News

soft skills

Viewing posts tagged soft skills

Why Pokémon Go and Minecraft in the classroom are very bad ideas

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 the Pokémon Go craze in the classroom. Some examples:

Global skills? Critical learning? This all sounds wonderful … except that it is not.

When forced upon students by schools, technologies that encourage play rapidly lose their appeal. We’ve seen this before, with examples of how Minecraft can be brought into classrooms to meet Common Core Reading standards, among others. And, these activities, it can be argued, simply ruin a student’s love of Minecraft.

Minecraft and Pokémon Go are built around ideas of free play (play without direction). These are digital expressions of a natural human activity where invisible learning flourishes. Through play, children discover their interests and aptitudes. Play inspires curiosity to test boundaries and learn social rules and norms, together with the development of many soft skills.

In Minecraft, kids build what is of interest to them, fight off creepers, play games with others through mods, and experiment with new ideas. These activities can be done individually or in groups. Learning happens all the time, and because the sandbox world encourages exploration, it is optimized for free play.

Similarly, Pokémon Go encourages kids to engage in free exploration within their communities. They may meet other players, create new social rules, build new friendships, etc. The game provides a framework for new social experiences, but what is learned from it are hard to quantify. What happens, for example, when children engage with people from cultures beyond their own? What do they discover? How does it change them? What new approaches or activities might they create? What skills, competencies, or insights might they develop? This is learning beyond any core curricula.

These games do not belong in classrooms. They are frameworks that place trust in kids to develop their own skills and knowledge. They trust kids to learn what is important to them in ways that are meaningful for them.

The purpose of controlling an educational experience is to make learning visible. It is built on distrust of the learner. Connecting pedagogies of distrust with games such as Pokémon Go or Minecraft creates a disharmony between a realm of free play and control that is not dissimilar to the experience of looking at a beautiful garden from a prison cell.

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

If we want to enable invisible learning through technologies, we have to enable trust and reduce the amount of control over learning experiences. Stop using technology to control learning experiences. Stop using technology to create pre-determined learning outcomes. Stop expecting kids to love learning the same old stuff just because we’ve hijacked their favorite games.

The bottom line is learning through these platforms must be centered on trust, and trusting that children always learn — no matter what. It is time for educators to take charge, and look at how we can develop technologies to open ecologies of student-lead learning through invisible approaches. We need to control less, and attend to student learning more.

Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Note: This is the final article of a three-part series on a new theory for invisible learning.

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

Invisible learning can emerge in many ways, and often manifests through bits and pieces here and there. The examples of approaches to invisible learning provided here are not exhaustive, and are meant to be illustrative only. Each of these approaches embrace participation, play, and exploration.

Schools for invisible learning

Democratic education schools are arguably the most visible examples of enabling self-determination. From the 2005 EUDEC guidance document, students in democratic schools have the right:

to make their own choices regarding learning and all other areas of everyday life. In particular, they may individually determine what to do, when, where, how and with whom, so long as their decisions do not infringe on the liberty of others to do the same.

Sudbury-type schools embrace this principle at their core, providing each student an equal voice and vote along side staff members and other stakeholders as to what they learn and how their schools are run. Students spend their time together without age or grade separation and they decide how to spend their time at the school. Central to the school’s operation are school meetings in which students and staff members make key decisions in a process focused on participatory democracy. In these schools, students are afforded tremendous freedom together with the personal and collective responsibility to make the best decisions possible.

These schools are part of a broader category of free schools which developed over the past century, with many approaches that interpret “free” schooling differently. Some operate as full democracies, and others as anarchist collectives. Of particular importance is the Summerhill School (UK), which permits each student to develop their own lesson plans within a structured timetable. Students have the freedom to pursue their own learning interests, based on offerings, and like the Sudbury model, they operate within a framework of participatory democracy with shared responsibilities.

There is very little research on democratic and free schools compared to mainstream education, but my hunch is they best serve students of at least middle-class or better-educated families, where students have greater flexibility and support to pursue their own interests. For students in economically disadvantaged families, we can look into liberation pedagogies such as critical pedagogy, eco schools, and praxis-type schools as pathways. While their foci are often connected with particular ideologies, they share core themes of socioeconomic liberation for students and the communities in which they live.

Finally, youth organizations and community participation opportunities that exist, often connected to formal schools, provide pathways toward invisible learning. Most often, we see this through scouting, clubs, and extension programs where students are not evaluated on a rigorous program, but instead earn badges, develop creative products, and create community-relevant outcomes that are based on their own interests.

Free play and exploration

Free play is a natural human activity where invisible learning flourishes. Through play, children discover their interests and aptitudes. Play inspires curiosity to test boundaries and learn social rules and norms, together with the development of many soft skills. Unfortunately, mainstream approaches to education ignore or underplay its importance in learning. Psychologist Peter Gray defines play as:

“first and foremost, self-chosen and self-directed. Players choose freely whether or not to play, make and change the rules as they go along, and are always free to quit. Second, play is intrinsically motivated; that is, it is done for its own sake, not for external rewards such as trophies, improved résumés, or praise from parents or other adults. Third, play is guided by mental rules (which provide structure to the activity), but the rules always leave room for creativity. Fourth, play is imaginative; that is, it is seen by the players as in some sense not real, separate from the serious world. And last, play is conducted in an alert, active, but relatively unstressed frame of mind” (from an interview in Journal of Play, Spring 2013).

Play is separate from sports and other organized activities in that it is explorative and satisfies an individual’s curiosity to try new ideas or simulate different possibilities in the world. Through play, a learner’s environment becomes his or her laboratory. This satisfaction of curiosity encourages the development of auto-didacticism, the practice of learning by one’s self.

Similar to free play is free exploration within our own communities and beyond to learn from others. What happens, for example, when children explore a culture beyond their own? What do they discover? How does it change them? What skills, competencies, or insights might they develop? Many of the answers to these questions are difficult to quantify or measure, but research suggests they can be related through the development of soft skills (i.e., intercultural competence, capabilities to handle ambiguity, empathy), which are critical outputs of invisible learning. This is learning beyond codifiable curricula, and places trust in kids that they can develop their own skills.

Building cultures of trust

To break free from the structures of control, we need to build cultures of trust. We need to trust children to learn without being told what to learn. Democracies are built on trust and shared responsibility. Free play and exploration are built on trusting others to help us learn from each other.

Teachers and school leaders have many opportunities to develop pathways toward invisible learning through participation, play, and exploration. These can be realized through their own development and praxis as well as through their work with students. But, the bottom line is enabling invisible learning is centered on trust, and trusting that children always learn — no matter what. As we wrote in Manifesto 15:

“The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. We need to embrace flat, horizontalized, and distributed approaches to learning, including peer learning and peer teaching, and empower students to realize the authentic practice of these modes. Educators must create space to allow students to determine if, and when, to jump off the cliff. Failing is a natural part of learning where we can always try again. In a flat learning environment, the teacher’s role is to help make sure the learner makes a well-balanced decision. Failing is okay, but the creation of failures is not.”


Posts in this series

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

The need for invisible learning

Note: This is the first article in a three-part series on a new theory for invisible learning.

Five years ago, Cristóbal Cobo and I published the book Aprendizaje Invisible (“Invisible learning”). The work analyzed the impact of technological advances and changes in formal, non-formal, and informal education –and the meta-spaces in between. The product was a journey that offered an overview of options for the future development of education that is relevant for this century.

A lot has changed since then, and we need a theory for invisible learning more than ever:

First, society needs knowmadic workers who work with context, not rigid structure. One key reality is that the jobs schools typically prepare us for—work as factory workers, bureaucrats, or soldiers—are disappearing. They are being replaced with knowledge- and innovation-based work which requires people to function contextually, working almost anytime, anywhere, and with nearly anybody. These emerging workers are knowmads, and they apply their individual knowledge across different “gigs” or contingent engagements to create new value. By the year 2020, we project 45% of the workforce in the U.S. will be knowmadic. This is a huge shift considering that only 6% of the population in the U.S. was self-employed, contingent, or some sort of contract worker in 1989.

As unique individuals, knowmads possess personal knowledge with developed explicit (i.e., “book knowledge”) and tacit (i.e., soft skills) elements. They are comfortable with change and ambiguity, applying their personal knowledge contextually to solve new problems.

The challenge for schools and learning programs is now to enable individuals to thrive in a world that needs more imaginative, creative, and innovative talent, not generic workers that can fill seats at an office or factory. The pathway to meeting this requirement is through the development of schooling environments and professional learning settings that foster invisible learning.

Second, many beliefs and practices in mainstream education are antiquated and have no grounding in reality. We would be hard pressed to find a study that argues that kids learn best from 7:45am to 2:37pm, yet we model our schools around absurd hours and times that better mirror industrial practices that are fading into extinction. We further separate them by age into grades, assuming children learn best when they are separated from each other. This, as Maria Montessori observed, “breaks the bonds of social life” (p. 206).

We too often assume that the motivation to learn must be extrinsic. That is, we have grown to believe that kids will not learn anything unless they’re told what to learn. This cannot be any further from reality as it can be argued that kids’ main activity is learning whether or not it is in a school format. Even more troubling, the most meaningful ways kids learn –play, curiosity, and exploration– are discounted in formal learning, unless if directed in a top-down, structured activity. How can we dare say we are enabling kids’ curiosity if we are telling them what to be curious about? How can we justify labeling activities as exploration if we already know the destination? And, why are we so afraid to allow children to play freely?

If we wish to develop children that can thrive in a knowmadic society, the consequences are grave. Peter Gray wrote:

By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

Finally, we simply cannot measure a person’s knowledge. Tests only measure how well a student completes the test. Soft skills and non-cognitive skills can be difficult or impossible to measure. Yet, we have become obsessed with measurement in schools. So much so that we’ve convinced ourselves that we can measure what a person knows. This is not true. As we wrote in Manifesto 15:

When we talk about knowledge and innovation, we frequently commingle or confuse the concepts with data and information instead. Too often, we fool ourselves into thinking that we give kids knowledge, when we are just testing them for what information they can repeat. To be clear: Data are bits and pieces here and there, from which we combine into information. Knowledge is about taking information and creating meaning at a personal level. We innovate when we take action with what we know to create new value. Understanding this difference exposes one of the greatest problems facing school management and teaching: While we are good at managing information, we simply cannot manage the knowledge in students’ heads without degrading it back to information.

At the same time, yes, we do need to demonstrate accountability in our schools. Cristóbal Cobo, in his lectures, beats the drum that we should not value what we measure, but rather measure what we value. We need to find a way beyond high-stakes testing that do little to reveal what students know. It is time to focus on what we value as individuals, schools, and as communities.


Posts in this series

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Redesigning the future of education in Knowmad Society: Our next steps

In case if you missed my keynote at IPON, I’m sharing slides from my talk via SlideShare:

IPON is moving away from serving as an ICT platform for education toward a platform for innovation in education. This requires a very human touch, and I aimed to reflect this aspect in my talk with an overview of Knowmad Society.

How we’ll get to the meaningful development of workers who can work anytime, anywhere, and with anybody in a knowmadic world requires significant realignment of our educational priorities. At IPON, I shared three approaches:

  1. Focus on soft skills development.In our book, Invisible Learning, Cristóbal Cobo and I explored the important roles of informal and soft skills learning — many of which contribute to elements of success in modern organizations or entrepreneurial activities. These include leadership, responsibility, managing chaos and uncertainty, and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships. And, these are very hard for formal schools to teach if we keep on focusing on hard skills development and curricula designed to meet the needs of a society where change occurs slowly. In today’s world, change is occurring so rapidly, that the hard skills students develop may be obsolete by the time they graduate. With an appropriate mix of soft skills, they might have a better job at surviving a job interview.
  2. Attend to the creation of new ecologies of learning. This requires taking risk. We are so adverse to risk in education, that we rarely try anything new. As a result, we are at risk of failing universally. It’s time to expand the ecology of learning formats and intended outcomes, allowing learners and communities to find their own way, and develop their own pathways to success.
  3. Reinvent our relationships with technologies. Too often, schools behave as consumers of technologies, buying into ideas and practices developed by others. This is a block to innovation, and, as a result, we tend to use new technologies to do the same old stuff. It’s time for schools to rethink their relationships with technologies, and to consider designing solutions that are meaningful for them as prosumers, if not as outright full producers.

Above all, to make all of this happen, we need vision. To me, it seems we have a global crisis. We don’t know where we want to go. Our vision for the future isn’t as clear as it used to be.

Some people say we need a revolution. Others say we need to innovate. We need both. Or, as Ronald van den Hoff puts it in Knowmad Society: We need an INNOVUTION.