The Future of Education, Part 2: How We’ll Fix It

The Future of Education, Part 2: How We’ll Fix It

Last week, I blogged about two of the broken systems in education – timing and testing – and established some possible roles for technology and game mechanics to improve them. It’s time to get serious about short term ways to improve learning systems for learners of all ages.

At SXSW, Jillian Darwish of KnowledgeWorks shared her vision for the future of education: One where learning is a journey, where each learner’s experience is personal, customized and self-directed. Learning starts young and never ends, with access to resources and mentorship to create a highly customized, flexible learning experience.

That sounds good, right? A personalized and engaging educational experience, where each learner takes charge of their own experience? Sure. But the question is how do we get there? What short term changes in education systems will facilitate the development of the individualized learning journey?

Do homework at school. In a TED talk last month, Salman Khan described a new, self-paced model for education, in which students use online resources at home to study content, and then work with their peers and teachers to do “homework” at school. With persistent access to resources, and the ability to proceed through studying material and completing practice problems at their own pace, students are removed from the peer pressure to absorb content at the same pace as everyone else. By doing “homework” at school, in groups, students capture the benefits of collaboration and peer support, with access to teachers as they need.

How do we apply this to professional learning? Put learners in touch with each other. Create opportunities for collaboration. Think about how you can create a social learning environment (we’ve got lots of advice). As Jay Cross reminds us often, 70% of learning is informal. Maximizing opportunities for students to interact with one another to discuss content provides more opportunities and framework for informal learning.

Make data-driven decisions. Online learning systems also enable teachers to maximize the utility of their time spent with students by observing data from the student’s interaction with the online content. Real time informatics enable educators to see when learner’s pace changed, or when a learner replayed certain concepts. This information enables the educator to pinpoint the specific needs for support.

How do we apply this to professional learning? Put content online to make it accessible 24/7. Use your analytics to focus and target your support. Create supplemental materials where learners encounter obstacles.

Closing Note: Late Adopters and Old Dogs

At Darwish’s SXSW panel on the Future of Education, one educator made a great point on the difficulty of engaging educators in technology tools. We aren’t going to make the best use of technology if we talk about old dogs refusing to learn new tricks. People who have not yet embraced technology for learning aren’t old dogs, they’re just late adopters. You can’t drag them kicking and screaming into a technological world.

Provide educational opportunities and patient support to the employees in your organization who are subject matter experts, classroom trainers or just technology-averse. Start small and meet them where they’re already moderately engaged. If they have a Facebook profile, help them start a Facebook group. If they like text messaging, connect them to Twitter. If they’re comfortable using email, consider starting them with Posterous for blogging. Give them opportunities to engage and showcase the successes you’re already experiencing.

Photo Credit: UBC Library on Flickr