I’m not an education expert. I’m just very interested in how it affects core competences for people to face the challenges imposed by our current economic setting. As I see it, we live in a Learning Economy, rather than a knowledge economy, where we are constantly challenged to learn the useful and forget the useless. So education’s role is to build learning capabilities, and not delivering knowledge. But maybe I’m just wrong.
It reached me on Twitter a discussion by John Merrow about the role of technology in classrooms and how it is feared by many teachers and school principals. Here, I quote him:
“I think technology is a huge threat to a decent education precisely because it allows shortcuts like [the use of plot summaries on line that you can read in 30 seconds]. We know that students everywhere are downloading term papers written by others and submitting them as their own, and now they don’t even have to read the material. We’re producing students with no deep understanding of our culture and a fundamental contempt for education”.
But what really gets me is that this is only a risk because the school model used in most countries is still based on instruction, rather than building the deep understanding he mentions! I agree that we are producing such students. But it is not the student’s fault or the technology’s fault. Can you tell me of anybody who will spend more time than needed in a task they don’t like? Will you tell me that you do not use the internet to search for needed knowledge to make your tasks easier? In the current educational setting, students are being punished for doing what we all do at our jobs! In fact, some authors argue that sorting out what you need from the numerous search results is a key competence is the Learning Economy.
It is not my intention to criticize his entire post. In fact, I believe that he gives some insights on how to better use technology in the current setting. Also he offers some good perspectives on the risks schools are running while not investing in understanding technology. But he misses a greater discussion (and for me a more important one) that is about the school model.
What is needed is to review the school model that was built based on the late 19th century understanding of how we learn. Its aim was to supply the industrial economy with its workers. Our current economy demands creative people with ability to research, solve problems, learn to use new technology, and innovate, which are crucial for people to live fulfilling lives in the new economy. And the learning sciences have already identified the principles that underlie building such abilities: customized learning; availability of diverse knowledge sources; collaborative group learning; and assessment for deeper understanding. From these, at least three can be broadly supported by technology.
What must be worked out fast is that the educational sector is one of the least innovatives and that the adoption of technology is being made mostly for incremental change over the same foundation. It’s time to look for some radical new models. Put our minds together in exercises like Google’s initiative on Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age to innovate education. Look for some examples already at work such as the Brazilian Instituto Lumiar who got also Microsoft’s attention as an innovative school.
If we are to discuss the use of technology in education, we might as well discuss how to educate for using technology. Knowledge is available. Perhaps we just need to teach how to find, sort, and make use of it, what makes learning skills more important than knowing. And if my logic makes any sense, it might turn out that I’m not THAT wrong.
 Lundvall and Johnson (1994): The Learning Economy. Journal of Industrial Studies.
EDIT: I remembered of a video that questions education as we have it that is related to school models and the discussion on this post. I decided to add it because it reinforces my point on the need for school model change.