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Rethinking human capital development in Knowmad Society

Note: This text is adapted from the original Spanish-language text that I wrote for the first Chapter 1 in Invisible Learning (a book co-written with Cristóbal Cobo). An updated and expanded version of this text will also appear in the next volume, Knowmad Society, due for release later in 2012, and is being shared early to ignite discussion for the upcoming On the Horizon special issue on “Borderless Society.” (The call for papers is still open.)

This working paper presents a framework for conceptualizing changes in society, driven by the forces of globalization, transformations of knowledge society, and accelerating change. The framework is centered on three social paradigms, which Moravec (2008c) labels “Society 1.0,” “Society 2.0,” and “Society 3.0” — expressed as Industrial Society, Knowledge Society, and Knowmad Society. Society 1.0 reflects the norms and practices of pre-industrial to industrial civilization. Society 2.0 refers to the radical social transformations that we are experiencing today, largely due to technological change. The 3.0 or Knowmad Society points to a state of society that is in our near future, where accelerating technological change is projected to have huge transformative consequences. This text considers the human capital development consequences and necessary transformations in education to meet the needs of a rapidly transforming society, and looks into some of the challenges facing Knowmad Society in an era of accelerating change.

The paradoxical co-existence of “Education 1.0” in “Society 3.0”

Society 1.0

Society 1.0 refers to the agricultural to industrial-based society that was largely present through the 18th century through the end of the 20th century. In the early portion of this period, economic activity was centered on family-based enterprises. Children learned at home, and children worked at home. Kids and adults were engaged cross-generationally. Not only were children valuable contributors to the economy at all levels, but adults and kids learned from each other. This paradigm facilitated “learning by doing,” which was formally adopted by organizations such as 4-H, which embraced the principle that if you teach youth ideas and skills, they would, in turn, teach their parents (4-H, 2010).

The rise of the industrial economy saw growth in wage and salary-based enterprises. Kids began to work at low-level, and often dangerous jobs, until they were segregated from the workplace to maintain their welfare. Thus also began the industrialization of education, where, separated from the primary production economy, children were placed into an institutional mechanism where kids learned skills from adults (and not vice-versa), and eventually emerged from the system as “educated,” young adults, immediately employable for the industrial economy.

In Society 1.0, we interpreted data – leading to the information age. By and large, our relationships were hierarchical. That is, was easy to tell how we related with each other. Companies had reporting structures that were easy to decipher. And, we had siloed jobs and roles within organizations and communities. Moreover, we did everything we could to avoid chaos and ambiguity.Leading toward the end of the 20th century, this model worked fine. It was easy to understand. It was easily operationalized. And, it benefitted from an education system that produced workers for the industrial-modeled economy.

By the end of the 20th century, the industrialization of education and proliferation of meritocratic academic structures in the 1.0 paradigm all but eliminated the recognition of “learning by doing.” Moreover, this evolved norm generally provided socioeconomic advantages for those that successfully navigated the industrialized meritocracy (better jobs, better pay) than those who avoided it or did not survive the system .

Society 2.0

The appearance of Society 2.0 is associated with the emergence of the knowledge society that materialized in the 20th century (see esp. Drucker, 1969, 1985). Information needed to be interpreted, necessitating the creation of knowledge workers. However, as Polyani (1968) explains, the nature of knowledge, itself, is personal and is composed of tacit and explicit components. They combine in the creation of personally-constructed meanings that defy the absolute objectivity of Society 1.0’s industrial information model. Moreover, as social animals, humans engage in social networking activities and share their personal knowledge across ever complex systems. This growing ecosystem of personally-constructed meanings and values facilitated the creation of the field of knowledge management in the latter half of the 20th century, which attempted to manage the new elements of chaos and ambiguity related to personal knowledge that were inputted into organizational systems.

Advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) facilitated the broadened production of socially-constructed meanings. Many of these advancements are made possible through the convergence of the Internet (which has become the symbol for all things networking – personal and technological) and globalization, opening potentials for globally-aware and globally-present social networks. Tools that harness ICTs are being used not only to share ideas, but also to create new interpretations. A few scholars (see, for example, Mahiri, 2004) recognize this a “cut-and-paste” culture. One potent example of this cultural shift is hip-hop, which remixes and reuses sounds, lyrics, and imagery to create new meanings that are as much unique and individual to the hip-hop artist as the creator and the original source works. Other examples include the products of “Web 2.0” tools (see esp. Cobo Romaní & Pardo Kuklinski, 2007, for a detailed list and discussion) that allow individuals to harness new social networks to remix and share ideas and media (e.g., blogs, wikis, and YouTube).

The mass availability of these tools also allows everyday people to participate in an expanded array of vocations and citizen engagement. For example, tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube allow for the formation of citizen journalists, who are able to directly compete with mainstream media at a miniscule fraction of the cost that mainstream media needs to develop and deliver content . The technologies also allow for the formation of citizen scientists. By donating computing processing time, non-scientifically trained individuals can search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI@Home project), search for a cure for cancer (Folding@Home), and examine stellar particles retrieved from space (Stardust@Home). Likewise, the Audubon Society has long relied on its social network of professional and amateur birdwatchers to generate a statistically accurate estimate of birds within a given area. Furthermore, technologies allow for the greater democratization of markets, creating citizen capitalists that invest in a global market for ideas, talent, products, and other capital.

Social-orient ICTs carry constraints and limitations that forces individuals to transform how they think and act. For example, Twitter and mobile telephone short message services limit message sizes to 140 characters or less, forcing content producers to deliver clear, concise messages in limited space.

These transformations are leading to new questions for social and educational theorists that are still being debated – and research suggests that these changes are impacting the fundamental organization of the human brain (see esp. Small & Vorgan, 2008). Some key questions arising are: Does Society 2.0 dumb people down, or are we creating a new, hyper-connected, social super-intelligence? If technologically-savvy youth are composing their thoughts in 140 characters or less, are we facing a loss of literacy? In a world of Twitter, do we have any capacity for full-length novels? In a world with YouTube, can we sit through feature length films? Is technological change, paired with globalization, leading to a loss of our cultural heritages? And, finally, what is needed from education to remain relevant in a cut-and-paste society where information flows freely?

Society 3.0

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson (interviewed in Gladstone, 1999)

For most of us, Society 3.0 is in the future – possibly in the distant future. But, for a few people leading the change toward this proto-paradigm, it is very real. Three drivers are leading us to the formation of Society 3.0, which describes a world that is somewhere between “just around the corner” and “just beyond the horizon” of today’s state-of-the-art:

  1. Accelerating technological and social change;
  2. Continuing globalization and horizontalization of knowledge and relationships; and,
  3. Innovation society fueled by knowmads.

Kurzweil (1999) postulates a theory he labels the Law of Accelerating Returns to describe the evolutionary process that leads to accelerating technological and social change:

As order exponentially increases, time exponentially speeds up (that is, the time interval between salient events grows shorter as time passes). (Kurzweil, 1999, p. 30)

Figure 1. Accelerating Technological Change

[Note. The J-curve of accelerating change illustrates the exponential development and exponentially reduced costs of technologies. One example is evident in the evolution of microprocessors, which follow Moore’s (1965) Law of doubling the number of transistors on integrated circuits every two years, while also reducing the costs of associated processing speed, memory capacities, etc. The inflection point on the graph is the approximate location of the Technological Singularity, at which point change occurs so rapidly that the human mind cannot imagine what will happen next. One way of thinking of the magnitude of accelerating change is that if Moore’s Law is followed for the next 600 years, a single microprocessor would have the computational equivalency of the known Universe (Krauss & Starkman, 2004).]

In other words, change is occurring rapidly, and the pace of change is increasing. Kurzweil’s idea is founded on the proposal that as technologies evolve, the technologies improve, costs decrease; and, in turn, the process of technological evolution advances and speeds itself up, creating a J-curve of exponential, accelerating change (see Figure 1, above). As technologies evolve, so will society (Morgan, 1877). This acceleration of change, however, is also expected to impact human imagination and foresight. Vinge (1993) terms the theoretical limit of human foresight and imagination (illustrated as the inflection point on the above graphic) as the Technological Singularity. As the rate of technological advancement increases, it will become more difficult for a human observer to predict or understand future technological advancements.

Given the rate of exponential advancement illustrated by Kurzweil (2005), the rate of technological advancements in the future may seem nearly simultaneous. At this point, Vinge and Kurzweil hypothesize society will reach a point labeled the Technological Singularity. Kurzweil further believes the Singularity will emerge as the complex, seemingly chaotic outcome of converging technologies (esp. nanotechnology, robots, computing, and the human integration of these technologies).

As previously noted, technological change facilitates social change. Near future technological advancements are therefore expected to ignite periods of social transformation that defies human imagination today.

The impacts of accelerating technological and social changes on education are enormous. Today’s stakeholders in our youths’ future must prepare them for futures that none of us can even dream are possible.

Continuing globalization is leading to a horizontalized diffusion of knowledge in domains that were previously siloed, creating heterarchical relationships, and providing new opportunities for knowledge to be applied contextually in innovative contexts. In learning contexts, this means that we are becoming not only co-learners, but also co-teachers as we co-constructively produce new knowledge and its applications.

Table 1 summarizes key differences between the three social paradigms that we explore in this book. In the shift from Society 1.0 to Society 3.0, basic relationships transform from linear, mechanistic and deterministic order to a new order that is highly non-linear, synergetic and design-oriented. The effects of accelerating change suggest that causality, itself, may seem to express anticausal characteristics, due to the near instantaneousness of events experienced by a society in a period of continuous, accelerating change. Therefore, how reality is contextualized (and contextually responded to) becomes much more important to citizens in Society 3.0 than it was in previous paradigms.

Table 1: Societies 1.0 through 3.0 across various domains

Knowmads in Society 3.0

A knowmad is what Moravec (2008a) terms a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Moreover, knowmads are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas the industrialization of Society 1.0 required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities. Consider, for example, coffee shops. These environments have become the workplace of choice for many knowmads. What happens when the investment banker sitting next to the architect have a conversation? What new ideas, products, and services might be created?

The remixing of places and social relationships is also impacting education. Students in Knowmad Society should learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. But there is little evidence to support any claim that education is moving to the 3.0 paradigm.

Knowmads:

  1. Are not restricted to a specific age.
  2. Build their personal knowledge through explicit information gathering and tacit experiences, and leverage their personal knowledge to produce new ideas.
  3. Are able to contextually apply their ideas and expertise in various social and organizational configurations.
  4. Are highly motivated to collaborate, and are natural networkers, navigating new organizations, cultures, and societies.
  5. Purposively use new technologies to help them solve problems and transcend geographical limitations.
  6. Are open to sharing what they know, and invite the open access to information, knowledge and expertise from others.
  7. Can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary.
  8. Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations.
  9. Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously.
  10. Are not afraid of failure.

(Note: List inspired by Cobo, 2008)

When we compare the list of skills required of knowmads to the outcomes of mainstream education, we wonder: What are we educating for? Are we educating to create factory workers and bureaucrats? Or, are we educating to create innovators, capable of leveraging their imagination and creativity?

Sidebar

Invisible learning a new expressions of human capital development in Knowmad Society

Knowmad Society necessitates the transformation from industrial paradigm, “banking” pedagogies (see esp. Freire, 1968) that transmit “just in case” information and knowledge (i.e., memorization of the world’s capitals) toward modes that utilize the invisible spaces to develop personally- and socially- meaningful, actionable knowledge. There is growing recognition that people with unique, key knowledge and skills (i.e., knowmads) are critical for the success of modern organizations. Godin (2010) argues successful people in today’s organizations serve as “linchpins.” From an interview with Goden by Hyatt (2010), Godin states:

The linchpin insists on making a difference, on leading, on connecting with others and doing something I call art. The linchpin is the indispensable one, the one the company can’t live without. This is about humanity, not compliance.

In their book, The Element, Robinson & Aronica (2009) interview many people who have experienced success in their careers, and identified that the people they spoke with found their “element” – that is, their success was largely due to the fact that they did something they enjoyed in addition to being good at it. This runs contrary to the “just in case” industrial model of education, and suggests that if we enable more people to pursue their passions and support them, they can achieve success.

In the 3.0 proto-paradigm, the inherent chaos and ambiguity related to tremendous technological and social changes call for a resurgence of “learning by doing.” In a sense, we are creating the future as we go along. As co-learners and co-teachers, we are co-responsible for helping each other find our own elements along our pathways of personal, knowmadic development.

How do we measure learning in the invisible spaces?

The cult of educational measurement

A key concern for policymakers and other stakeholders in education is, what is being learned? In an education system focused on industrial production, this is an important quality control issue.

The linearity of the industrial paradigm thrives on mechanical processes. For example, groups of learners are expected to read books progressively, chapter-by-chapter, and recite the information and “facts” they acquired linearly through memorization. In this paradigm, the use of summative evaluation (i.e., tests) is de rigueur.

Throughout the world, we have adopted this culture of industrial learning and evaluation en masse, and created a cult of educational measurement to support it. In the United States, this is manifested through the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In Spain, the cult is evident in the filtering processes that lead to the Prueba de Acceso. In the United Kingdom, it is expressed within the National Curriculum (Education Reform Act of 1988). And so on.

With policies with names like “No Child Left Behind,” it is hard to disagree: is the alternative to leave children behind? The unfortunate reality, however, is that in these industrial policies we tend to leave many children behind. These industrial-modeled, testing-centric regimes produce exactly the wrong products for the 21st Century, but is appropriate for what the world needed between the 19th century through 1950. As Robinson (2001) and others have argued, these fractured memorization models oppose the creative, synthetic thinking required for work in the new economy and effective citizenship.

Leapfrogging beyond the cult of educational measurement

Focus on how to learn, not what to learn.

In the Invisible Learning proto-paradigm, rote, “just in case” memorization is replaced with learning that is intended to be personally meaningful for all participants in the learning experience. Moreover, the application of knowledge toward innovative problem solving takes primacy over the regurgitation of previous knowledge or “facts.” In essence, as discussed in the previous chapter, students very much become knowledge brokers (Meyer, 2010).

Moreover, the Invisible Learning paradigm enables students to act on their knowledge, applying what they know to solve problems –including problems that have not been solved before. This contextual, purposive application of personal knowledge to create innovative solutions negates the value of non-innovation-producing standardized testing.

The “learning by doing” aspect of Invisible Learning that focuses on how to learn rather than what to learn suggests that measurement or evaluation needs to be outcomes-based in the same way that we evaluate innovations:

  • What happened?
  • Did something new happen? Something unexpected?
  • Was there a positive benefit?
  • What can others learn from the experience?

Although there is a large body of literature supporting the need for formative assessments in education (see, for example, Armstrong, 1985; Marzano, 2003; Stiggins, 2008; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2007), as well as a rich educational literature theory base that suggests we need to move toward learner-centered learning (perhaps the most vocal being Dewey, 1915; Freire, 2000), summative evaluations still persist in formal learning environments that present little value to the learner. Strategies to bring the informal into the formal are already present and widely adopted in business, industry, and, ironically, within some teacher education programs.

For example, Pekka Ihanainen (2010) explains that Finnish vocational teacher education, for example, is built on a dialogical professional development model. Knowledge and expertise areas of the teachers in training are identified and compared with their occupational competency requirements and goals. Following this assessment, career development trajectories and educational pathways are developed. The system is not designed to determine only how teachers in training meet state requirements, but also relates to their individual interests and professional development goals.

Finally, releasing ourselves from the cult of measurement requires faith and confidence that we are always learning. As we will discuss in the following chapters, as human beings, we are always engaged in learning– it is one of our most natural activities.

Implementing Invisible Learning: Making the invisible visible

The difficulties in mainstreaming Invisible Learning in Western education are daunting. Formal systems are deeply entrenched. Governments believe in the formal approach (it looks good on paper and within state and national budgets). Entire industries (i.e., textbooks, educational measurement) are built around it. And, the scale of the industrialization of education leaves many people wondering if it’s worth fighting against.

The system is further reinforced, by design, to change at a glacial pace. While markets can transform and reinvent themselves virtually overnight, governments cannot. They are designed to be slow and deliberative. As a result, they tend to lag significantly and react to change more often than they proactively design orpreact to beneficial changes.

Paradoxically, despite being key components of systems most responsible for developing human capital and human development futures, education is designed to change even slower. Educational institutions and systems report to governments, respond to governmental policies, and align their programs to satisfy requirements and funding formulae established by legislative bodies. Moreover, these criteria, including establishing what to teach, depends on who sits on what committee at any given time. By relying on personalities, political gamesmanship, and feedback-looped special interests from the formal educational industrial complex, many question if the system has perhaps become too large, too slow, and unfocused.

The problem is, the emerging pressures of Society 3.0 require educational transformation today. Schools need to develop students that can design future jobs, industries and knowledge fields that we have not dreamed of. Schools need to operate as futurists, not laggards.

Is educational reform worth fighting for?

No.

Rather, it’s time to start anew. As Sir Ken Robinson eloquently states, we need a revolution, not reform (TED, 2010).

Revolutions are difficult to ignite. An entire genre of literature that Carmen Tschofen terms “change manifestos” has emerged in education that is rich in calls for change, but falls flat on actually creating the change it calls for (Moravec, 2010). The system, perhaps, has too much inertia. As Harkins and Moravec (2006) suggest in their “Leapfrog University” memo series to the University of Minnesota, perhaps a parallel approach is necessary.

Rather than fighting the system, students, parents, communities, and other life-long learners can invest in establishing parallel, new schools and/or networks of learning, discovering, innovating, and sharing. And some communities are already leading the way with innovative initiatives. For example:

  • Shibuya University Network (Japan): “Yasuaki Sakyo, president of Shibuya University, believes that education should be lifelong. At Shibuya, courses are free and open to all; classes take place in shops, cafes and outside; and anyone can be a teacher” (CNN, 2007). In essence, the entire community and its environment have become the co-learners, co-teachers, and classroom.
  • The Bank of Common Knowledge (Banco Común de Conocimientos, Spain) “is a pilot experience dedicated to the research of social mechanisms for the collective production of contents, mutual education, and citizen participation. It is a laboratory platform where we explore new ways of enhancing the distribution channels for practical and informal knowledge, as well as how to share it” (Bank of Common Knowledge, n.d.).
  • TED.com (Technology, Entertainment, Design, USA) challenges lecture-based education by creating “a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other” (TED, n.d.).

Redefining human capital development

To move forward in making Invisible Learning visible, we need to engage in conversations on what futures we want to create. We need to clarify our visions of the future. In China, India, and throughout much of the developing world, the vision is simple: Catch up to the West through planned development. But, in the United States, Europe, and much of the rest of the Western world, concrete visions of where we want to be in the future are absent. We assert that we either do not know where we want to be in the future or we lack the foresight to imagine ourselves in a future that is very different from today.

The consequence is that we are not making investments into our human capital development systems that will enable us to meet needs set by future challenges. We need to prepare our youth and other members of society for a future and workforce needs that we cannot imagine. Moreover, given the potential for today’s youth to be engaged productively in a “post-Singularity” era, it is important to assist them in the development of skills and habits of mind (i.e., the Leapfrog Institutes’ liberal skills outlined in the “Leapfrog” memo series archived at Education Futures). that will foster life-long learning and the innovative applications of their knowledge.

This lack of vision –and acting on it– impacts not only education, but also other areas of our socioeconomic wellbeing. Bob Herbert (2010) recently wrote for the New York Times on the United States’ new unfound willingness to invest in ideas that could increase potentials for future growth and prosperity:

The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It’s losing its soul. It’s speeding down an increasingly rubble-strewn path to a region where being second rate is good enough. (Herbert, 2010)

As organizations, communities, and nations, we need to set visions for the futures we will co-create, and act upon them. Throughout the remainder of this volume, we explore some of the methods individuals, teams, and organizations may employ to help develop these visions of the future.

Using technology purposively

When engaged in conversations about invisible learning or other innovations in education, there is a tendency for people to gravitate their thoughts toward technology as if it can serve as a “silver bullet” to slay the allegorical werewolf of the persistence of the Education 1.0 model. Innovation in education does not mean “technology.” Douglas Adams (1999) elaborated on the challenges of defining the purpose of the Internet:

Another problem with the net is that it’s still ‘technology’, and ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things. In fact I’m sure we will look back on this last decade and wonder how we could ever have mistaken what we were doing with them for ‘productivity.’ (Adams, 1999)

Moreover, we use the term “technology” to describe new tools that we do not understand. In other words, the purposive uses of “technology” are not well defined. As a result, in educational contexts, we often take the best technologies and squander the opportunities they afford us. Roger Schank (in Molist, 2010) puts it bluntly:

It’s the same garbage, but placed differently. Schools select new technologies and ruin them. For example, when television came, every school put one in each classroom, but used it to do exactly the same things as before. The same with computers today. Oh, yes, we have e-larning! What does it mean? Then they give the same terrible course, but online, using computers in a stupid way.(Molist, 2010)

Conversely, the Invisible Learning approach to technology is purposive, pragmatic and centered at improving the human experience at its core. Specifically, this means that it is:

  • Well-defined: The purpose and applications of particular technologies need to be specified. Bringing in technologies for the sake of using technologies will likely lead to their misuse, underuse, and/or the creation of unintended outcomes.
  • Focused on developing mindware: The focus of technologies should not be on hardware or software, but on how they enhance our mindware – that is, they focus is placed on how technologies can support our imaginations, creativity, and help us innovate.
  • Social: The use of technologies is often a social experience and their social applications should be addressed. This includes the leverage of social media tools for learning such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., which are commonly blocked from formal education settings.
  • Experimental: Embraces the concept of “learning by doing,” and allows for trial and error which can lead to successes and the occasional failure – but does not create failures.
  • Continuously evolving: As an area for “beta testing” new ideas and approaches to problems, it is continuously in a state of remixing and transformation. As society evolves continuously, so must our learning and sharing.

Who gets to leapfrog to Knowmad Society?

Lastly, a problem facing Invisible Learning is one of equity and equality. Is it appropriate for a select group of “invisible learners” to leapfrog ahead of peers who may be trapped within the paradigm of “education 1.0?” If 1% of the population benefits from Invisible Learning, what should we do about the other 99%? Should they not have the right to leapfrog ahead, too?

We believe so. But, we also recognize the incredible inertia mainstream Education 1.0 possesses. Given rates of accelerating technological, social and economic change, we cannot wait. The revolution in learning and human capital development needs to begin now. This may mean starting out small, working parallel with entrenched systems, but it also means we need to lead by example.

References

 

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  • Schwartz, P., & Ogilvy, J. A. (1979). The emergent paradigm: Changing patterns of thought and belief: SRI International.
  • Small, G., & Vorgan, G. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Stiggins, R. J. (2008). An introduction to student-involved assessment for learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
  • Stiggins, R. J., Arter, J. A., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2007). Classroom assessment for student learning : doing it right — using it well (Special ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • TED (Producer). (2010). Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html
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Roger Schank on Invisible Learning: Real learning; real memory

With the free release of Invisible Learning (Aprendizaje Invisible), I am pleased to share the original English version of the epilogue, penned by Roger Schank.

The full Spanish-language text of Invisible Learning may be downloaded directly from http://www.invisiblelearning.com/download


Epilogue: Real learning; Real memory

by Roger Schank

What do people need to learn and how can they learn it?

Every curriculum committee and every training organization has at one time or another convened a committee to answer this question. Their answers are always given in terms of telling about subjects: “more math,” “leadership,” “risk management,” “company policies.” But subject matter is far less important in learning than one might think.

Consider medicine. What should a doctor learn? Doctors take courses in anatomy and immunology and so on, and certainly we want any doctor who treats us to know about these things. But, what skill do we want him to have above all? We want a doctor to make a proper diagnosis of our problem.

Now consider a car mechanic. We want him to understand how an engine works and such. But what do we want him to know more than anything? We want a mechanic to make a proper diagnosis of our problem.

The same is true of business consultants, architects, financial planners, and most other professions. We want people who can do diagnosis. But, when do we teach diagnosis? Typically we teach it within the confines of a particular subject, way at the end, after all the theories and facts have been explained. This is exactly backwards.

What is harder to learn, proper diagnosis of an illness or the names and functions of all the body parts? Most anyone can learn body parts, but diagnosis is a seriously important skill. You would never choose a doctor based on their ability to name the body parts quickly.

But, if diagnosis is difficult to learn, that implies that one needs a lot of practice in doing it. And, if it is important to learn, that implies that one ought to be practicing it very early on in life.

Other critical skills include determining causation, making predictions, making plans, and conducting experiments.

How can we learn these skills?

People learn diagnosis by doing diagnosis. This means that learning occurs when people have to do diagnosis. They might have to do diagnosis in order to figure out why they are losing a video game or why they always eat too much. While diagnosis is, unfortunately, not a subject in school, it is a process that everyone practices. They practice it without help most of the time and unless they have a parent who can help they may well be lost and might not get better at it.

Consider experimentation. We think of this as being something scientists do, when in fact, two year olds do it constantly. They try out experiments about what is good to put in their mouths, what annoying behaviors they can get away with, and what happens when they smash a favorite toy.

When we assess someone’s intelligence we can forgive lack of subject matter knowledge much more easily than we can forgive lack of diagnostic ability. Here is a Sarah Palin supporter responding to a question about Palin’s foreign policy:

I don’t know much about her foreign policy but the state that she did govern was right across the street from Russia. You know so I’m not saying that she ever had to deal with Russia but I’m sure she had boundaries issues she had to deal with. We have boundary issues right now with Mexico now.

Clearly this man has no ability to make an effective diagnosis. He does not understand causation either. In short, he seems stupid not because he doesn’t know about Palin’s foreign policy, but because he has diagnosed “illegal immigration” as something one would certainly be an expert on if one had governed Alaska. The critical issue in learning is learning to think more clearly.

How can technology play a role in teaching diagnosis and in teaching thinking in general? Or, to put this another way, why is it that courses rarely work the way I am suggesting (diagnostic issue first, facts and theories later)?

When you teach a course in a classroom, it is not so easy to start with a diagnostic problem. Such problems require real thought, hard work, recovery from errant hypotheses, and mentoring focused on creating new ways of looking at a problem. In other words, teaching diagnosis is facilitated by one-on-one interactions between teacher and student. We can do this easily online (or at home with our children), but it is very hard to do in the classroom. One value of technology is to enable one-on-one teaching in a world where people can no longer afford personal tutors. And, of course, we can model physical situations virtually. These situations can be richly elaborated and allow for exploration and discovery. It is much better to diagnose a virtual patient (or a business or an electrical problem) than a real one.

To understand why learning needs to happen this way it is important to realize that all human beings have a dynamic memory, one that changes in response to new experiences. The popular conception of memory is a static one, more like a library in which what one puts in stays there unchanged until it is needed again. This popular conception of memory causes schools to try to pour in information and test to see if it is still there. And, it causes parents to worry if their child doesn’t seem very good at either acquiring information or retaining it.

Human beings do not have static memories. They can change their internal classification systems when their conception of something changes, or when their needs for retrieval changes. For the most part, such changes are not consciously made.

Despite constant changes in organization, people continue to be able to call up relevant memories without consciously considering where they have stored them. A dynamic memory is one that can change its own organization when new experiences demand it. A dynamic memory is by nature a learning system.

People use the knowledge structures created by this memory, the ways of organizing information into a coherent whole, in order to process what goes on around them. What knowledge structures does a child have and how do they acquire them? They have knowledge structures about their own worlds: what the people they know are likely to do, how the stores and parks around them function, and they ask questions endlessly to find out more.

Understanding how knowledge structures are acquired helps us understand what kinds of entities they are. A script is a simple knowledge structure that organizes knowledge we all know about event sequences in situations like restaurants, air travel, hotel check in, and so on. We know what to expect and interpret events in light of our expectations.

If something odd happens to us in a restaurant, how do we recall it later? We would recall it if we entered the same restaurant later on, or if we had the same waitress at a different restaurant, or if we ate with the same dinner companions (assuming we ate with them rarely.), or if the food was extraordinary, or if we got sick. An incident in memory is indexed in many ways. Those indices are about actions, results of actions, and lessons learned from actions.

People can also abstract up a level to organize information around plans and goals. To put this another way, if the waitress dumped spaghetti on the head of someone who offended her, you should get reminded of that event if you witness the SAME KIND OF EVENT another time. The question is, what does it mean to be the same kind of event? Whatever this means, it would mean different things to different people. One person might see it as an instance of “female rage” and another as an instance of “justifiable retribution.” Another might see it as a kind of art.

The key issue is to learn from it. Any learning that occurs involves placing the new memory in a location in memory whereby it adds to and expands upon what is already in that place. So, it might tell us more about that waitress, or waitresses in general, or women in general, or about that particular restaurant, and so on, depending upon what we previously believed to be true of all those things. New events modify existing beliefs by adding experiences to what we already know or by contradicting what we already know and forcing us to new conclusions. Either way, learning is more than simply adding new information.

A child’s mind is acquiring and abandoning scripts. A child is wired to create patterns by expecting something to happen after something else because that is the way it happened last time. A child is set up to make generalizations, have them fail because his expectations were not met, and then create a new generalization.

And then, there is school. No actual experiences, except those about school itself, are had. So a child easily learns how one is expected to behave in school and how school functions, but he may not want to behave that way or function in that way. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, actual skills, can be taught because they are the new experiences the child is wired to seek. But other subjects, ones that are not themselves experiences, i.e., scripts that can be practiced, are much harder for a child to learn because they are not offered up by schooling, typically.

As a child gets older, he begins to understand implicitly that it is his goals, and his plans to achieve those goals, that drive his learning. While the child seeks to make his script base larger and to clarify the expectation failures he has had and to find new stories to tell or hear stories that will help him make sense of his world, the school takes a passive, librarian’s view of knowledge as something you can just deposit.

In school, all children are seen as the same, and the goal is teach them all the same stuff. But, a child processes new information in terms of the memory structures he already has. Since those are different than those of the child sitting next to him, he literally will not hear the same thing that a teacher is saying, in the same way.

The people who are in charge of schools completely misunderstand the inherently experiential nature of learning.

Students who are wired to learn from experience will have a hard time learning from static information that does not clearly relate to goals they have. Curiously, little children learn very well until they meet up with school and its arbitrary standards. They have experiences and they learn from them. The more varied their experiences, the more they can be said to know. The more they have interesting people to discuss their experiences with, the more excited and comprehending they become about their own knowledge.

Not only does school ignore what we know about how human memory and learning work, it is also concerned with teaching subjects that have nothing to do with everyday life. So students learn the wrong stuff in the wrong way.

young men grow up such blockheads in the schools, because they neither see nor hear one single thing connected with the usual circumstances of everyday life

That was written by Gaius Petronius in the Satyricon although it is just as true today.

We need to re-think our very conception of learning. What we have now simply doesn’t work. It’s time for a new model.


Dr. Roger Schank is the CEO of Socratic Arts and Managing Director of Engines for Education (a non-profit). He was Chief Education Officer of Carnegie Mellon West and Distinguished Career Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University from 2001-2004. He founded he renowned Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in 1989 where he is John P. Evans Professor Emeritus in Computer Science, Education and Psychology. From 1974-1989, he was Professor of computer science and psychology at Yale University, Chairman of the Computer Science department, and Director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project. He currently works with La Salle University in Barcelona on developing new online degree programs.

Bulgarian students dream about future schools

As we shared earlier, Project Dream School started with a simple question: If you could build a dream school, what would you do?

This morning, I received some inspiring ideas. Elena Stateva writes,

Dear Dr. Moravec,

I would like to share with the you the Dream Schools of my students. They worked on them as a project for their Philosophy in English class (grades 8-11). We are from Bulgaria, and we are part of a summer school program.

And these dreams are inspiring: Robot teachers? No tests? Creativity and the development of individual identity?! Read on:

PROJECT: “JUST A DREAM”
Creators: Radoslav Asparuhov (16), Daniel Rashin (18)

Just a Dream is a school made of technologies, but not only about technology. It places a very high value on the potential of technology to transform the ways we see education. As full-fledged citizens of our dynamic modernity, students at Just a Dream are extensively trained how to use technology in the most innovative and effective way. For example, sculptures and other three-dimensional figures are created on computers, thus enabling students to develop their spatial and analytical intelligences. Top-notch technological innovations render the school one of the pioneers of knowmadic thinking.

Furthermore, Just a Dream gives students the crucial opportunity to have a practical go at their field. Relevant internships at successful companies are provided to each student, through a wide a range of sponsors. The sponsorship by highly acclaimed names in the business makes it possible for the students to go to school and use their modern facilities practically for free. In fact, these companies often recruit graduates from Just a Dream as the most prepared professionals.

In addition, Just a Dream is a school which recognizes extracurricular activities, within and outside the professional field, as essential to students’ academic and personal growth. Therefore, school trips are regularly organized, featuring exciting destinations in the country and abroad.

PROJECT: “MY DREAM SCHOOL”
Creators: Victoria Ivanova (17), Magdalena Kostadinova (15), Blagovest Pilarski (16)

My Dream School is a unique institution, notable for its out-of-the-box, ground-breaking philosophy. Using a student-centered approach, which values what really is best for the student (and not for the administration, for example), My Dream School incorporates a wide range of fundamental practices. Combining the arts and technologies, students experience a comprehensive headstart to their professional careers. All subjects are taught in a way, which does not stifle student’s ideas, but on the contrary – encourages students to have their own opinion. Thus, My Dream School stimulates its student body to be active citizens, able to think critically about the world around them, instead of following blindly the leaders of today.

Moreover, My Dream School defines the term “revolutionary”, with its grade-less system and robotized teacher collective. Originating from the notion of boosting motivation internally (as opposed to externally, which is often the case), My Dream School has removed assessment completely, allowing its scholars to pursue knowledge itself, and not just good grades. The replacement of teachers by robots has further contributed to the establishment of an objective, knowledge- and skill-oriented classroom, free of discrimination and favoritism. Thus, students can learn in a safe, conflict-free and thought- provoking environment.

In addition, My Dream School puts great emphasis on the connection between learning and nature. During the weekends, students can enjoy environmental activities, such as hiking in the mountains, which build up mind and body together. The beautiful parks surrounding the school are themselves a source of relaxation, inspiration and energy.

PROJECT: “ART SCHOOL”
Creators: Elena Kehayova (15), Dafina Nedeva (15)

The name of this school – Art School – already speaks a lot about its fundamental values. And yet, the Art School is much more than a school about art. It is a school where students go not only to grow in the direction of their talent, but where they actually find their talent and grow as a whole person. At Art School only the core subjects are obligatory – Literature, Math, Foreign Languages. The other subjects are a matter of preference: each student has the right to choose every part of their education. This freedom allows the students to explore their interests, inclinations and talents, to strengthen them or create them. Creativity – this is the key word which this school emanates through all its elements – from its facilities, to its curriculum, and of course – its teachers. The teaching collective is distinguished with its sharp eye to talent, broad mind for creativity and liberal view on individuality.

In addition to its exceptional creativity, Art School prides itself with a policy which preserves equality and prevents discrimination. Everybody at Art School is regarded equally, as an equal member of the school community.

Want more? Have a dream to share? Project Dream School invites you to submit your dreams online at http://projectdreamschool.org/

The politics of American anti-intellectualism

Nothing is more political than education.

The Texas State Board of Education reminded us of the phenomenon this month, rewriting textbook guidelines to match their conservative, theological worldviews. Not since the Kansas Board of Education voted to restrict the teaching of evolution has an entire state backlashed so strongly against science and reason.

In an editorial on the board’s actions, the Houston Chronicle wrote:

In its revamp of the state’s social studies curriculum, a majority of the board has consistently voted to reshape our history. Instead of the messy, complicated past, the extremist members prefer a simple story of triumphant Christian soldiers.

Last week the board voted to remove Thomas Jefferson — Thomas Jefferson! — from a list of Enlightenment thinkers who changed the world. The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason over tradition, doesn’t sit well with the board.

From the Wall Street Journal:

As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”

Indeed, outrage against the conspiracy of intellectuals seemed to lurk just below the surface during last week’s deliberations, breaking into the open during moments of rancor. “I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia,” railed board member Terri Leo when someone challenged the move to nix the word “capitalism.” “That’s part of the problem of how we end up with distorted and liberal biased textbooks is because that’s who’s writing them.”

Are the actions of Texas and Kansas anomalies, or is there a larger movement at play?

Mostly white, undereducated, and underemployed, the Tea Party movement has become the poster child for American anti-intellectualism. Whereas the group’s members fared well in the industrial era, they find themselves unable to compete in a global economy powered by ideas. Simply put, they have few new skills to offer, and nobody wants to hire them.

The world is changing around them, and they are frightened. They do not understand the changes, and they do not want to change themselves. Worse yet, they do not want to understand what is going on. We see this in the surge in popularity of radical commentators (i.e., Glenn Beck) who provide simplistic narratives of the world that often have little or no connection to reality. They redirect their fear of what they do not know or understand and transform it into anger.

In January, the conservative columnist David Brooks lamented American anti-intellectualism and the backlash against educated people:

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

What will you do when anti-intellectual politics comes to your school?

Curriki: Open source education materials

Screen shot 2009-11-11 at 2.27.05 PMOpen source collaborative content holds the promise of freely distributed high-quality education materials. Developing and sustaining the community to needed to accomplish that is the difficult part.

Curriki, an online community of over 100,000 educators, learners and experts collectively developing curriculum resources freely available to anyone who wants them, seems to be meeting the challenge.

The organization behind the web community aims to produce a breadth of high quality education materials that can be globally distributed at no cost. Dr. Bobbi Kurshan, Executive Director of Curriki, believes the budget-friendly aspect of the service could fuel its growth.

“We license the materials under Creative Commons,” Kurshan explained, “so it is free to use provided you give attribution.”

By using the open source process for education, Curriki hopes to empower educational professionals to become active in the creation of “world-class” curricula. That includes lesson plans, student activities and text books.

While it is difficult to say how widely the content is being used, Curriki has been involved in several high profile endeavors both in the United States and globally.

“We’re doing quite a bit of international work, often filling the void in areas without access to text books,” said Kurshan.

Curriki was founded by Sun Microsystems in March 2004 as the Global Education & Learning Community (GELC), it was later spun off as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit to focus on developing open source curricula. The group has so far gotten by on money from foundations and grants, but Kurshan must now think about maintaining the effort long term.

“We’re interested in engaging in conversations about sustainability.”

Curriki is among the winners of the WISE Awards 2009, recognizing outstanding practice and achievements within the themes of Pluralism, Sustainability and Innovation in education. EducationFutures.com will be covering this WISE Summit through next wekk.