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Unleashing the instinct to play for learning

Free play is our focus for this episode of the Education Futures Podcast. Adults often assume that it is their job to keep children busy all the time, but evidence suggests that children learn best when afforded great amounts of free time and opportunities for free play: activities that are freely chosen and directed by participants for their own sake. This can involve exploring, making new friends, playing games, being bored, and rescuing one’s self from boredom.

We wanted to learn more. And so we interviewed Dr. Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. In his book, Peter Gray argues it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with our children, and start asking what’s wrong with the system. Is schooling the most responsible thing we can provide?

NEW: Once you’ve listened to this episode, why not earn an hour of continuing professional education? After all, you’ve already done half the work. Just go to educationfutures.com/learn, and sign up for the Moodle course that corresponds with this episode. After you post your thoughts in response to the questions we have for you in the “sound off” forum, you can download your certificate of completion.

It’s free, and it’s our gift to you for listening and for supporting us. Simply visit educationfutures.com/learn to earn your free continuing professional education credit.

This is an open conversation, and your participation is invited! Email your stories and responses to us at info@educationfutures.com.

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Do Pokémon Go and Minecraft belong in schools? – Education Futures Podcast

It’s “back to school” season in the United States and Europe, and the social media universe is ablaze with ideas on how to harness Minecraft and the Pokémon Go craze in the classroom. But, do these tools really belong in schools? We debate some of the pros and cons, and invited 7th grader Hillel Killorn and MineGage founder Garrett Zimmer to weigh in.

And, make sure to read John Moravec’s provocative post on Pokémon Go and Minecraft in the classroom!

NEW: Once you’ve listened to this episode, why not earn an hour of continuing professional education? After all, you’ve already done half the work. Just go to educationfutures.com/learn, and sign up for the Moodle course that corresponds with this episode. After you post your thoughts in response to the questions we have for you in the “sound off” forum, you can download your certificate of completion.

It’s free, and it’s our gift to you for listening and for supporting us. Simply visit educationfutures.com/learn to earn your free continuing professional education credit.

We would love to have your voice in these conversations! To encourage participation, we are offering a special promotion within the next few podcast episodes. Listen for the details, and email your response to John and Kelly at info@educationfutures.com for your chance to win something extraordinary!

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New episodes are released every two weeks. Here’s how to follow along:

Lessons from the toilet: Shifting the focus of education back to the learner

learning = the activity of getting knowledge
value = importance, worth, or benefit

(Definitions from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

Consider a recent time you wanted to learn something:

  • How did you know you needed more information?
  • What was your process for “getting knowledge?”
  • How did you know you were finished learning; that you had learned enough?
  • What was the value of this learning to you?

A few months ago, water began gushing from my toilet tank when it was flushed. In response, I inspected every inch of the toilet. I loosened and tightened bolts. I poked, pulled, pushed, plugged, and pounded on it. I searched the Internet for gushing toilets and possible “do it yourself” ways to fix them. I read articles. I looked at step-by-step directions with pictures. I watched videos on YouTube. I went to the home-improvement store and consulted with experts. When I attempted the actual repair, I used a guide I found on the Internet, I re-watched one of the videos of a plumber making a similar repair, and I went back to the home-improvement store for additional supplies and advice. After several hours of research and application of my new learning, my toilet was fixed! Proud of my success, I posted the experience on Facebook. As luck would have it, one of my friends was a general contractor who knew more about plumbing than I did. He offered some additional advice to prevent future leaks, which I immediately implemented. Several months later, the toilet is still leak-free and I feel the self-satisfaction of having learned how to repair it successfully.

I have the opportunity to interact with children in K-12 public school classrooms on a regular basis. When asked about learning, students typically only consider experiences they have within the context of the structured school setting. They know what to learn because their teacher tells them it’s important; their process for learning is to follow the instructions provided by the teacher; they know they’re finished learning when they’ve satisfied the teacher’s objectives and are told they’re done; the value of the learning is the final grade given by the teacher.

At a recent visit to a middle school in Wisconsin, I met a pair of 7th grade boys. I observed them silently reading and taking notes out of a shared textbook for approximately 10 minutes during science class before approaching them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Learning how to use a microscope,” one responded. There were no microscopes anywhere in the classroom that I could see.

“I wonder if there is another way to learn how to use a microscope. What do you think?”

Puzzled, they looked at one another, glanced at the whiteboard where the “Daily Objective” was clearly printed, and after a long pause, one hesitantly guessed, “Maybe we could try using one?”

Their responses to further questions I posed about learning were very similar to those described in the previous paragraph. When I suggested they might broaden their thinking about where, when, how, and with whom learning might take place, they became quite animated and excited to share their authentic learning experiences with Minecraft.

According to these boys, they play Minecraft because they like it and it is fun. They seek out opportunities to learn more about what they can do within the game because they want to be able to play and build better things. They learn by playing, watching videos, and asking friends. They know they’re finished learning when they feel they successfully accomplished what they set out to do, or they determine they are no longer interested in continuing with that particular learning. Often, they are so excited about what they’ve created within the game, they share their successes through recording and sharing videos on YouTube so others can learn from their experiences. When I asked if they needed a teacher to tell them they had satisfactorily completed the learning and assign a grade to represent their knowledge of Minecraft skills and techniques, they laughed.

“The value of school learning is the grade, while the value of learning done outside of school is what the learner places on it.”

When we are interested in something or recognize a personal need for information, we seek out learning opportunities and continue gathering information until we’ve satisfied our curiosities and learned enough. We have developed skills, strategies, and resources for learning; and when we determine we need to seek out additional sources of information, we do.

When I first asked these boys about the kinds of learning they do at home, their responses were framed around homework assigned by their teachers. Like many other students with whom I interact, it didn’t occur to them that what they’re doing when they develop their Minecraft abilities is learning. The difference for these students in learning done at school and learning done at home, is value. The value of school learning is the grade, while the value of learning done outside of school is what the learner places on it (e.g., fun, personal satisfaction, or function).

The following questions are often used to frame teachers’ thinking as they develop lesson and unit plans:

  • What do you want the students to know and be able to do (i.e., what is the standard/objectives)?
  • What activities or learning tasks will you design for students to complete?
  • How will you monitor students’ progress on these learning tasks as they move toward mastering the standard/objectives?
  • How will students prove they’ve mastered the standard/objectives?

What’s the difference between these questions and the questions I posed above?

Learner focus.

Using my original questions, learners design their own experiences to satisfy self-developed curiosities, desires, and needs. Using the teacher-developed questions, mandatory learning is decided by someone else and forced upon learners regardless of their curiosities, desires, and needs.

The real question then becomes, can we shift the focus of learning at school back to the learner? As educators, we owe it to our students to trust their abilities to identify topics of interest, develop and engage in their own tasks and activities to support knowledge gathering, and recognize when they’ve learned enough to thoroughly satisfy their curiosities. This is how people create personally-meaningful value in their learning. In reality, the skills and strategies those 7th grade boys use in attaining and applying Minecraft knowledge transfer to other areas of Minecraft, to other games, and to other situations, including (should they be curious about these topics) fixing toilets and using microscopes.

Play harder: An interview with Philippe Greier

At the 2012 Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria, I met up with Philippe Greier. He is one of the minds behind Playmakers Industries, a real-life game development company with a presence in both Brazil and Europe, and is one of the principals behind Present-e. He designs scenarios and games to help individuals tap potentials that they otherwise thought that they would not have. As part of his organizations’ gaming elements, they tap into players’ social capital. When people feel that they are playing in a game, they are willing to experiment, make mistakes, and learn in new ways.

The short version of the interview appears above. But, it is worthwhile to watch the full-length video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQBDOHWVaG8 (length: 18:28).

Review: Creating innovators (by Tony Wagner)

Book: Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world
Author: Tony Wagner (with video content produced by Robert A. Compton)
Publisher: Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster (2012)

In Creating innovators, Harvard University’s Tony Wagner sets out to describe the crisis facing education in a society that requires innovative workers and thinkers. He presents a systems perspective, and explores what parents, teachers, and employers must do to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators. To make it happen, he argues we must invest more in enabling play, passion, and purpose in the lives of learners — and focus less on industrial modes of production (i.e., refocusing away from standardized tests).

Featuring interviews with innovators, thought leaders, and people working to make change happen in schools, the book does not serve to produce new knowledge. It instead serves as a primer to what innovation is, why it is important for nations, and some of the best practices we can engage in now.

As a nice addition, the book incorporates in-line video content that can be viewed through a mobile device. While the book claims they use QR codes, the scannable codes appear in a proprietary Microsoft format, and require readers to download an app from Microsoft. For users of non-Microsoft platforms (i.e., iOS or Android devices), this could present problems in the future. Thankfully, videos will be made available at the book’s website, creatinginnovators.com.

While the book provides a nice survey into some of the thinking of innovation in education, it revolves around legacy models of what schools are, and falls flat when it looks toward the future of innovation as it still relies on these old structures. Wagner would have done better to ponder what a continuously innovative society looks like — and might even question whether we need “schools” any more.

By keeping a sharp focus on the old conceptualizations of education, Wagner focuses the bulk of his discussions on what to learn (i.e., STEM), rather than how to learn. Perhaps by exploring the how issues, the book could have provided critical insight into which skills and competencies are critical for success in a society that is driven by continuous, disruptive innovation. Play, passion, and purpose are just fine (and alliterate well), but their usefulness could be constructed within a broader framework (i.e., together with soft skills development) that enables contextually beneficial expressions of personal knowledge.

The bottom line: Creating innovators is an enjoyable primer for those who are just catching on to the innovation bandwagon, but it is not a jumping point for developing new ideas and practices that will transform our education futures.

With the publisher’s permission, here is an excerpt:

How Do We Develop Young People to Become Innovators?

In the past, our country has produced innovators more by accident than by design. Rarely do entrepreneurs or innovators talk about how their schooling or their places of work — or even their parents — developed their talents or encouraged their aspirations. Three of the most innovative entrepreneurs of the last half century — Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid instant camera; Bill Gates; and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook — had to drop out of Harvard to pursue their ideas. Apple’s Steve Jobs; Michael Dell of Dell Computer; Larry Ellison, founder of the software giant Oracle; and the inventor Dean Kamen are other famous high-tech college dropouts.

So what would it mean if we were to intentionally develop the entrepreneurial and innovative talents of all young people — to nurture their initiative, curiosity, imagination, creativity, and collaborative skills, as well as their analytical abilities — along with essential qualities of character such as persistence, empathy, and a strong moral foundation? What can parents do to nurture these qualities? What do the most effective teachers and college professors do, and what can they — and the young people themselves — tell us about how schools and colleges need to change to teach these qualities? Finally, what can we learn from those who successfully mentor aspiring entrepreneurial innovators? These are the driving questions in this book.

How Do We Develop Young People to Become Innovators?

If we agree on the need to develop the capabilities of many more youth to be innovators, and if we agree that many of the qualities of an innovator can be nurtured and learned, the question now becomes, what do we do? Where do we start as parents, teachers, mentors, and employers?

Encourage Play

Research shows that human beings are born with an innate desire to explore, experiment, and imagine new possibilities — to innovate.

How do children learn such skills? In a word — through play.

And it’s not just infants and children who learn through play. Joost Bonsen, who is an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently serves as a lecturer in the world-famous MIT Media Lab, talked about the importance of the famous tradition of pranks at the university.

“Being innovative is central to being human.” Bonsen told me. “We’re curious and playful animals, until it’s pounded out of us. Look at the tradition of pranks here at MIT. What did it take to put a police car on a dome that was fifteen stories high (one of most famous MIT student pranks), with a locked trapdoor being the only access? It was an incredible engineering feat. To pull that off was a systems problem, and it took tremendous leadership and teamwork.

“Pranks reinforce the cultural ethos of creative joy.” Joost added. “Getting something done in a short period of time with no budget, and challenging circumstances. It’s glorious and epic. They didn’t ask for permission. Not even forgiveness.”

These students were playing — just doing something for the fun of it. Play, then, is part of our human nature and an intrinsic motivation.

Encourage Passion

Passion is familiar to all of us as an intrinsic motivation for doing things. The passion to explore, to learn something new, to understand something more deeply; to master something difficult. We see these passions all around us and have likely experienced them for ourselves.

In more than one hundred and fifty interviews for this book — lengthy conversations with innovators and their parents, teachers, and mentors — passionwas the most frequently recurring word.

Encourage Purpose

Pure passion, by itself, is not enough to sustain the motivation to do difficult things and to persevere — in love or in work! In my research, I observe that young innovators almost invariably develop a passion to learn or do something as adolescents, but their passions evolve through learning and exploration into something far deeper, more sustainable, and trustworthy — purpose.

The sense of purpose can take many forms. But the one that emerged most frequently in my interviews and in the interviews by the authors of “the Innovator’s DNA” is the desire to somehow “make a difference”

In the lives of young innovators whom I interviewed, I discovered a consistent link and developmental arc in their progression from play to passion to purpose. They played a great deal — but their play was frequently far less structured than most children’s, and they had opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error — to take risks and to fall down. Through this kind of more creative play as children, these young innovators discovered a passion. As they pursued their passions, their interests changed and took surprising turns. They developed new passions, which, over time, evolved into a deeper and more mature sense of purpose — a kind of shared adult play.

These young innovators did not learn these things alone. They received help from parents, teachers, and mentors along the way. Their evolution as innovators was almost invariably facilitated by at least one adult — and often several. What these parents, teachers, and mentors did that was so helpful may surprise you. Each, in his or her own quiet way, is often following a different, less conventional path in his or her role as a parent, teacher, or mentor. They acted differently so that the young people with whom they interacted could think differently.


Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

The above excerpt is Copyright © 2012 Tony Wagner.

Teacher 3.0: Sharing, creating, and connecting knowledge

In this year’s issue of Villa Onderwijs by APS, Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch present their views of what “Teacher 3.0” might look like (extended from the 3.0 paradigm shared at Education Futures previously). With the authors’ permission, we provide their translation of the original Dutch text into English.

Teacher 3.0

Authors: Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch

Share knowledge, create and connect

Teaching is one of the finest professions you can find. Teachers play a crucial part in preparing new generations for the future. Never before has there been so much uncertainty about what that future will look like.

An invitation to the dialogue about the consequences of these developments for the role of the teacher.

Moores law isn’t just about transistors anymore. The developments in scientifical research, the introduction of new technologies and the expansion of new ideas is going increasingly faster. Digitisation, globalisation, new knowledge about the working of the brain… all matters that run deep into the way we live, learn and work together. Also, the appeal to take responsibility for sustainable development and the reinforcement of our society, accentuate the central role that education has in equipping young people. Professional competences are currently recalibrated.

3.0

In this theoretical experiment, we combine several inspiring angles. Following the linear way of thinking, we could have chosen for 2.0. However, that might give the impression of a ‘next version’, an upgrade of the former version like we know from the world of technology.

3.0 focuses on the very core of the profession of teaching in the first part of the 21st century. With this magazine ‘Villa Onderwijs’ (trans.: Villa Education) we would like to give individual teachers and teams at schools the opportunity to engage in conversation about this topic.

Where we refer to the teacher as “he”, we also mean to include the female teacher.

1. The teacher 3.0 has an eye for the future

Children will have to find a place for themselves in a society with increasing risks and uncertainties. The teacher 3.0 will go into trends and scenarios and will weigh the consequences. In case it is relevant, he will make a translation of his findings to knowledge and skills in his professional area and the world of professions for which he prepares his students.

2. The teacher 3.0 offers students a home base

The teacher 3.0 views the school as a society that connects with the surrounding world. He teaches his students to take responsibility for their own lives and the environment they are part of. He teaches them a flexible attitude. That way, he gives shape to the ambition to create – through education – an environment fit to live in.

3. The teacher 3.0 establishes dialogue

Children of today have access to the same sources as their teachers do. Apparently professional knowledge is significant but above all, the teacher 3.0 makes his students go through the experience of learning from each other. The traditional division of roles (the omniscient teacher vs the unlearned student) is no longer relevant. He will initiate the dialogue with his students. Pedagogic skills will be an important tool for the teacher. He will learn more about the experience, the way of thinking and the behaviour of young people. Conversation with colleagues, parents and the world around him, will give him access to a diversity of information, inspiration and ideas.

4. The teacher 3.0 is a catalyst for student talents

Students live in a competitive society. There seem to be plenty of opportunities but there is a risk of ‘unwanted inequality’. The teacher 3.0 will look for possibilities to bring all children to great achievements. He pays attention to the complete child and its total development. He views the intrinsic motivation of the child as the base of his guidance. By working together with his collueges and his peer, he will be able to adjust his actions in order to match the abilities of the students.

5. The teacher 3.0 explores

Through his exploring attitude, the teacher 3.0 tries to get a grip on the unsteady reality around him. Where ever needed and if possible with the help of others, he will search for creative solutions for the – occasionally tough – everyday practice. He will continually work on the effectiveness and efficiency of his teaching. He is not afraid to experiment with innovative methods, technologies and different sources. He will connect these experiments to practice-based research. He will translate the findings of this research to distinct improvements which will be tested and evaluated.

6. The teacher 3.0 is a role model for ‘life long learning’

The half-life of knowledge becomes increasingly short. Knowledge and learning is more and more about the ability to find solutions for new issues. That’s why the teacher 3.0 will have to actively keep learning. This will partly be done in a self-taught manner. It is easy to have access to countless high quality sources through the internet. The teacher 3.0 studies, reflects and arranges to get feedback on his work, for instance through supervision and group intervision. He will remain working on his personal development in a self-steering and enterprising manner. This way he can excel in view of his own professional career, but also for the benefit of his students and the organization he works for. This also makes him a role model for his students.

7. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to share ánd to ask

Developments go fast. It is impossible to do and to invent everything by yourself and to keep up with everything. That is why the teacher 3.0 actively uses his network where he can ask questions, shares his knowledge and contributes to joint projects. The present times offer unprecedented opportunities to make our knowledge and ideas accessible, for instance through networks and the Internet. Where ever relevant, the teacher 3.0 will contribute to joint products for education. This makes him an active member of a co-creating society. That is the power of being connected.

8. The teacher 3.0 uses technology based on his vision on learning

New technologies and media (like digital black boards, games and social media) offer a lot of learning facilities. However, the teacher 3.0 will not be directed by hypes. With his vision on learning as a starting point, he will critically assess the possibilities and will creatively translate them to the goals he wants to achieve with his teaching. When ever technology doesn’t actually add anything valuable, he is not afraid to say “no” to it. This will not always be easy, because you cannot always know in advance what it is exactly that you are turning down. To make conscious, deliberate choices may well be one of the most important new competences of today’s teacher.

9. The teacher 3.0 works smartly

Technology should make your job easier. The teacher 3.0 uses opportunities to computerize his tasks in order to be able to spend as much time as possible on activities that really matter: direct contact with students. Whenever possible he will use digital testing methods or video recordings of his lessons as a reference work for his students.

10. The teacher 3.0 focuses on his passion and his talent

The life of a teacher 3.0 uses up a lot of energy. There is so much to keep up with, to think about, to try out… and you are never done. Never done? You can only keep that up when you are motivated by passion. The teacher 3.0 is genuine and credible, an important criterion for working with today’s students. He realises that external influences may constantly distract him from his passion. For instance by new regulations, protocols, shifting in activities. Sometimes he will have to stand up for himself and set limits. He will look for the meaning of his work, and will question himself about his true motive. He is aware of which activities he truly enjoys. He finds happiness in his work, in working with students and collueges and in sharing his passion with his peer.

11. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to be unique

In every school there is a need for wide oriented specialists, ánd specialized generalists. The teacher 3.0 views his profile as a capital T: imagine the specialism to be the vertical line going into the deep and the horizontal line being the widening. The teacher takes authority from his specialism, his expertise. One can get unique, profound knowledge from him. He will think cross curricular. He knows how to make the wide connection between his expertise and the developments in his environment. With his ‘T-profile’ he will contribute to his school in a unique way.

12. The teacher 3.0 takes pride in his profession

As a teacher, you may sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean. But even Einstein, Gandhi and Picasso at one time started out as little boys at a random school, somewhere in this world. Society can have high expectations of education. It is time to stop the blame and shame. The teacher 3.0 knows he makes a difference. He takes pride in his profession.


Erno Mijland is a journalist/writer, and trainer/speaker on learning and technology. Rob Mioch is managing director of professional education at APS national center for innovation and school improvement, the Netherlands.

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.

Perspectives on Invisible Learning

By popular demand, here are the slides from my Invisible Learning “stump lecture” from the past month:

In an era of globalization and “flattening” of our relatiohships around the Earth, how can we learn better? What happened to learning as we moved from the stable structures of the 20th century to fluid and amorphic structures of the 21st century? What roles do schools and colleges play when you can learn in any context and at any time? Do we continue with formal learning or do we formalize informal learning?

This is an open invitation to explore some of the best ideas emerging around the planet that are contributing to a new ecology of learning.

More info: www.invisiblelearning.com

Invisible Learning released

Cristóbal Cobo and I are pleased to announce that the Spanish edition of our new book, Invisible Learning (Aprendizaje Invisible), has just been released by the University of Barcelona (Col·lecció Transmedia XXI. Laboratori de Mitjans Interactius / Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona). The e-book is available for purchase at the UB website today. The print edition will arrive in the coming months. Update May 15, 2011: The print edition is now available for order at the UB website.

TO DOWNLOAD THE BOOK, VISIT THE UNIVERSITY OF BARCELONA PRESS

Dialogue with the Cristóbal Cobo and John Moravec about Invisible Learning

The Invisible Learning concept

Our proposed invisible learning concept is the result of several years of research and work to integrate diverse perspectives on a new paradigm of learning and human capital development that is especially relevant in the context of the 21st century. This view takes into account the impact of technological advances and changes in formal, non-formal, and informal education, in addition to the ‘fuzzy’ metaspaces in between. Within this approach, we explore a panorama of options for future development of education that is relevant today. Invisible Learning does not propose a theory, but rather establishes a metatheory capable of integrating different ideas and perspectives. This has been described as a protoparadigm, which is still in the ‘beta’ stage of construction.

Our conversation starts in Spanish

We are pleased that the University of Barcelona approached us to publish the book, and they have the privilege to produce the first printed edition as well as the first electronic edition. Moreover, with more native Spanish speakers in the United States than in Spain, we believe there is a legitimate market for a Spanish-language text throughout the Americas and Europe.

An English edition is in the works, and we hope to reward our patient English readers with the next release as a free ebook. If you are interested in helping us produce this edition (i.e., direct assistance through translation support or other resources), please email us.

Presentations and workshops

Yes, we love to talk! If you are interested in organizing a presentation or workshop about Invisible Learning at your organization, please email us. Recordings of some of our previous talks are linked, below:

Continuing the conversation

This book uses the hashtag #invisi in Twitter. You can also follow us:

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"Reboelje!" – Invisible Learning in the Netherlands

Finally, after several weeks of travel and meetings, I am able to report on the Invisible Learning Tour, which was hosted by NHL in Leeuwarden. The event was an example of self-organization. Given the seed of an idea, three universities, two Sudbury schools, the Knowmads school, and various other partners came together, using social media, to construct a two-day event. The purpose of the Invisible Learning Tour was to raise awareness for the need for innovation in education. Mainstream teaching focuses mainly on the preparation of students for compartmentalized roles and jobs (mainly factory workers and bureaucrats) that contrast sharply with the needs of the modern economy, which requires people that are imaginative, creative, and innovative. We explored ideas, existing options, and new pathways for learning that is relevant for the 21st century.

The first day was built into an open space event, moderated by Edwin de Bree (De Koers Sudbury School) and Franziska Krüger (Knowmads). About 130 participants attended the live meeting, and another 295 joined online. I gave the opening keynote, which is posted on Vimeo (my slides are also posted here):

The first day also included open conversations on how to make Invisible Learning visible, and a few participants self-organized a flash mob (video by Guido Crolla):

The second day involved a media tour to the De Kampanje and De Koers Sudbury Schools, and the Knowmads school in Amsterdam. I produced a short video based on interviews with students and staff members at the two Sudbury schools. What struck me in our conversations was, that despite the fact the students have no teachers (they are responsible for their self-learning), their responses were articulate and cogent — despite the fact they were speaking in a second language:

Unfortunately, my time with Knowmads was cut short as I had to race to the airport to catch my flight back from Amsterdam. As I left, however, one thing was very clear: A tremendous momentum for change is building up in the Netherlands. As Knowmads tribe leader Pieter Spinder puts it, it’s time for a Friesian rebellion: “Reboelje!”

Special thanks go to Edwin de Bree, Franziska Krüger, Christel Hartkamp, Jeroen Bottema, Pieter Spinder, Guido Crolla, and the team at Mooipunt/CMD program at NHL in Leeuwarden (Tom Ravesloot, Tom Klaver, Jeroen van de Bovenkamp, Wout Laben, Peter Klaas, Sanne van der Heide, Julien Hogemans, Robert de Kruijf, Sander Nota, and Robin van Poelje). Without their leadership and contributions, this event would never be possible. Better yet, they turned it into a smashing success!

Thank you!