? What are yours?

Updated to add this video from RSA, a unique look at the education system:


  1. Anonymous December 29, 2011

    Nice. As someone who works peripherally with education in the nonprofit sector, this subject interests me more and more. Though it doesn’t touch much on the social media aspects, I attended this debate earlier this year and I feel it shows the direction we are going in, touching on points 2 and 4 made above. 

  2. geechee_girl December 30, 2011

    I’ll have to check it out. Education is changing and I’m not sure people realize how fast change is coming. #edu #educhat

  3. JP Burke December 30, 2011

    Looking at your number 6, I can’t help but think of the times we have had research-based advances in mathematics education that were tanked by parent groups who were afraid of change or disagreed with a changing view of the meaning of public education. Change in the schools is difficult, in part, because it is political change. Will it ever really be driven by the needs of the students? I doubt it. If you look at large STEM initiatives attended by corporations, you hear the needs of the students mentioned but treated in a cursory way; you rarely see the voice of the student at these events. 

    The one time I did see such a voice, it was revealing, and excellent. A young girl who had received a STEM award in Massachusetts gave an amazing presentation about her experiences in the state’s science fairs and other STEM-related educational opportunities. She was going into college for art, she announced, but would always carry her education in science with her. I thought that was a solid win. She was quite inspiring.  However, the engineer-manager-executives in the room murmured disapprovingly. She was not going to enter their employee pipeline. To them, that’s a failure.
    Education is never knowledge for knowledge’s sake, in my view. Here (I think) you are using that phrase in a positive way, but many do not look on knowledge without an ROI favorably, and they have a very narrow view of the R. I see this as the influence of a knowledge acquisition model of education, although not entirely. Not everyone views education as opening the brain and inserting knowledge, and many view that as a theoretical impossibility (e.g. radical constructivists and others who deny the ability to directly access an objective reality). Veering away from the sci-fi feats of Neo, consider the possibility of looking at learning (and evidence of education) as an observable change in an individual’s participation in some sort of community of practice. It’s not entirely at odds with knowledge acquisition, but as a researcher I like the idea of judging someone’s learning based on their participation. After all, are we really teaching students to take tests? Is that the situation we expect them to perform in when they are professionals?

    Of course not. We are hoping/expecting/relying on a belief that performance on test somehow translated to participation in some other situation.

    This, I think, is where some element of gaming comes in, although I’m thinking more of David Williamson Schaffer’s epistemic games than of a videogame. ( There are people working to create assessments based on an analysis of participation which will perhaps one day challenge the current standardized testing regime.

    Twitter in your pocket doesn’t excite me much mainly because I don’t see access to information as the hurdle in education. I don’t think of education in terms of how quickly and easily you can access information, I think of it in terms of participation, and how students can make sense of the world. In other words, a student’s ability to interact meaningfully. To interact with meaning is to take information in meaningfully, and express oneself meaningfully. So, to me, students must be engaged in activities of meaning making. 

    I have been involved in a group investigating what it means to participate meaningfully in a technology-enhanced mathematics classroom, and the most important phrase in there, to me, is “participate meaningfully.” When you see two students arguing for their interpretation of a situation, and they are using their understanding of mathematics to make their points, that is activity involving mathematical meaning. If they start drawing graphs on a piece of paper, you can argue that they are using the technology of paper and pencil along with a mathematical representation to enhance their activity. If they drew those graphs on iPads, the technology wouldn’t necessarily be an improvement. 

    A lot of the application of technology to education suffers from a lack of thought about how the technology actually makes a difference (or not) in the meaning-making in the classroom. If I have a phone conference with my adviser, I am using technology in my education, but all it is doing is allowing me to bridge a distance. If we were together in a room we would probably have an even richer conversation. The technology here is just a prosthetic to overcome a physical limitation; it is not creating new kinds of learning or giving me the ability to think about things in new ways.

    We need to have a higher bar for judging whether a technology is enhancing education, and it should be tied to meaning-making and to what we have learned from research in education. It upsets me to see laptops handed to kids with the result of people decrying the unfulfilled promise of technology in education. The result of experimenting on kids by handing them tech without regard to what we already know and value in education research is a demoralized and cynical population who will simply harbor suspicion about all technology in education.

  4. geechee_girl December 30, 2011

    Here is a fascinating look at Finland’s educational system. Notable: there are *no* private schools in Finland at any level. Favorite quote from the article: 

    “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

  5. geechee_girl December 30, 2011

    On Twitter I was pointed to Ivan Illich on Deschooling Society:

  6. JP Burke December 30, 2011

    Notable: they treat teachers as professionals. That article does highlight a number of differences that I believe are related to the success of schools in Finland. I wonder if we are too enamored of the mythical properties of competition here.

  7. geechee_girl January 8, 2012

    Interesting article relevant to this discussion about flipped classrooms from the NYT

  8. Nicola Avery January 16, 2012

    Hi,  would it be possible to include your post in One Change A Day blog that we have started to create which will feature posts during 2012 relating to education and change?

  9. geechee_girl January 16, 2012

    We love it when people mention a good blog post briefly and link back here, but we prefer not to have it out in the wild as a duplicate post.

  10. One Change A Day January 16, 2012

    Great, thank you 🙂

Comments are Disabled