Uncertainty Definition: The Pace of Learning

Uncertainty Definition: The Pace of Learning

The Pace of Learning. The American society, influenced by the industrial age, continues to thrive, despite discussions about the knowledge economy, the sustainable economy, or the serendipity economy. Any alternative economic model is seen as a parallel augmentation to the industrial economy. That cultural bias, that assumption, has lead to actions that have transformed learning from a personal exploration, into a production activity. We set expectations that learning should be fast and efficient.  Concepts like Six Sigma, a highly effective quality and management discipline used in manufacturing and service has leaked into the school system, all the way down to the classroom in some places (Using Six Sigma to Solve Issues in Public School System). The ultimate expression of this production model comes in the grisly images of faceless children in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, as Another Brick in the Wall-Part 2 plays:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave them kids alone

The disenfranchisement of children, the negative branding of education, or the “mind control” of the populace is not the intent of these productivity movements. Education is expensive, achievement (as measured by industrial age economics) is down and the dropout rates are too high. One approach to these challenges is to look at education as a production system that needs to be fine-tuned to create the best products possible.

In Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns , Clayton Christen and his team explore how to use technology to effectively engage students and increase efficiency and productivity. The efficiency of technology will disrupt traditional models of learning.

But technology need not be used as a means of driving efficiency. Learning about technology, and engaging with it, is an end in itself. As covered in The Serendipity Economy, rapid production in one part of a system, may not necessarily increase the overall efficiency of the system seen at a larger scale, nor does it necessarily speed up overall value realization if other aspects of the system are driven by different views of time.

In contrast to classroom-as-production-line is education-as-ecosystem. Those who exist in an ecosystem, even if they are just wandering through, thrive best when they find a niche that aligns with their capabilities and their needs, or they adapt to the environment in which they find themselves. Either mechanism creates an outcome that is contextual and local. The ecosystem offers an organic view of a system, one that measures success in a very different way. Adaption, not completion – survival,  are measures of success in an ecosystem.

Drawing on ideas associated with sustainable agriculture, known as slow food, some are looking at slow learning, despite the baggage associated with the word “slow” in our industrial biased economy (see What is Slow Learning? for a brief overview). In the opening in of his book, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Guy Claxton recounts the old Polish saying: “Sleep faster; we need the pillows.” and then goes on to explore how we learn at different paces, depending on the task at hand. Reflection, challenging of bias, and the incorporation of new ideas all require more time than a production view of learning accounts for.  Does the competency-based system found in schools like Western Governors University offer a new model that allows people to experience a pace of learning driven by their own needs and capabilities?

Over the next decade, it is unclear which of these movements will predominate. The answer depends not only on how education evolves but how we decide to measure success and achievement in the economy as it evolves. It depends on the potential of an “education” bubble that may destroy learning institutions and futures as it explodes, analogous to the destruction left in the wake of the “housing” bubble. It depends on how technology is deployed and adopted for use in schools. Will implementors place an emphasis on efficiency, or will they balance efficiency technology that unleashes creativity and innovation.


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Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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