Tuesday, 17 August 2010

12 years of your life for 4 years of knowledge - a good deal?

Michael Feldstein has written a thought-provoking post on Xplana.com which "provides direct-to-student productivity tools that enhance the student learning experience". Xplana is an attempt to support individuals in their learning, which is a broad trend that will be highly disruptive to current educational models, certainly in Higher Education. The economic climate and availability of access to internet resources (while still not universal) sits in stark contrast with the student experience on offer in most educational institutions (and even corporate training for that matter).

Charles Jennings commented questioning the content-centric view of learning rather than an experience-centric view.

I suspect we need to redefine what “content” is. Certainly, the emphasis on complex, pre-packaged content (textbooks, e-learning tutorials etc) must shift to a more fluid, flow based model of content. In many respects, this is what informal, social learning embodies – the short comment, prompted reflection, trying things out, taking action – all intertwined with your daily life experience. Tools that can help nudge, structure, catalyse that experience will come to the forefront as we genuinely take more individual responsibility for our learning – as we won’t be able to rely on traditional institutions to provide the right support in the immediate future. Here in the UK, it’s reported that we will have 200,000 students not getting access to University education despite appearing to have the right grades and while the integrity of that process is an another debate, it looks like a growing contingent of students will avoid fees and the relatively glacial pace of learning on offer within the traditional route, and will take a very different path that is much more under their control and personalised to their needs.

As David Mitchell, a comedian, in the UK reflected (I paraphrase), “The education system provides 4 years of knowledge taking a leisurely 12 years to give it to you.” To which I might add, by which time you’ve forgotten most of it and with the remainder you’re still left unclear how to apply it in a useful and productive way.

Things can only get better…in the end.


Howard Johnson said...

Your post is right on the mark!
Your prepackaged content to flow metaphor is similar to the move from Just in Case to Just in TIme knowledge Two thoughts.
1. Education has an infrastructure problem (including intellectual infrastructure - concepts, theories, org charts, etc). It's so hard to get rid of the baggage. My question - what would education look like if we started from a blank slate today?
2. Learning is lifelong - but education of the youth (peoples first response when they think of education) is, I think, about maturity in intellect, emotion. relationships etc as much as it is about knowledge. Do you think this is consistent with Charles' move from content to experience?

Michael Feldstein said...

In the UK, you have David Michell. In America, we had Father Guido Sarducci: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4

Lars Hyland said...

Michael, I know Father Guido Sarducci well and love this clip - makes my point well. Any other amusing clips that make a similar point out there do you think?

Howard, you raise some good points and there is no easy, obvious answer as yet. Things are evolving visibly so we should see more practical alternative models of education emerge which radically challenge orthodox views on the shape and nature of learning starting with the young and then supporting them through life. These challenges will cover time, place, practice, evidence of skill acquisition, effective sharing of experiences, learning to learn (a key enabler) and inevitably put technology as a central enabler - without it the model can't function effectively or economically.

Iain McCulloch said...

Howard, yes education has a lot of baggage. I'd like to respond to the very good points that you raised:

1. If we were to completely redesign education today we probably wouldn't use slates (blank or otherwise). Although with the constraints imposed by the current economic situation...
2. Learning is indeed lifelong, but (from my experience having worked in FE for 5 years) for many of today's youth it doesn't actually start until after they leave school. School for many today seems to be much more about crowd control than education - as evidenced by the high levels of functional illiteracy.

Intellectual or emotional maturity are largely lacking, and learning about interpersonal relationships certainly doesn't happen in the classroom (did it ever?). All of which suggests that the debate about whether content-centric or experience-centric views of learning are most relevant is really of only academic interest!

Lars Hyland said...

Ian, thanks for your comments.

I'd like to suggest that learning DOES occur amongst those attending school and FE, it's just not what they are meant to be studying. They are learning other things, outside the classroom or as you say how to cope within a "crowd controlled" environment and to find a place within a largely arbitrarily grouped set of people (they chose or fell into studying a certain subject and are of similar age, not necessarily grouped around interest and aptitude levels).

This observation of course doesn't help much. As you say, many of the challenges are interpersonal skills, emotional and intellectual maturity, areas which need to be supported in the home prior and throughout the schooling period, so that there is a good foundation in place that facilitates concentrated learning of subjects that are often highly abstracted from real life experience.

And there's the rub. Motivation is key, and much of the educational experience on offer cannot engage an audience that is communicating and sharing at a pace and voracity that is a million times faster than the classroom timetable. This is learning of a very different nature - personalised, rapid rates of interaction, regular periods of reflection and reinforcement, emotionally engaged, relevant.

If - somehow - this could be designed into learning experience of core functional skills - reading, writing, numeracy, IT skills (heck that is already self learned to some extent, perhaps instead more focus on behavioural aspects of use) - and this INCLUDED family activity then we may have a chance of changing young people's attitude to schooling.

Without that, I suspect we'll continue to see students going their own chaotic way - they now have the communication tools to do so - and see what new model emerges. A painful process but may be inevitable if education policies don't address the fundamental issues at hand.

What do you think?

Seb Schmoller said...

Slightly lazily I'm posting this link to a report from a talk by Roy Pea in Sheffield a couple of years ago, mainly because the lifelong/lifewide learning diagram Pea used, and which I included in the report, was so powerful. (I noticed that it appears in the US Government's recently released Draft Educational Technology Plan [big PDF].)

Lars Hyland said...

Thanks for the link, Seb. That is a powerful diagram - really illustrates the time available for learning, but without having delved deeper, I guess it doesn't say much about the effectiveness of that time spent "learning", formal or otherwise? I suspect that paints a bleaker picture still perhaps. Incidentally I had the pleasure of meeting with Roy Pea when I visited Stanford University back in 2006 - I was impressed with their solid approach then.

Separately, I notice that the Guardian today has a comment piece that highlights how the changes in education delivery and employment needs (a softer skill set) affect boys and girls differently and their earnings potential long term. It advocates apprenticeships as part of the answer which on the face of it is a much more interwoven approach to learning, work and life in general, when compared to traditional HE academic routes. The Demos research it references appears to support the role of parents in facilitating a learning environment and the idea of including family activity in the learning experience going forward.