Friday, September 24, 2010

The Future of Education??

This month marks the beginning of Doctoral studies and as you would expect the reading and research has led me into some interesting areas.  One such article is titled "The Future of Education" and written by self declared futurist Thomas Frey.  Tom works for the DaVinci Institute, "... a non-profit futurist think tank in the fertile proving grounds of Colorado".
The article is interesting in a number of ways as it offers a view of institutional educational blockers in much the same way (metaphorically) that Roman Numerals limited mathematical and scientific discoveries when the Romans colonised much of the world (see the article for a deeper discussion).  The article also offers a prediction that a centralised courseware development and storage tool would revolutionalise education and take over from what we now see as traditional schooling and higher education.
Frey notes, as do so many other education writers, that traditional notions of education are not coping with the content explosion generated by the rise of the knowledge economy.  Specifically, the idea of the teacher struggling to be a "sage on the stage" expert in all areas.  While Frey offers the popular view of a more student-centred focus with teachers as coaches, he goes on to suggest that 60 minute curriculum modules will be developed in a single, centrally located design environment by anyone and that these can then be tagged in areas such as their education field and quality.

In his discussion, Frey makes mention of the open courseware initiatives such as WikiUniversity currently being pursued around the world, but makes some interesting, and in my view, contestable assumptions that are worth discussing.  The first is that of a standard courseware development template based on one or a limited number of pedagogical approaches.  The second is that knowledge provision equates to learning. The final issue relates to the first two (indeed all three are inter-related) and is his apparent oversight of the current Personal Learning Environment (PLE) discussions and literature.

The standardised development template suggests that all learners learn the same way.  There is a great deal of literature that suggests just the opposite.  Writers such as Felder et al demonstrate a significant quantitative difference in learning efficiency based on learning preferences. Jung (1971), Briggs, and Myers similarly suggest that personality also has an effect on learning and that careful learning design can result in improved learning.  Clearly, a standardised approach to learning design (based on which assumptions?) would not present the most effective approach to a learning environment.  Cronje offers a four quadrant approach to learning that suggests that the nature of the content to be learned should dictate the learning philosophy used.  His model suggests a mix of constructivist and objectivist approaches that depend on the type of learning required.

The second issue is closely related to the first, in that Frey appears to make an assumption that the presentation of knowledge (using a standardised approach) is the same as learning.  Constructivist theorists offer a view that learning occurs best in a particular context to which the learner can relate and use their pre-existing knowledge. This contextualising of knowledge would mean that learning design should be directly related to its relevant application.  For example, learning how to calculate monetary discounts and additional fees would involve learning how to calculate percentages as well as addition and subtraction.  In another learning context percentages, addition and subtraction could/should be taught in a different context.

The final oversight, in my view, is the lack of acknowledgment of the growing literature on PLEs (see Siemans, or Downes). Personal Learning Environments offer the flexibility to contextualise and individualise content in ways that appeal to and engage learners.  When a learner learns to construct their own PLE, they themselves construct the learning modules to suit their own requirements.  If they need to learn how to video edit using Premiere then they search and construct their own learning environment that includes exactly what they need.  In the process they can tag information/tutorials they have found useful and share that information with any who wish to learn.  The most popular information will rate highly in Google searches and this makes it easier for others to find.  A quick reference to Wikipedia will in the vast majority of cases provide an authoritative cross reference in terms of accuracy.

Overall, I found Frey's article intriguing and there is no doubt that he has identified some of the major blockers to the transformational change that needs to happen in education.  His ideas on "Learning Camps" and 24 hour access to school learning centres are excellent as is  what he calls 'Confidence-Based Learning" where testing is an integral part of student learning diagnostics and formative feedback.

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types (Collected works of C. G. Jung, volume 6). (3rd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. First appeared in German in 1921. ISBN 0-691-09770-4

Myers, Isabel Briggs (1980). Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Davies-Black Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1, 1995). ISBN 0-89106-074-X