The difference between Education, school, and learning

For my Masters course on Leveraging Technology, I had to write a paper that addressed the following prompt. I thought, instead of just sharing it with my professor, I’d also share it with you. It’s based on a blog post that has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder since after Learning 2.010! I’m still not entirely happy with it, but it’s a start. At least it’s out of my ‘drafts’ folder now…

As an expert on the use of technology in education, you have been called upon by a United Nations committee to ‘testify’ on the impact and efficacy of technology in education. Prior to the session, you are provided with the four questions the panel will ask so you can adequately prepare your answers. Please do so.

A. Based on your experience and passion, what is your personal vision of education?

B. Please explain how technology currently informs that vision.

C. What emerging technology trends will impact your vision of education in the next three years?

D. If you were appointed as the global technology czar, what would be your first order of business? How would you know if you were successful?

I believe that Education, school and learning are three disparate concepts that are often conflated. As has been noted by speakers such as Ken Robinson, the industrial age of Education has used schools as the factories by which the “learning” has been the output. All learning took place in schools and all schools existed within the sphere of Education. If we were to diagram it, it might have looked something like this:

With the rise in opportunities afforded through the continued integration of technology, I believe that that diagram is shifting. There still exists overlapping areas between the three concepts, but I think it is a mistake to assume school implies learning, or that learning implies organized Education. In fact, I believe that the state of Education, school and learning currently looks more like this:

There are a myriad of opportunities for learning to take place outside of the formal institution of Education and outside of the formal setting of schools. This has always been the case, but increased access to technology has made these opportunities more abundant and more obvious. In fact, as we continue along this path, I believe that we will see an increased shift towards the center, where the overlapping areas of these three concepts increases:

Technology has had two major effects on knowledge. First, it has significantly decreased the half-life of facts. According to Samuel Arbessman, “we must admit to ourselves that a large fraction of what we learn is going to be obsolete within a few years” and that “we need to constantly reeducate ourselves, avoid memorization, and start looking up facts to make sure that we have the most updated knowledge.”

Secondly, technology has made the effective value of knowledge zero. It used to be that people would pay huge sums of money to attend prestigious universities so that they could learn from the professors there. Now, top-tier universities like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford are making their content available for free online through services like iTunes U or through MOOC providers like Udacity.

Individuals have access to all of that ever-changing content because of advances in technology. The increasing hyper-connectedness of our world means that we have quicker access to more information than ever before and there are no signs that these trends will not slow down.

Over the next three years, I think the continued refinement of Massively Open Onlie Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) will have a huge impact on learning, schools and Education. While there are currently many who believe that this free content will not live up to its hype, I believe that these disruptive innovations will continue to be refined and that they will reach a ‘tipping point’ within Education.

In conjunction with this, I believe that the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges Initiative will play a huge part in ‘legitimizing’ the learning that is taking place outside of the traditional institutions of Education and brick-and-mortar schools. These badges will be used by experts to endorse others for the skills that they possess and the learning that they have shown. Open Badges will be recognized by schools, institutions and even employers to meet requirements for entry, graduation or hiring.

As Global Technology Czar, there are two areas of immediate focus for all students and teachers. The first is the need for an extensive information literacy and search curriculum to be developed and implemented. In this age, it is important for learners of all ages to be able to find appropriate information and to critically evaluate the its veracity, context and applicability. As Clay Shirkey famously remarked, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” As more and more information becomes accessible every day, it is important that we teach how to sift through it all in order to find what they need.

Some rights reserved by Clint Hamada

The second is develop and embed the concept of connectivism within our schools, as developed by George Siemens. According to Siemens, “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing (emphasis added).” All learners should be shown how to develop their own personal learning network, de-emphasizing the role of the school and of the classroom teacher as the sole source of knowledge and empowering learners to seek outside experts and opinions – on a local and global scale – in order to satisfy their own passions for learning.

Success for either of these initiatives cannot be measured by test scores. They will not result in higher standardized test scores or result in a change in PISA rankings. I believe that success can only be measured through an extensive audit of school curricula and learner behavior. Both areas of focus will require an overhaul of ‘traditional’ school curricula to put further emphasis on critical thinking skills and less emphasis on content. In short, a school’s curriculum must become ‘Google-proof.’ This audit should also reveal a greater emphasis being put on creating and maintaining global connections, first facilitated by the school and then maintained by the learner as they mature. These connections can take many forms, including classroom connections, collaborative projects, and peer review and assessment. It will require the learners to leverage technologies such as social media and self-publishing in an authentic and open manner and will, in turn, require schools to actively teach and promote digital citizenship as a core value of the learning environment.