Two Broken Things in Education (Part 1)

Two Broken Things in Education (Part 1)

At SXSW and at TED, researchers, game designers and teachers (and a former hedge fund analyst) shared diverse visions for the future of education. They got started by explaining what’s broken in our current vision for education systems.

These discussions are focused on K-12 and college level education, but we have an opportunity in the professional education sector to lead the way. Those of us already using elearning in the workplace understand that the learning journey doesn’t end at age 18 (or 22) – in fact, it never ends. Learning about changing visions for educational systems enables us to lead the way in connecting adults to educational resources throughout their careers and creating a meaningful, lifelong learning journey.

What Doesn’t Work?

1) One pace for everyone. Beginning at a young age, our educational process expects everyone at the same age to be at the same learning stage. Perhaps worse, we expect everyone to take the same amount of time to complete each learning stage. Conventional in-person, synchronous learning assumes that each learner will march along at the same pace. In the elearning sector, we’re already surmounting this hurdle by creating 24/7 access to online learning resources. This empowers the learner to access the information, but it doesn’t necessarily motivate them to do so.

2) You passed a test? You’re an expert. And when learners reach a basic level of mastery (able to pass a test or quiz), we send them along to the next level, without the necessary support to ensure they revisit any concepts or ideas they did not adequately master. Salman Khan describes this as giving someone who passed a basic bicycling test a unicycle – and expecting them to succeed.

At SXSW, game theorist Seth Priebatsch (founder of Scvngr, a location-based game application) described how traditional testing does not succeed in inspiring learners to learn – instead, it rewards someone with test-taking (or cheating) skills. Fundamentally, testing creates an endpoint for the learning process and doesn’t allow students to continue to learn and demonstrate their enhanced mastery of new topics.

So Let’s Make It Work

In an example of creative visions for redesigning learning, Priebatsch described one alternative model for testing: His alma mater, Princeton, allows students to take tests as many times as they want, until they are satisfied with their grade. This is one way to challenge learners to view the learning experience as a game, where they can try, try again and try even harder to succeed in accomplishing a task that is within their reach. They aren’t left with a feeling of failure after having failed a test – they’re challenged to study, improve and level up.

This model of learning and evaluation encourages practice of the skills we actually wish for students to exhibit in life: Persistence, critical thinking, self-guided learning and exploration. It builds confidence and engagement. Ultimately, our way of educating people is broken because we don’t enable a multiplicity of learning paths. The ultimate goal in improving education is to tailor the learning journey to the individual in order to empower the learner to move at his or her own pace, express curiosity and navigate, with mentorship, through a rich world of educational resources.

In the short term, the use of social network, mobile and game technologies offer opportunities for students to create customized learning paths by accessing free resources and connecting with mentors and experts around the world. But the way we use technology for education now is in its infancy. Concerns about access, institutional support, privacy and the classic “social media policy” discussion keep many educators and learners away from technological resources in both the academic and professional education sectors.

These are surmountable obstacles. In the second post in this series, I’ll discuss the use of technology and elearning resources (in the immediate term) to create the individualized and empowered learning journey.