The Search for a New Common Sense

I’ll begin where I left off in my last post.  Our task (as educators) is to find a new common sense for how to operate in a 21st Century economy (Hagel and Brown).

The Current State of Affairs

Here is my big picture view of what is going on in the economy today.  Globalization, digitalization, standardization and other productivity improving factors are decreasing general labor requirements; a first level of economic restructuring.  Some of that labor is falling to low wage and low skill service jobs, but there is a significant effort being directed to developing totally new forms of value.  Hagel and Brown’s call is consistent with the call of Drucker to improve the productivity of knowledge workers.  What is this new common sense; this new source of productivity:

Living on the edge will help you build the strongest core.

What do we mean by this? The edge is where the action is – in terms of growth, innovation and value creation. Companies, workgroups and individuals that master the edge will build a more sustainable core (Hagel and Brown).

The bohemian spirit has defined the edge.  That doesn’t mean we should adopt old bohemian models, but we should be wiling, in various ways, to help people explore their boundaries and boundary conditions.

From Push to Pull:

Over the past century, we have been perfecting highly efficient (push) approaches to mobilizing resources. . . . In education, we design standard curricula . . . In business, we build highly automated plants or service platforms supported by standardized processes . . . In technology, we write massive enterprise applications specifying activities . . . (but) powerful forces (increasing uncertainty, growing abundance, intensifying competition, growing power of customers) are at work shaping the need for an alternative approach. . . pull models help people to come together and innovate in response to unanticipated events, drawing upon a growing array of highly specialized and distributed resources. . . . pull models seek to provide people on the periphery with the tools and resources (including connections to other people) required to take initiative and creatively address opportunities as they arise (Hagel & Brown).

Note: this is not the death of standardization.  It is alive and well and plays an important function, but economically speaking, it is playing a decreasing role as a differentiator, a role that is now falling to creativity and innovation.

A Need for New Forms

This is the place for new forms of Personal Learning Environments;  personal environments that we create collectively.  It’s also about developing the resources to be able to pull to you, what you need, when you need it.  It’s also about helping people to find and pursue their passion to creating value, change their thinking and perceiving, and it’s about changing the functions of institutions and organizations in order to fit with this new pull model.

I believe this pull model will increase knowledge work productivity, it will enlighten us on the connections between the economy and the creative industries and it will play a big part in helping us to securely face the future.

The Focus of Education

American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates by Gadi Amit

In this fast company article Gadi says:

The first five years in a designer’s career are absolutely critical and the true educational experience. A young designer must appreciate that opportunity to mature while on the job and take nothing for granted. A willingness to do anything and everything he or she can to get experience and learn, from the ground up, should be reinforced by the schools.  . . . — your first job is your true MA, your best chance to establish a career path, your opportunity to work on the coolest projects . . ..

First a revision to the thoughts behind my posts of 11-23 and 11-12.   Schooling and development are very important and much of the structure to our educational institutions is appropriate.  We need to introduce students to traditional ways of thinking and knowing and then help them find new ways of thinking and knowing.  But this is the beginning of education, not the end.  Students, and indeed, all of us need support as we address real world context and achieve Morin’s contextualization principle of knowledge.  This is what Gadi is referencing, contextualization from the ground up.  This is where we need personal learning networks in the broadest of conceptions.  Peers, mentors, coaches, customers, digital acquaintances from around the world, textual friends from our readings; we need all kinds of help to find our ways and we need institutions, learning structures, designed environments and the like to help us achieve this type of learning network.

This is the task assigned to us by Hagel and Brown: to find a new common sense for how to operate in this 21st Century Economy.

#PLENK2010 Knowledge is for Acting; Schooling is for Development

Premise: Knowledge Enables Acting, While Schooling Leads Development

  1. The ability to act in specific contexts is limited by one’s capabilities and by one’s ability to acquire knowledge that is an appropriate fit to that context.
  2. Schooling is not about acting in specific situations, but is about developing capabilities along a specified developmental trajectory as a foundation for future action.

In light of this weeks discussion of PLE in the classroom I will restate my view that we should make a distinction between learning and knowledge on one hand and development and capabilities on the other and the differing purpose served by each.

Learning and knowledge are for acting in specific contexts. Useful knowledge is highly linked to the situations for which it is devised and it makes no sense to attempt to acquire that knowledge before you are in the situation.  Inevitably, the knowledge gained in this way will not be a good fit for the situation.  Learning and knowledge is therefore inherently tied to acting and is a lifelong need.  Knowledge, to be useful, must be fit to the contexts where it is used.

Schooling is for the development of human capabilities. Using language, calculating, participating in debates, discussing important cultural topics, engaging in scientific experimentation, etc. . . .; these are all capabilities that schooling should develop in students.  We know what they look like beforehand, we know of processes to build these capabilities and we can assess successfully acquired capabilities.  Yes, studens will need to acquire specific knowledge to complete the actions specified by our assessments and classroom activities, but that knowledge will be incidental to the assessment or activity.  Using the capability in new situations will require different knowledge (even if it is only slightly different) every time.  My point is that assessing a students capability and developmental trajectory makes sense.  Assessing the knowledge he/she has acquired does not, because that knowledge will not be relevant to the student’s future; although their developmental trajectory will be highly relevant.

Knowledge is important for acting and PLEs are needed.  From birth, until we take our final breath, we need to acquire knowledge in an ongoing manner.  PLEs should be part of schooling because their development is an important capability. Likewise George’s (4) student centered items in this list are (I believe) about capabilities not knowledges.  The problems come when we mistakenly take knowledge as the reason for schooling instead of capability development.  It is usually not particularly hard to acquire the knowledge we need in any given circumstance if we already posses the requisite capabilities.  Unfortunately, most educational assessments are oriented toward measuring knowledge when they should measure capabilities and the developmental trajectory the student is following.  If they would do that, they would be a much better guide for teacher’s practices.