“In this new narrative, learning ceases to focus on consuming information or knowledge that’s no longer scarce. Instead, it’s about asking questions, working with others to find answers, doing real work for real audiences, and adding to, not simply taking from, the storehouse of knowledge that the Web is becoming.”
-Richardson, Why School?
Technology is transforming our understanding of knowledge and society in ways that move our learning beyond the current bricks and mortar education system. From the moment we began teaching within the bell-system, educational researchers, teachers, administrators, policy analysts and politicians have cried out for a redesign of our concept of schooling. Factory school systems, where students start at the same time each day, work through silos of subjects, and mass produce assessments of their learning, is antithetical to the way students learn, especially in our 21st Century. Views about how to reform (or re-form) schools are hotly debated as current standardised test results are a primary tool for ranking our schools, our provinces, our countries. Results are often more to do with socio-economic challenges than with current educational practices.
In the spirit of debate, I propose that we move away from the bricks and mortar of education and towards a more 21st Century model of learning, collaborating, creating, and sharing authentic work.
With technological advances that can put the entire encyclopedia of current knowledge in the hands of a seven year old, this old concept of school needs to change. No longer is it necessary for a student to memorise and recall facts: google-able tests are as irrelevant as the rotary phone. It’s the process of applying those facts in creative, collaborative, meaningful ways that are key to the success of our society in the future.
People, not Products
Schooling and education are two separate entities. I see schooling as the facilitation of learn
ing, while education is about who has access to the world’s knowledge. With the democratisation of global societies and knowledge, the ownership of facts becomes a debate for historians. Schooling must be about creating learners, active in their own changing understanding of their world, and not about creating educated citizens, who become passive receptacles of knowledge. The concept of who is educated is arbitrary; I liken it to a race where you become forever educated once you pass an imaginary finish line: no new learning for the educated!
A possible future:
I see a very different future for schooling: one that is messy, but focussed. The solid foundations of the bricks and mortar schools of the past give way to the concept that learning can take place anytime, anywhere. Mathematics, Sciences, English, Socials, and Languages can all be mastered to the level that we accept today as proficient outside the walls of a school. I can take a Rosetta Stone course in Spanish, on my own time, and become fluent. The restrictive structure of the school, including the bricks and mortar building and the breakdown of the day, can prevent real, deeper learning from occurring. We are all held back by the restrictions of the curriculum, whether hidden or obvious.
The schools, then, for this strange future, must have a different purpose: social emotional learning and the development of citizenship (digital or otherwise). This development does not need to happen in the structures we are building today at millions of dollars. Social emotional learning happens in the park, in the coffee shop, on the street and during physical activities (like the upcoming SunRun in Vancouver). It needs to be developed through modelling and support. This is probably the most difficult task we will encounter in this vision of learning, but it is also the most critical.
When a robust, structured learning environment is everywhere, then a school building becomes a prison to our 21st Century learners. Technology and the democratisation of knowledge are moving our societies forward in paces that are incredible. As Will Richardson states: “the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write. The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” I would add that the illiterate will also be those that cannot apply the easily accessible knowledge in new and creative ways. How can we possibly prepare our students for success when our models of schooling are stuck in the 19th Century?