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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Treasure Hunt Learning

Prompted by George's response to my post last week, it occurred to me that I have never blogged about how we can and should be shaping the learners of the future.

Whilst the philosophical shift in many governments' attitudes to education which moved in the 1990s towards a more interventionist and "evidence based" approach was needed (in the UK at least the average quality of teaching had declined), I am hoping that Ed Balls's recent scrapping of SATs for 14 year olds is recognition that the pendulum has swung too far towards a culture of measurement.

As business has known for years and governments should have learned by now, people respond to the figures that they know that management are looking at. If Doctors can earn more for giving flu jabs to asthma sufferers, they will; if teachers are rewarded for delivering students with 5 A-C grade GCSEs including English and Maths, that is what they will do.

The trouble is that so much time is taken preparing students for the tests that young people are no longer taught to learn. By spoonfeeding our children we risk making them mentally obese.

But it is not as simple as returning to a false memory of the halcyon days of education where all learning was a joyful treasure hunt without end. Whilst is is true that, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it" it is equally true that there are "Lies, damned lies and statistics" and you will get the answer to the question you ask, not the question that you think you have asked.

"In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad." Friedrich Nietzsche

Whilst I agree with Nietzsche that too many cooks often spoil the broth, I don't share his miserablist sentiment entirely. I still believe that it is still possible to retain the joyful spirit of discovery in learning present in a treasure hunt but at the same time have accountability through assessment that is both light in touch but also useful and relevant.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Tweet Therefore I Am

Apologies to Descartes for the title of this post but I was chastised by a colleague for not Tweeting the other day despite having set up an account last June. My trouble with Twitter is that I have been unable to see the benefit of it. It strikes me as narcissistic (an interesting post on the Guido Fawkes political blog on the subject made reference to a Times article, which underlined my feelings). I explained this to my critic and suggested that he might be better off doing his job than having a pop at me for my lack of tweets. His response was that Tweeting is very narcissistic (implying that there might be little wrong with narcissism) but a lot of companies, celebrities and politicians found it a marvellous tool.

But Narcissus starved to death while looking at his own reflection...

Can Twitter be a tool which enhances productivity as opposed to a distraction which destroys it? I'm not sure.

By restricting tweets to 140 characters or less, Twitter encourages brevity, and probably clarity. It also appears to generate fast and constructive discussions in communities that form around certain threads. So I feel that it should be a great learning tool I just can't see it yet.

There can only be one way to find out and that is to try it. So we have set up a Reed Learning Twitter Account and I have set up a personal one. From the Reed Learning one we will try to produce learning tweets on how to improve aspects of your life at work. From my own account I will try and distill some of the things that we are thinking about.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No more learners

Jay Cross posted an interesting video blog the other day about changing the way we look at learning. He used the analogy of a preacher guiding a congregation, given them direction but talking down to them from a pulpit as representative of the old forms of learning. He then introduced the story of Hans Mondermann a Dutch Traffic Management expert who removed road signs to improve road safety as an indication of the new.

Mondermann's idea on traffic management is simple. To make roads safer, you must first make them more dangerous. Road users have become lazy and overdependent on signs and signals to tell them what to do. By removing most of the road signs and markings you make the road users uncertain. Result, they pay more attention to their surroundings, other road users and pedestrians.

As usual, I agree with Jay on the need to reduce our dependency on overly directed spoon feeding in education and training in favour of teaching people to think and learn for themselves. But I don't think it is as easy as just removing the signs or preachers.

I risk upsetting a lot of people here but Jay introduced the religious analogy. The reason the directed form of learning persists is the same reason that organised religion continues to flourish. Many people like to be told what to do and in some cases how to think. It provides security and certainty.

Removing the road signs only works if people have already developed the expertise to evaluate what is presented to them (be it whilst driving their car, whilst doing their job or living their lives). Hence the reasons that Mondermann's ideas have only been implemented in a few areas of the more civilized countries in Europe .

I have written before about George Siemens's insightful comment earlier in the year about information now being, "validated at the point of consumption, not creation". The trouble is I don't think it is yet. We are still too credulous and if we simply remove the prophets and the road signs, nature abhoring a vacuum as she does, they will simply be replace by other agents who will tell us what to do.

However it may be simply that Jay is in sunny Berkeley, California and I am in rain and wind lashed London so my outlook is not so bright. Perhaps I should just watch Sugata Mitra's life affirming video of how slum children in India taught themselves to use a computer without any outside help and not be so negative.