The Shape of the Future of Learning: Seeding New Institutions

Richard Florida in a New Republic article; The Roadmap to a High-Speed Recovery, has put forth an interesting and believable proposition: investing in new economic infrastructure is the key to powering a quicker and lasting recovery, by putting the fundamentals of our economy on a sounder footing with today’s economic drivers.  Umair Haque calls it a recapitalizing process when he says:

The real problem’s . . . in the institutional structure of the economy . . . America’s real capital gap, a widening fissure in social, organizational, and creative capital.

Florida mentions changing the current assembly line like organization of our education system (characterized by standardized mass production).  What would a new take on educational infrastructure and institutions look like?  I believe they will look much different then they do today, they will be designed to serve a much different population and they would occupy a much different role in society.  In this post I will suggest some of the contours of this change and why it is needed.

1 From Rote Memorization to Building Accomplishments

Too much of education involved memorizing test answers when economic success depends on innovation, initiative, and creative intelligence.  There’s little need for rote memorization.  Most memorized knowledge is quickly forgotten unless it is frequently reinforced through everyday processes and even then it is seldom helpful when your focused on innovtion.  Building real world accomplishments gets to a deeper and more authentic type of learning.

2 From Knowledge to Skills and Capabilities

Knowledge is great, and needed at times, but more than anything else, we need the capability to make things happen.  Creating things is more dependent on developing skills and capabilities than it is on knowing the right thing.  Help people to know things in the process of doing things.

3 From Mass Standardization to Mass Customized Creativity

Current methods of accountability have made education become more standardized – striving to make all people learn the same things, but what people keep saying we need is the creativity that requires diversity; everyone combining and bringing their individual strengths to the table.  I’m not against accountability, but it seems to have become the primary goal, and it is not the goal we need.

4 From A Curriculum to a Network

Standards based curriculums have become larger and more detailed, but the knowledge they embody never seems to be the right stuff at the right time.  Networks are even larger and more complex, but they’er also more fluid; able to be formed into the right configuration at the time it is needed.  Curriculums attempt to determine what knowledge will be needed in all contexts and to transfer that knowledge to individuals, a process that is alway problematic at best.  Networks create knowledge that is designed in and for specific contexts.

5 From Just Incase Knowledge to Just In-time Knowledge

Classroom knowledge seldom transfers to practice because students seem to have a hard time recognizing how to apply knowledge without real-world practice.  It’s also becoming hard to predict what knowledge will be useful beyond the basics because the “half-life” of knowledge keeps getting shorter and shorter.  Instead of giving people what they need to know, we need to give them the skills for finding the knowledge they need and for figuring out how to make use of it.

6 From Disciplinary Indoctrination to a Diversity of T Shaped Individuals

What does an educated person look like.  The knowledge in disciplines has become deeper and disciplinary members have become more specialized till it is no longer possible for any one individual even to know their entire discipline.  We still need individual with deep knowledge, now more than ever.  But we also need everyone to have a breath of skills and knowledge to allow interdisciplinary collaboration, the basis of most complex problem-solving situations.  These are the famed T shaped individuals; individuals with deep knowledge, but also with the fluid capacity to work across all kinds of disciplinary and other boundaries.

7 From the Classroom to the Social Lab

As pointed out by Sumeet Moghe, it is often observed that very little important learning can be traced back to classrooms.  Learning occurs in collaborative project rooms.  Knowledge is meant for doing things and it is through doing things that we gain what we need  in terms of knowledge and capabilities.  Instead of simulations in the classroom, move to real projects in a supportive experimental social laboratory of learning.

8 From the Training of Youth to True Lifelong Learning

Schools were set up for the socialization and maturation of the youth and schools can be great things.  But for the most important learning, and this includes everyone, it will happen after graduation.  Schools are great for maturation and skill building, but institutions dedicated to helping people learn are also needed by active and engaged adults in their everyday life, and these institutions will likely look and behave much differently than our traditional ideas of schooling.

9 From a Sequenced Curriculum to Learning Wherever People Are

All people’s ability to learn is very great.  We cheat that ability when we insist on following a rote sequence to a standardized curriculum.  People will need to adapt what they know to the immediate context anyway; assist them in gaining the skills and knowledge in any context they currently find themselves.  The capabilities they gain will be deeper, more robust and it will be gained more efficiently.  Wherever it seems logically permissible, have no prerequisites.  Colleges and universities still have a large role to play in educating society, but infrastructure and learning support should always be available.