In a society driven by industrial age economics and measurements, it isn’t surprising that we have slowly transformed the first knowledge economy work, education, into a factory, complete with six sigma performance objectives and assembly line views that treat all children of a given age or class of learner the same. Of course, individual educators and institutions may permit positive variations on this theme, but when you look at the general landscape, this is the way we have structured our system of learning.
As the knowledge economy becomes a more universal force, and the industrial age view is challenged, education, as the oldest form of knowledge work, needs to step up and represent its ideals.
Tom Vander Ark wrote a piece in his blog called Schools Need to Balance Execution and Innovation which is very resonant with the position I state above. I encourage you to read Tom’s post as a complement to this commentary. He draws widely on observations about innovation and execution to make his points. He is on the edge of freeing education off its industrial age moorings.
I think it is time we realize learning is not about inserting facts into preconfigured slots, but that it should be about experimentation and adventure. Learning is about failing and learning from failure. Failure should be praised, not condemned. The only way to teach innovation and entrepreneurship is to create opportunities for failure, and then turn that failure into a learning opportunity. And if we are doing this right, our educator guides may find themselves uncomfortably outside of their personal domain expertise as students test the boundaries of what is known, and create new combinations from existing ideas.
As educators, we should not only help guide the learning process, the challenge process and the reconciliation process. We should also be learners dedicated to learning from our teaching experiences. Educators should not be assembly line workers charged with a production quota for completion, but coaches and mentors that help the learners define their own path toward achievement—and those paths may be very different than the ones our standards-based, industrial biases prescribe. And we may find that in this possible future for education, our economy is more chaotic and more vibrant than the industrial age one we continue to try and shore up. In this future, we constantly reinvent the economy when it doesn’t work, we don’t try to return to failure, but to learn from it and move on.
My favorite quote from the article is itself a quote:
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson is a reminder that “Being right keeps you in place, being wrong forces us to explore.” Johnson explores seven strategies including slow hunches and accidents that may unlock innovation.
I leave you to ponder that for today.
Interesting that I received my copy of University Business Today. See the article on Faculty Productivity, College Costs Examined (http://universitybusiness.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=1861&p=2#0) as an example of how cost and efficiency are driving outputs rather than facilitating outcomes. And note the cover the of the current issue with is “models of efficiency.”
I won’t argue that we may well be spending hours and changing learners for things that don’t add value, but we should not be looking at cost only. In the knowledge economy, we need to have a model of value that is multidimensional. In education that means looking at learner motivation, retention, engagement, leadership. A member of the staff that encourages learning and helps bring about student leadership and engagement is probably worth more than a faculty member who teachers students all day but doesn’t compel learners to the next level of learning engagement.
Studies that only look at one thing, like efficiency, can’t model the complexity of the learning model and therefore misrepresent the issues and the solutions.