What Got us Here Will Not Get Us There.



There was an article in The Press a couple of weeks ago that caught my eye,

“Schools need to be more like Google,” claimed the reporter Blayne Slabbert [The Press March 23]. In this article Slabbart claimed that whilst the world had changed, education had remained in a similar state to what it was, “before the internet was invented,” and that despite some change the education system had a long way to go if it hoped to keep pace with the modern world.

Slabbart continued to argue that rather than being preoccupied with content delivery schools should be preparing learners for their futures by developing technological skills, problem solving skills and a “way of thinking.” Skills like creativity and adaptability need to be developed if our children are to “be able to adapt to ever -changing demands in the working world.”

There is nothing in this article that I would disagree with, instead I see it as another example of an overwhelming tide of research and opinion that is all saying much the same thing, namely that the way we deliver learning in our education system needs to adapt if we are to serve the best interests of those we are charged to nurture.

On the face of it it is quite simple. The world has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. The way we do our banking, the way we listen to music, the games we play, the way we communicate with each-other, the way we apply for jobs, the way we photograph our experiences, the way we plan and book holidays, the way we are entertained, the way we use a phone, the way we seek information and news and the way we shop, have all changed in ways that we could scarcely have predicted a couple of decades ago.

Twenty years ago we were still learning about emails and the power of the internet for personal use, we were still happy that a phone was used primarily as a …phone, now we can hardly imagine life without constant and immediate connectivity with the entire world. Who knows what will happen in the next twenty years but one thing is obvious, the rate of change will not slow down any time soon.

The common denominator in all of this change is technology. Technology has accelerated and prompted most of the change that has occurred in our lives so it makes sense that technology needs to play an important role on a modern educational environment. Technology has developed the smart phone for example, a device we use to communicate, connect, store, search, navigate and record our existence with, a far cry from the Nokia type mobile phone we were all using just a few years ago.

I have long said that technology is just a tool that needs to be used alongside other tools like the pen, paper, artistic expression, speech and movement. I now want to reconsider that statement as I am now convinced that rather than technology being just a tool I now believe that;

“Technology is THE tool.” 

Used correctly technology is the tool that can make a difference in a person’s life, it has the capacity to help an individual ask the important questions and seek the answers to those questions.

In many respects if we see the learner as the driver of the learning experience then technology is the accelerator that will get them to their destination quickly and efficiently.

Now that is the easy part. It is easy to state the obvious, the world is changing, technology is the common factor in this change and therefore education needs to change if it is empower the next and future generations. What is difficult is not just reacting and responding to this rate of change and therefore always playing catch up but somehow predicting what education needs to do to keep pace with the modern world. This future proofing is almost impossible as who can predict the future with any accuracy? What we do need to do is to think long and hard about what skills will be important in the future and how are we ensuring their development through the schooling years?

Much has been written and espoused on this issue and some common strands seem to have emerged that serve as guiding principles as we start to map out what learning in the near future needs to look like. I acknowledge Tom Vander Ark [Getting Smart CEO] in presenting the following list;

  1. At the risk of stating the obvious, technology will play an increasingly important role in education as we grow accustomed to a world where “anyone can learn anything” and “everything is closer than it appears” [I have taken these two phrases from an on line article written by Tom Vander Ark.] Learning will become a far more ‘open’ experience.
  2. As we also get used to a world where careers are changed several times in a person’s working life the need to develop a ‘project based’ and ‘problem solving’ approach to learning becomes increasingly important.
  3. Thankfully the need for relationship skills will be just as important, if not more important, as ever. They will be a vital foil and balance to the digital experience. In line with this the role of a teacher will develop to include the role of a learning advisor or coach who will assist individual learners as they navigate their learning journey.
  4. The concept of a single site school will be challenged as learning becomes increasingly flexible, portable and free from restrictions of time and place. Connections with multiple providers and the development of meaningful real life partnerships with the world of work will become common place.
  5. In the same way, where learning takes place will be more varied with the physical site of a school being augmented by virtual platforms.
  6. As a result the profile of a learner will be portable and based on establishing digital portfolios that collect and collate their various experiences and charts their progress. These portfolios will enable the expression of creativity as well as chart progressions. These portfolios stay with the learner after they leave school as learning is seen as a continuous and continuing process.
  7. This profile will focus more on skills like self management, enterprise and collaboration rather than just content recall assessments. In fact what we assess and how we assess it is likely to change in the very near future.
  8. The school will remain an important physical space but it will be far more flexible in its use of space.

In summary the learner will become more accountable for their progress as they exist in a more flexible and multi faceted educational environment. Currently they exist in an assessment driven world that places high expectations but low accountability on the individual, the most significant result of all of this crystal ball gazing is that the learner will receive a more personalised education in the near future. Learning will be based on mastering a relevant and skills based education across numerous sites and platforms. The personal accountability is likely to increase but so will the sense of ownership and empowerment.

Whether or not all of this actually occurs is very much unknown but it is imperative that we keep looking forward in an informed and open minded way if we genuinely care about what futures we are preparing our children for.


One thought on “What Got us Here Will Not Get Us There.

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful take on the role of technology in our children’s future education. I am not so sure about your assertion of ‘technology is THE tool’. Technology has its limitations as we learn to explore our own learning pathways. Technology seems limited in the softer subject areas of the arts. Technology works well as a tool to answer black and white but to understand the subtleties, subtitles, and nuances that requires different skill sets that technology does not seem to meet well.
    While I accept that our children will need to learn skills in adaptation and problem solving, technology often provides black and white solutions. Surely our children need to develop skills that will get them through the greys of future life. They need to be able to: think creatively; to be able to look beyond an algorithm for the validity of data; to express themselves in way that imparts passion, that elicits an emotional response, that inspires people to action. Technology can support some of this but it cannot do it alone.
    If technology is THE tool then surely we create children that respond to situations with a technology approach and I think this has the potential to limit their ability to respond. Technology certainly is a tool, but I remain unconvinced on it being the tool


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