Viewing posts tagged technologies

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.

Data collection phase completed in landmark study in Uruguay

What now?

This is a question to help us think about what we want in education – and what we want to get out of technologies in education. It is the driving question behind the ¿Y agora qué? research project, funded by the Uruguayan National Agency for Research and Innovation (ANII) and Fundación Ceibal.

Serving as the lead investigator and visiting professor at Universidad ORT Uruguay, Education Futures founder John Moravec is collaborating with ORT graduate student Verónica Zorrilla de San Martín to ask, can we build a collective capacity to transform the use of technologies in primary education in Uruguay? Utilizing the World Café action research method to engage with over 350 participants, the project is conceived as an invitation to co-create solutions with all stakeholders in the educational process (opinion leaders, collaborative institutions, governments, teachers, students to ask:

  • What are our “bold” and “innovative” ideas to better use new technologies for primary education in Uruguay?
  • What are some possible actions all members of our communities (teachers, parents, students, administrators, neighbors, etc.) can take to collaborate in creating a positive future for primary schools in Uruguay??
  • Can we come together as a community to transform learning? Why? Why not? How can leaders facilitate the growth of a collective capacity?

Moravec states:

What really distinguishes this study is that we are working from the bottom-up, bringing teachers, students, parents, and other community members together to envision new education futures. Too often –and particularly in Latin America– educational policy is dictated from the top-down with little input from teachers, parents, and students. This study turns that relationship upside down and asks these typically underrepresented stakeholders, what now?

Moravec and Zorrilla note that over the past 9 years, Uruguay has implemented a 1:1 computing initiative, providing each primary-level learner with a tablet or laptop (known as Plan Ceibal). Recent research has found, however, that the mere presence of these resources have no increased educational achievement. So, what now? Utilizing these tools in new ways, and building from the bottom up, can we build a collective capacity to use these technologies innovatively in education?

The data collection phase closed May 31. A final report will be published in September, 2016 on the website






A theory for invisible learning

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

Theory for Invisible Learning

When Cristóbal Cobo and I set out to write the book Aprendizaje Invisible (“Invisible learning”) five years ago, we sought to take a 360° and 3D view of the educational landscape—with an eye toward the future. We found the gap between formal learning and informal and non-formal modes of learning is becoming increasingly apparent.

We initially structured invisible learning as a metatheory, which recognizes that most of the learning we do is “invisible” —that is, it is through informal, non-formal, and serendipitous experiences rather than through formal instruction. We learn alone, or in a group, through individual and shared experiences. We learn more through experimentation, exploration, and through the consequences of enabling serendipity. Even though we cannot measure the knowledge in our heads, the consensus is that the vast majority of our knowledge is developed through invisible or informal means (see esp. this classic article by Jay Cross).

Invisible learning is not a theory for learning, itself. It is an end point or state of learning that emerges when we remove structures that control or direct our experiences. Therefore:

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.

The purpose of controlling an educational experience is to make learning visible. It is built on distrust of the learner – the false assumption that students will not learn unless they are told what to learn. In this sense, invisible learning is the end product of a theory which predicts that learning may blossom when we eliminate authoritarian control or direction of a learning experience by an “other” (i.e., teacher).

Removing structures of control opens possibilities. The end outcomes or goals of an experience are neither dictated nor determined from the start, but instead emerge as learning develops. Such experiences include free play, self-organized learning communities, authentic problem-based learning, and experimentation to acquire new knowledge.

Theory for Invisible Learning is focused on the development of personal knowledge: blends of tacit and explicit elements that embrace a portfolio of skills such as cooperation, empathy, and critical thinking as much as retaining facts. The implication is that there is no master template for enabling invisible learning, but rather we need to attend to the formation of an ecology of options for individuals to find their own ways. This suggests a growing need for bottom-up approaches to learning. By removing the rigidity of top-down control, and placing trust in learners, invisible learning can be made visible.

Posts in this series

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

Designing the future of research libraries and special libraries in Knowmad Society

Paper prepared for Congreso Amigos 2015Ciudad de México

John W. Moravec, Ph.D.
Founder, Education Futures LLC

Kelly E. Killorn, Ed.D.
Instructor, Hamline University


October 1, 2015


In an era consumed with accelerating technological and social change, coupled with rapidly evolving organizational needs and missions, research libraries and special libraries need to reframe why, how, and for whom they exist and explore new pathways to realize these functions. This paper explores a strategic framework to navigate a society in constant flux, disentangling information, knowledge, and innovation. We plot a pathway for maximizing creativity and innovation capital for libraries in knowledge-based institutions, together with the communities they serve.

Paper type: Conceptual

Keywords: innovation; knowledge-based organizations; research libraries; special libraries; strategic leadership; Knowmad Society


Research libraries and special libraries are finding themselves at a crossroads. Having served as keepers of static bodies of information, they are increasingly tasked with supporting the generation of new knowledge in a world that is becoming seemingly more chaotic and ambiguous. In an interview with Paul Zenke (2012), Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction at Temple University suggests, “what can we do as academic librarians to better prepare ourselves for what is certainly an uncertain future? We just have to think more entrepreneurially and look for these opportunities.”

How does an academic library or special library reframe itself in an emerging reality that demands more innovation in the roles and services they might provide? In this paper, we propose a strategic leadership framework for understanding and designing the future of research and special libraries in Knowmad Society.

The challenge of Knowmad Society

In the introduction to Knowmad Society, Moravec (2013a) writes:

The emergence of Knowmad Society impacts everybody. It is a product of the changes in a world driven by exponential accelerating technological and social change, globalization, and a push for more creative and context-driven innovations. It is both exciting and frightening. It presents us with new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. And, we recognize that in a world of accelerating change, the future is uncertain. This prompts a key question: In a world consumed with uncertainty, how can we ensure the success of ourselves as individuals, our communities, and the planet? (p. 18)

This question extends especially to research libraries and special libraries. How can these institutions survive and thrive in an era that is not based on the availability of information, but instead on the contextualized use of knowledge to solve new problems?

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers, who are creative, imaginative, and innovative, and can work with almost anyone, anytime, and anywhere (Moravec, 2008). As citizens of Knowmad Society, knowmads are individuals who, “are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Knowmads are responsible for designing their own futures […And,] a knowmad is only employed on a job as long as he or she can add value to an organization. If not, it’s time to move on to the next gig.” (Moravec, 2013a, p. 19).

The growth of knowmadic, contingent, or otherwise contract employees in the workforce changes the face of knowledge-based organizations. By the year 2020, it is projected that 45% of the workforce will be knowmadic (Moravec, 2013a, p. 19). For these contingent workers, a greater focus is now placed on how they add value – particularly at the individual level – within institutions.

Knowmad Society is also rooted in the reality of an exponentially-growing abundance of information (see esp. The Law of Accelerating Returns popularized by Kurzweil, 2005), and most of this does not reside in libraries. Whereas libraries used to have an important and definite role in providing information as a scarce resource, the abundance of information readily available elsewhere combined with a rapidly changing society that demands different information than may be found in libraries. This obviates many of the roles libraries traditionally held. How can a reference library compete with Google or Wikipedia? How can a film library compete with Netflix or YouTube? How can a corporation’s special library keep up with the ever-changing demands of the business as the organization “pivots” to meet new market realities?

For knowledge-based organizations that possess research or special libraries, the role of the library needs to be re-missioned from being a passive resource into a strategic organizer. The library needs to support and enable individuals and teams within organizations to add the greatest value they can, including supporting intrapreneurs (entrepreneurs within the organization) that take risk to create new value.

Challenges knowledge-based organizations face in Knowmad Society

Challenges to conventional wisdom faced by knowmadic organizations are numerous. They may be pressured by the de-hierarchization of leadership (i.e., shared leadership and responsibility), often expressed as organizational flattening. And, they are pressured by the accelerating pace of changes in technology and society (Moravec, 2013b). This means those at the top of an institution’s hierarchy need to consider relinquishing control of what information, knowledge, or strategic goals they believe to be the most important, otherwise risk becoming institutional laggards themselves.

Moreover, our relationships with information and knowledge are transforming, and too often their meanings are commingled. Information is constructed from bits and pieces of data. Knowledge is built by making personal meaning from information (Polyani, 1966). Innovations emerge when individuals and groups take action with what they know to create new value. While we are good at managing information, we cannot manage the personal knowledge created in the heads of our workers. And, human capital in knowledge-based organizations is becoming increasingly more expensive (see esp. Baumol & Towse, 1997). We cannot get the same efficiency gains from human systems as we can from machine systems. Our old approaches, built from principles of “scientific management,” simply do not work anymore.

Invisible learning in the age of knowmads

Invisible learning is a recognition that most of what we learn is “invisible” – that is, learning is achieved through non-formal, informal, and even serendipitous types of knowledge building. While this applies especially to schools, it is also relevant within other learning organizations. Cobo & Moravec (2011) write (translated by the authors):

The result of several years of research, invisible learning is a conceptual proposal, and it seeks to integrate various approaches into a new paradigm of learning and development that is especially relevant in the 21st century. This approach takes into account the impact of technological advances and changes in formal, non-formal, and informal education, in addition to the intermediary metaspaces between them. This approach aims to explore an overview of options for creating education that is future-relevant today. Invisible learning does not propose a formal theory, but instead presents a metatheory capable of integrating different ideas and perspectives. It has therefore been described as a protoparadigm, which is in a beta phase of construction.

1. It is a socio-technological conceptual archetype for a new ecology of education from collected ideas that combine and reflect on learning that is understood as a continuum that extends throughout life and can occur at any time or place. This approach is not restricted to a particular learning space or time, and it proposes to incentivize strategies that combine formal and informal learning. This perspective seeks to stimulate reflections and ideas on how to obtain an education that is more relevant, and one that reduces the gap between what is taught in formal education and what the labor market demands.

2. Invisible learning is also viewed as a search for remixing forms of learning that include continuous portions of creativity, innovation, collaborative and distributed work, and experimental laboratories – as well as new forms for translating knowledge.

3. Invisible learning is not suggested as a standard answer for all learning contexts. Rather, what is sought is that these ideas may be adopted and adapted to meet the specific and diverse needs of each context. While in some contexts, it can serve as a complement to traditional education, it may be used in other spaces as an invitation to explore new ways of learning. Many approaches to education seek to operate from the top-down (government control, the control of educational processes, policy approaches, etc.); Invisible learning instead proposes a revolution of ideas from the bottom-up (“do it yourself,” “user-generated content,” “problem-based learning,” “lifelong learning,” etc.).

4. Invisible learning suggests new applications of information and communications technologies (ICTs) for learning within a broader framework of skills for globalization. This proposal includes a broad frame of competencies, knowledge, and skills that fit a context to increase levels of employability, promote the formation of “knowledge brokers,” or expand the dimensions of traditional learning. (pp. 23-24)

Knowledge development within the invisible learning paradigm suggests significant implications for knowledge-based organizations. If an individual is able to find equivalent information via Google or some other ubiquitous, digital platform then the role of a library as an information provider needs to be reconsidered. Likewise, libraries need to recognize themselves not as information banks, but as connectors of information for new knowledge creation.

Of paramount importance, the relationships between consumers (e.g., individuals, research teams, and workgroups) and libraries need to shift from one where the library serves as a resource toward one where opportunities for creative remixing and new knowledge development are facilitated. This suggests that libraries, utilizing new information communication technology (ICT) applications, can play a critical role in connecting individuals and groups together to build synergies that otherwise would not be supported within an institution. In this role, the library remissions itself from being an access point of information toward an architect of connection making between points of information, knowledge, and expertise.

A leadership framework for libraries to navigate a rapidly changing society

The topic of innovation is a frequent target within academic and business literature. Many authors seek to describe modes and types of innovation within organizations, for example: Clayton Christensen’s (1997) disruptive innovation, Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) breakthroughs through scientific revolutions, and Gibbon’s et al’s (1994) Modes I and II dynamics of knowledge production through research. We build upon the spirit of these works to propose a framework that focuses on strategic leadership, where we define “innovation” within knowledge-based organizations as the purposive use of knowledge to provide a new solution to a problem that creates value.

In research libraries and special libraries, we argue new leadership, oriented around innovation, is needed to encourage mission-driven research and actions. We frame this within three types of institutional innovation, ordered by their potential for effect – and also difficulty in implementation – with the third mode (“Type III”) designated as having the most potential for impact. Table 1 illustrates the distinguishing characteristics between the three types, along with their ease of implementation for leadership.

Table 1

Three types of institutional innovation

Type I Type II Type III
Characteristics Interventions Attitudes Systems-based
Vectors Beliefs Core-transformative
Quick hacks Trendy ideas Revolutions
Ease of implementation Easy to sell Easy to sell Hard to sell
Easy to implement Hard to implement Really hard to implement
Easy to measure Hard to measure Really hard to measure

Type I innovations consist of interventions, vectors, and quick hacks. They are “easy to sell.” That is, their key ideas are simple to communicate and support for the ideas is easy to build. Implementation is also generally easy as only a simple intervention is needed, which is likewise easy to measure. Institutional impact is predicted to become low as simple interventions rarely create core transformations.

Type II innovations are centered around attitudes, beliefs, and trendy ideas. Like Type I innovations, they are easy to sell, but implementation and measurement are difficult. One example is building creativity into an organization. We imagine few leaders would believe building greater creativity into an organization is a bad idea, but developing a more creative organization is a challenge to implement. It can also be challenging to maintain momentum of a creative endeavor. And, within creative organizations, the extent to which one is creative is challenging to measure.

Type III innovations are built upon true revolutions that interact on a systems level with the knowledge organization to transform the core or “heart” of the institution. This is often expressed as creative destruction: tearing down the structure and culture of an organization and rebuilding it into something new. These innovations are hard to sell, as very few people want a total revolution in their organization. And, like a revolution, they are very hard to implement. Further, they touch so many core areas of the organization that measurement becomes very difficult (unless macro-level, post-hoc methods of measurement are used, such as asking, “did the institution survive the revolution?”).

Within this framework, we recognize that while some innovations may be preferred over others, each of the three types can create value for a knowledge-based organization. More importantly, innovations from the three types may interplay and integrate with each other, contributing to the goals or desired outcomes of others. A Type I or Type II innovation may very well fall within the overall strategic framework of a Type III innovation.

Table 2

Examples of the three types of institutional innovation in research libraries and special libraries contexts

Type I Type II Type III
Virtual delivery of services and content Transforming library into collaborative spaces Library laboratories
Mobile applications Blended librarian Invisible and tacit learning
Institutional repository development Expanded library Knowmadic places

Type I institutional innovation examples include the virtual delivery of services and content, the use of mobile applications, and the development of institutional repositories. In the past, the main purpose of academic libraries was to provide materials needed immediately by users and to store materials for future use. However, as the current landscape continues to shift toward greater digitization of information, libraries have begun doing the same. Rather than serving as a storehouse for print items such as books and journals, libraries are digitizing and storing content in institutional repositories for more immediate access and use. Further, libraries are investing in services and tools to enhance the discovery, access, and use of information (Levine-Clark, 2014). Consumers are able to access library resources at any hour, any day, and helpdesks are now available online. As end users move toward utilizing their own mobile devices, libraries are working to deliver content to them. Content and services are delivered via email, text messaging, instant messaging, and social networking services (Dysart, Jones, & Zeeman, 2011). Content is increasingly streamed to classrooms (Jantz, 2012). In addition to traditional printed materials, eBooks are becoming more popular and accessible. In fact, libraries are buying fewer print materials as they make the shift to digitization of resources (Dysart et al., 2011; Levine-Clark, 2014). These Type I innovations are easy to communicate and garner support from end users within the organization. Implementation, effectiveness, and degree of success are simple to measure. The overall impacts of these innovations, however, remains relatively low, as the core functions of a library remain static.

Type II institutional innovation examples include transforming libraries into collaborative spaces, blended librarians, and expanded libraries. As libraries continue downsizing their print collections in favor of digitized access of information, physical space is increasingly available for use in different and more flexible ways (Dysart et al., 2011; Jantz, 2012; Sinclair, 2009). The reinvention of these spaces for social, technological, and cultural uses provides new opportunities for co-working, collaborating, and delivery of specialized trainings (Sinclair, 2009). Some libraries house coffee shops and dining establishments. These changes in the ways library spaces are used and the continued digitization of resources has shifted the responsibilities of the librarian toward becoming “blended librarians.” They are less focused on transactional services and provide more people-intensive services toward improving end users’ experience (Dysart et al., 2011). Their focus is blending library skills, information services, ICT, and instructional design. Blended librarians collaborate with information technology departments to develop skills with online tools, software, multimedia, and mobile applications (Bell & Shank, 2004; Sinclair, 2009). They further expand beyond the walls of the physical library (Sinclair, 2009), collaborating with many different departments, embedding themselves within project and work teams, using their skills to develop services specific to the needs of the staff with whom they work (Dysart et al., 2011). These shifts from the traditional “pull” approach of library use toward a “push” style of engaging the community and working with consumers have extended the reach of the services and content available through the library. These Type II innovations are centered on the beliefs that work is collaborative in nature and the library’s role is to accommodate consumers through availability and accessibility, physical space, and support. These ideas are relatively easy to market internally, however, implementation and the measurement of success of these ideas are more difficult.

Type III institutional innovation examples include library laboratories, invisible and tacit learning, and knowmadic places. Some libraries are beginning to transform into laboratories and maker spaces to encourage user collaboration using traditional library materials combined with other types of creative and innovative resources (Colgrove, 2013). They provide tools, machines, and workshops designed for experimentation and development (Berry, 2012). Tools such as projectors, 3D printers, and large screen monitors are available for use (Berry, 2012; Colgrove, 2013; Sinclair, 2009). Users also have access to studios for producing their own photography, audio remixing, videos, and digital media such as podcasts and blogs (Berry, 2012; Colgrove, 2013). The focus of simply using library resources and materials is shifting toward actually creating with them (Colgrove, 2013). Invisible learning spaces enable library users to develop knowledge through non-formal and informal approaches, often employing “do-it-yourself” or hacker-like thinking to develop new understandings and solutions to challenges and opportunities (Cobo & Moravec, 2011). Knowmadic places create, through design, emotional links between spaces and their users, supporting the abilities of individuals to think differently, while flattening hierarchies (Noriega et al., 2013, p. 144). These Type III innovations transform what was once considered the purpose of a library: from one that houses and makes available resources and materials to consume, toward something that is very different from a traditional library “blueprint” and the formation of something unique to the host organization. These revolutionary ideas, because they are so transformative and question the very “fabric” of traditional organizations, are hard to sell, implement, and measure.

It is important to note that while the potential to create impact is obviously greater in Type III innovations, we should not downplay the importance of the other two types – each of these types of innovation have value. Strategic leadership for organizations that support knowmadic entrepreneurship (and intrapreneurship) requires approaches that address interdisciplinary, systems integration of knowledge-based work. These require a transformation in the way libraries operate, from looking at interventions and vectors toward creating real organizational change: systems-based, core-transformative, and those that challenge our key assumptions about how we relate, learn, and collaborate with each other. This means considerations should be made as to how to feed Type I and Type II initiatives into a greater Type III revolution.

For these revolutions to have impact, libraries need to reframe why, how, and for whom they exist and explore new pathways to realize these functions. From an organizational standpoint, this suggests libraries (and their leaders) need to build a metacognitive sense of the institution: an awareness of what is not known about the organization, its goals, and methods. Only then is it justifiable to engineer breaks from the system that challenge the status quo and enable Type III transformations to flourish.

An example pathway for maximizing organizational creativity and innovation capital

Type III innovations, at their core, engage with (and challenge) organizations to employ more creative resources toward solving a greater, mission-driven problem. As the challenges are greater, they resemble a “Noble Quest” for transformative leadership.

As an example of one such Type III goal, to support knowmadic workers and learners, the library can be transformed into a knowmadic hub, where new knowledge creation and the contextual application (doing) of knowledge are facilitated, in contrast to the traditional role of a library as an information repository. This transforms the space into one of knowledge brokerage (see Meyer, 2010) and action. The library, as a knowmadic space, could incorporate other innovations, such as the virtual delivery of services (Type I) and the transformation from stacks of resources to collaborative spaces (Type II).

The library as a knowmadic hub is centered on sharing knowledge, expertise, and ideas, connecting an organization’s people and other actors together to create purposive value. As organizations become less hierarchical in function and increasingly operate as mesh networks (see esp. Allee, 2003; van den Hoff, 2011), the knowmadic library and its librarians can find new roles in serving as connecting hubs, particularly with smart, purposive applications of ICTs.

In lieu of conclusion, spaghetti needs meatballs

Figure 1. A traditional, formal organizational chart.

org chart

Figure 2. A value-oriented knowledge organization.


Organizations that are driven by value networks and knowmadic knowledge can seem messy. While they may still maintain top-down organization charts, the operation may appear chaotic to an observer. Allee (2003) writes:

Much of the chaos that results from organizational change efforts arises not from trying to do something new, but from careless disregard of the complex system or systems that will be changed or affected in the process. Organizations evolve along multiple dimensions. When organizations change, old patterns of relationships are dismantled and reassembled into new configurations. People can better see where to make needed adjustments in their own activities without wreaking havoc on the whole system if they more fully understand the essential exchanges and relationships that create value. (p. 194)

When Allee maps how these organizations function as value networks, they no longer appear as orderly, top-down operations with clear lines of relationships (Figure 1). Rather, they appear as complex strings of spaghetti with multifaceted connections flowing between and among various levels and spans of an organization (Figure 2). In such a configuration, certain individuals and departments emerge as larger players (“meatballs”), with greater connections across various levels of the institution; some meatballs are larger than others.

As knowmadic hubs, libraries become super-connectors, knowledge brokers, and facilitators of invisible learning within the institution. Perhaps appearing as a large meatball in a map of the organization’s spaghetti-like, mesh network, added value is created for its users and stakeholders by brokering new opportunities for knowledge development and innovative actions.

In this rapidly-changing world, where information is literally at the tips of our fingers and an institution’s ability to act on knowledge drives its potential for success, does the future need libraries? Or, does it need meatballs?


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Special thanks to Patricia Avila (INFOTECH), Wouter Schallier (United Nations-CEPAL), and Giovanna Valenti (FLACSO México) for their remarks as panel discussants at Congreso Amigos 2015. Additional thanks go to Alejandro Pisanty and Cees Hoogendijk for the commends on the draft document on

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The university of the future: Marching toward obsolescence?

A couple weeks ago, Carlos Scolari interviewed me for a project on pedagogical innovation and disruptive practices in higher education at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). The aim of the project is to produce a document on the “university of the future,” including diagnosis, trends, and proposals for moving forward.

With his permission, I am sharing my responses to his questions:

CS: How do you see the situation of the universities from a pedagogical point view? I’m thinking in the situation of teaching-learning processes inside these big institutions.

JM: From a pedagogical viewpoint, universities have invested too much in a monocultural approach to education. Most universities are using the same methods to teach all the same stuff. This is very dangerous as the world is changing so quickly that entire fields and bodies of knowledge risk being outdated/outmoded very quickly.

I believe that we need to start to expand the ecology of options that we have in higher education, including pedagogical approaches. Otherwise, we run the risk of failing universally.

CS: Why do you think it’s so difficult to change the teaching-learning practices in the universities?

JM: I think change is difficult within universities because we rely heavily on academic “traditions” that are built on faulty assumptions of teaching and learning. Some of most troubling assumptions (which are not based on science) include:

  • Motivation: We assume students must be externally motivated to learn, otherwise they would not learn anything. This is akin to assuming the natural state of humans is laziness and non-curious.
  • Age segregation: We assume people learn best when segregated by age or ability. We tend to compartmentalize education into certain discrete levels (i.e., primary, secondary, and tertiary education), and further segregate students by age. There is very little reason to support this practice, and evidence suggests that cross age/ability integration enhances students’ learning.
  • Power structures: We assume that the only “qualified” knowledge generators are the teachers at the head of the classroom, who download knowledge into students’ heads. In today’s world where the magnitude of change is accelerating at an exponential pace, information and knowledge is always in flux. Rather than relying on static “experts,” we need to start recognizing and attending to new power structures where we all serve as co-learners and co-teachers.

The good news is that “traditions” are things that we invent all the time. I am optimistic that we can create new traditions that are relevant to modern society.

CS: How can we improve the teaching-learning processes in the universities?

JM: I think we should look at new uses for software and social technologies to enable all participants at universities to become life-long co-teachers as well as co-learners. This means that students (and teachers) need to stop behaving as consumers of education, but become creators, producers, and prosumers. At the same time, learning needs to become more immersive and personally-meaningful (subjective experiences) to each learner. This means that we are likely to not have one master narrative for learning at universities, but we may have many different ones, enabling students and faculty to express themselves as postdisciplinary knowledge experts (possessing unique knowledge at the individual level).

CS: Could you please indicate three (3) innovative/disruptive teaching-learning experiences? They could be single practices (i.e. flip teaching) or institutional ones (i.e. Coursera).


  1. Democratic education: Educational institutions tend to run as dictatorships, and are structured to preserve themselves. By horizontalizing our relationships, and making sure to give each stakeholder an equal voice, we could see significant, positive disruption as students and faculty become co-responsible for attending to all aspects of the educational experience.
  2. Quest-based learning: Thieu Besselink wrote an excellent chapter on this in Knowmad Society:
  3. Co-teaching: This is best expressed by what E-180 and the Shibuya University Network already engage in.

CS: How do you imagine the university of the future? Please indicate three (3) characteristics.

JM: This question is perhaps faulty in that it assumes that we will have universities in the future. Maybe you should start with the question: Does the future need universities?

Let’s assume that the future does need universities. In that case, I envision near-future institutions will operate in an environment where…

  1. Any form of information delivery that can be commodified, will be. We see this today with the emergence of MOOCs, Udemy, Coursera, etc. Any non-unique content delivery (especially through download-style pedagogies) will be provided through these platforms, and through a small group of providers. This is particularly threatening to junior colleges, general education courses at mainstream universities, and perhaps also to secondary education.
  2. The gap between top tier schools and everybody else will widen. The top schools may not have superior educational offerings, but they have powerful brands. Why pay to take a course at the University of Minnesota when you can participate in a free, online experience that is affiliated with a top school, such as Stanford or MIT? My take is that the top-tier schools with powerful brand identities will “own” higher education; and, in many respects, other universities will become subscribers to their products and services.
  3. Smaller, “boutique” programs outside the formal, accredited system will boom in presence and market share. Small, but highly specialized, programs such as KaosPilots, Knowmads, YIP, Hyper Island, and the Shibuya University Network operate outside of formal education, and have each developed their own approaches to teaching and learning. In an era where mainstream society are beginning to question the value of a university degree, these programs offer alternatives, and employers will become much, much more receptive to the “graduates” of these alternative education/credentialing programs.

I think that, apart from the very few elite institutions, universities are marching themselves toward obsolescence, and they may be the last to figure it out. Remember, as Anya Kamentz pointed out in her interview at Education Futures, the Roman Senate continued to meet for several centuries after the collapse of the empire.

Knowmad Society is now available!

Last December, we celebrated the completion of the Knowmad Society project by launching it at in Utrecht. Now, we are pleased to launch the website, and offer the book as a free download, a free iPhone app, or a $0.99 Kindle purchase.

Full details about book is available at

Photo by Rene Wouters

Knowmad Society launch – Photo by Rene Wouters

A collaboration between John Moravec, Cristóbal Cobo, Thieu Besselink, Christel Hartkamp, Pieter Spinder, Edwin de Bree, Bianca Stokman, Christine Renaud, and Ronald van den Hoff, Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work and how we relate with each other in a world where we are now asked to design our own futures. These nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work, and provide insight into what they are doing now to help drive positive outcomes. Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart provides an afterword on his take on how to best support a knowmad society in the international arena.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers –creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization 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 concerning task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work within a broader options of space, including “real,” virtual, or many blended. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.

The authors explore knowmad society in terms of socioeconomic evolution from industrial, information-based society to knowledge-based society, to a creative, context-driven Knowmad Society. Educational and organizational implications are explored, experiences are shared, and the book concludes with a powerful message of “what’s it going to take” for nations and cultures to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Key topics covered include: reframing learning and human development; required skills and competencies; rethinking schooling; flattening organizations; co-creating learning; and new value creation in organizations.

Knowmad Society is published by Education Futures LLC with additional support from

Learning in Knowmad Society: Making invisible learning visible

Preface: Today, the Waag Society (institute for art, science and technology) released a new publication, Spelen leren, lerend spelen (“Playing games, learning games”). I have a short article article in the magazine, which was published in Dutch. Here’s an English translation:

In 1980, Seymour Papert predicted that computers would fundamentally transform education –and ultimately make schools, themselves, redundant. 30 years later, computers in schools are the norm, but we are still teaching the old way. Why?

In education, we have a hard time disentangling technologies from our conversations about innovations in learning. Too often, we place technologies in the forefront, which end up obscuring authentic knowledge formation. We often take the best technologies and squander the opportunities they afford us. Our knowledge-based societies demand a deeper change in our culture of teaching, and, particularly, in the ways in which we learn (and unlearn).

Moreover: 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. We need to rethink and explore all the “invisible” (non-formal, non-certified, but equally relevant) ways of learning in a world where personal knowledge development, comprised of both tacit and explicit elements, is rapidly becoming more valuable than commodified, industrial-style information delivery. How can we create innovators, capable of leveraging their unique imaginations and creativity?

In the Invisible Learning project, we sought to research and share experiences and innovative perspectives, focused on rethinking strategies and innovative approaches to learn and unlearn continuously. We highlighted the importance of critical thinking of the roles of formal, informal, non-formal and serendipitous education at all levels – which can contribute to the creation of sustainable processes of learning, innovating and designing new cultures for a global society.

In the Invisible Learning paradigm, “just in case,” rote 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 so-called “facts.”

Education in 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 regimes (i.e., standardized testing).

The purposive application of technologies can help. Our questions around educational improvement should therefore not be around what to learn, but rather about how we can learn. And, how we can make what we learned invisibly visible.

Review: Makers: The new industrial revolution (by Chris Anderson)

Book: Makers: The new industrial revolution
Author: Chris Anderson
Publisher: Crown Business (October 2, 2012)

The cover story of this month’s issue of Wired Magazine is all about how “the new MakerBot Replicator might just change your world.” Indeed, Wired has been pimping the do-it-yourself world of 3D printing, robotics, and the maker movement aggressively over the past few months. It should come as no surprise that Wired editor Chris Anderson’s new book, Makers: The new industrial revolution is being released this month as well.

Anderson writes on the maker revolution — that is, the intersection of manufacturing with a punk way of thinking. Do-it-yourself product creation, new markets for sharing ideas, and new technologies that allow for affordable, small-scale manufacturing, he argues, will transform the global economy.

The emerging maker economy is a realization of Alvin Toffler‘s prosumers: “proactive consumers” who become active in the design and creation of goods and services, and shift the responsibilities of product creation toward the consumer, not the producer.

Anderson dives deep into the observation that the old rules of economies of scale (which require large run sizes to leverage) and specialization (focusing your efforts on one unique task) break apart:

Increasingly, when computers are running the production machines, it costs no more to make each product different. If you’ve ever received a catalog or magazine in the mail that has a personalized message for you, that’s a formerly one-size-fits-all production machine –the printing press– turned into digital one-size-fits- one machine, using little more than a big version of the desktop inkjet printer. Likewise when you buy a cake with fancy icing from the supermarket. That icing was applied by a robot arm –it can make each cake design different as quickly as making them all the same– personalizing it costs no more to do, yet the supermarket can charge more for it because it is perceived as more valuable. The old model of expensive custom machines that had to make the same thing in vast numbers to justify to tooling expense is fading fast.

Indeed, the retail sector is transforming from a business of selling things into one of creating experiences or perceived personal value for consumers. Anderson calls this “happiness economics.” The digitization of components and ideas and realizing them with new, low-cost, small scale manufacturing allow people to cut, paste, remix, and share their creations alike, with the potential to create a new market based on creative ideas and their related design files.

The book focuses on four technologies that are leading the DIY and small scale manufacturing revolution: CNC machines, laser cutters, and 3D scanners. All of these are common at Fab Labs and maker hack “factories” around the world.

While Anderson captures the essence of the maker movement, I feel he fails to connect it with the parallel revolution happening in the software and microelectronics industries, especially where these ideas are expressed as accessible maker tools such as the Arduino. He shines, however, as he looks toward a future where the same revolution is transforming biology (bioengineering) and other fields that previously required expensive, dedicated laboratories. For only a few thousand dollars today, an individual can acquire key components for genetic manipulation –something that, only a few years ago, cost labs 100- if not 1,000-times that amount. And these costs are still decreasing.

Dangerous or not, a revolution is happening. And, Anderson is spreading the word.

In light of the maker revolution, are schools preparing kids for the wrong economy?

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.

Quotes from the book were extracted from a galley proof, and may change in the final publication.

Basti Hirsch: Rethink purposive uses of technologies in schools

I met up with Basti Hirsch at the NEXT Berlin 2012 conference last week. He is a leader at the Education Innovation Lab at the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA School of Governance in Berlin. His work focuses on reinventing learning in the digital age. We chatted about what it would take to drive innovation in education, and some of what he believes are the most exciting examples we can learn from.

Basti’s approach to innovation involves bringing stakeholders to the table, integrating technology that didn’t exist before, and focusing on making it happen. He cautions that while technologies can be enablers, but we need to be purposive on how we use them. Moreover, Basti refers to Charles Leadbeater’s matrix of disruptive innovation (see Leadbeater’s TED talk), which illustrates new modes for user-created innovations by using tools smartly.

Charles Leadbeater’s matrix of disruptive innovation

Who’s leading the way? He is inspired by the work of i.c.stars in Chicago, which uses project-based learning approaches to develop young leaders in communities that are otherwise underserved by mainstream education. He also suggests looking at the Stanford They’re reinventing classrooms, he observed, and helping educators to think beyond static conceptualizations of “education.”

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.


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.