industrial psychology

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Rage against the machine?

Will Richardson laments the “Khanification” of education:

Which begs the questions, a) what should an education degree or a teaching certificate require when increasingly anyone with a connection can be a teacher of content, and, b) more importantly, what changes when the world begins to accept a definition of “teacher” as someone who knows “how to make and post a video”?

Indeed, if we view teaching as simple information delivery, and teachers as delivery mechanisms, then teachers have something to be worried about: If they can be replaced by machines, they should be (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke).

But, most teachers would argue that they give students knowledge. Do they? To be clear, let’s define the differences between data, information, knowledge, and innovation.

  • Data are bits and pieces here and there — from which we combine into information;
  • Knowledge is about taking this information and creating meaning;
  • And, innovation is about taking action with what we know.

I think this is the greatest problem facing teaching: We need to decide if we want to train kids to regurgitate data and information, or if we want them to develop personal knowledge and enable them to act on what they know. We are trying very hard to manage “knowledge,” and, as a result, we confuse it with information. We focus on information delivery and the quality of students’ ability to repeat it (i.e., through standardized tests).

Knowledge isn’t something that is ideally generated through watching a Khan Academy video or sitting through a classroom lecture. Knowledge also is not about being able to Google something.

Knowledge is something that is more personal and has intangible qualities that combine tacit and explicit dimensions. What we know, individually, is not easily measurable through the principles of industrial psychology that we embrace in schools. It is qualitative in nature.

If we continue to treat teachers as content delivery machines, curricula as industrial blueprints, students as future factory workers, and obsess over measurements of industrial quality, the Khan Academy and its contemporaries have a bright future.

If we start to think of teachers as having a real role in knowledge development and its application (innovation!), then the world of teaching and learning will look very different. The Khan Academy in such a context becomes supplemental in an ecology of options, and not a replacement for an outmoded machine.