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Cheating the death of imagination: Teaching the unknowable

The idea of a Technological Singularity has been discussed and debated intensely since the early 1990s. Coined by Vernor Vinge and popularized by Ray Kurzweil, the idea is that as technologies evolve, technologies improve, costs decrease; and, in turn, the process of technological evolution advances and speeds itself up, creating a J-curve of exponential, accelerating change. Eventually, the J-curve hits an inflection point, and change begins to occur at timescales that seem nearly instantaneous. This is the Technological Singularity.

At Education Futures, in our work to help guide governments and organizations, we’ve looked hard at what this means to humans and human systems – in particular with regard to how we will learn and work in the future. In this frame, the Technological Singularity also represents the point at which change occurs so rapidly that the human mind cannot imagine what will happen next. Moreover, technological change facilitates social change (and vice-versa). We need to prepare for rapidly-occurring, intense periods of social, cultural, and economic transformation.

The Technological Singularity represents the limit of human imagination.

It is important to note that the J-curve of accelerating change is graphed independently of scale. There is not a standard measurement of change, and there is no measurement of time. We can look at illustrative examples for correlates, such as the growth of microprocessor computing power under Moore’s Law, but the idea of a Technological Singularity is subjective to the human experience.

Herein lies the rub: We are all very different. We have differing abilities to cope with change, to imagine new futures, to communicate, to solve problems, use resources wisely, and so forth. We cannot expect to experience ‘the’ Technological Singularity together. Rather, we should prepare to experience many individual singularities, as individuals, groups, and as a society. Depending on who we are and the contexts in which we are placed, we will hit the limits of our imagination – our singularities – at different times and under different circumstances. Industries are transforming (and disappearing!) at different rates and at different times, communities are shifting at independent and co-dependent paces, and individuals and families are under increasing pressure to stay relevant.

Humans are not afraid of change, but we fear the unknown. When we hit the limits of our imaginations, we push back toward the knowable, often with very ugly consequences. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the state-sponsored fake news phenomenon, and the rise of slavery advocate Roy Moore in Alabama – all inconceivable a decade ago – serve as examples that humans are prone to a retreat toward bigotry, ignorance, and hate when confronted with uncertainty. Like the followers of Ned Ludd worked to sabotage the industrial movement in the 19th century, these socially regressive Neo-Luddites subvert technological change to regress society toward an imagined past, no matter how horrible, that presents themselves with a sense of certainty.

A community cannot progress technologically while sabotaging itself socially. While our singularities may be unavoidable, we can at least learn how to cope with them by learning to embrace the unknown. This, at the forefront, requires a tremendous amount of imagination and creativity from all of us.

Our schools, which are designed to prepare youth for static futures, need to be urgently repurposed to prepare all of society for the unknowable. Imagination, creativity, and innovation, together with support for greater agency and self-efficacy must underpin serious efforts to achieve meaningful outcomes for all learners. We must balance core content knowledge with soft skills such as simulational thinking, knowledge production, technology, intercultural communication, critical and multi-paradigmatic thinking, focused imagination, developed intuition, emotional intelligence, and systems design.

Are you ready to take the dive into teaching and learning for the unknowable? Continue on with our series on invisible learning:

 

Invisible learning: The (r)evolution outside of the classroom

Who gets to decide what kids learn? For whose benefit is all this, really? We make learning visible for the people who get to decide. But, what if we could invisibilize learning?

Dr. John Moravec share that 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. Learning becomes invisible when we empower each of us to learn our own way. 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. This talk was given at TEDxUCundinamarca in Colombia using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Dr. Moravec is an internationally-recognized scholar and speaker on the future of education and work, lead author of Knowmad Society, and the founder of Minneapolis-based Education Futures LLC. For a full bio, visit John’s personal page at john.moravec.us/about.

Moravec presents “A theory for invisible learning”

Education Futures founder, Dr. John Moravec, presented A theory for invisible learning during his keynote at the IDEC@EUDEC conference in Mikkeli, Finland on June 9, 2016.

His address to the conference was based on an update and rethink of the work he and Dr. Cristóbal Cobo published in their book Aprendizaje Invisible (“Invisible Learning”). Says Moravec:

A lot has changed since we wrote the book in 2011, and we need a formal theory for invisible learning more than ever. We seem to have gotten a bit hung up on technology. It’s not about computers. It’s about connecting with ourselves as humans, embracing the human experience, and trusting in each other to learn.

He further emphasizes:

Invisible learning is about placing trust in learners and shifting the flow of power from the top-down to the learner-out. By removing the rigidity of top-down control, and placing trust in learners, invisible learning can be made visible.

To date, hundreds of thousands of copies of the book Aprendizaje Invisible have been distributed. The text has become essential reading for educational change makers in the Spanish-speaking world. The book is available as a free download at aprendizajeinvisible.com.

Slides from John Moravec’s talk:

(Download as PDF)

More:

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

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

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

Invisible Learning preview

As Cristóbal Cobo and I are working on wrapping up the Invisible Learning book, promotion for the volume is already starting to appear. Although we anticipate its release in February, 2011, we’ve been giving a few talks on the topic, and thought I’d share some of the slides I’ve been using as a teaser:

This book is the product of the Invisible Learning project, which since its inception, we have called for the identification of areas of learning that have been neglected or otherwise not visible, and incorporate them into a broader meta-theory –or, a proto-paradigm— which we call Invisible Learning. Throughout this new book, we review research studies by thought leaders and the World Bank, OECD, and other institutions. In particular, we look into the invisibility of technologies and the formation of digital skills within the perspective of educational policy and practice. We tie this into the Society 1.0 – Society 3.0 framework, and also introduce some tools (i.e., normative forecasting) that can help build education that’s relevant for the future.

Finally, we discuss Invisible Learning from the perspectives of other authors and contributors to the project. Our approach is to generate a “source code” for an open dialogue between formal learning and learning that knows no time and space limitations. More than anything, Invisible Learning is an invitation, and we look forward to broadening the conversation in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned!

Knowmads' Western Asia Summer Course

The Knowmads (NL) are launching an interesting social entrepreneurship experience in Western Asia. I’m sharing their release in its entirety because I believe this is a worthwhile learning and praxis opportunity for developing Knowmads:

Theme: Social Entrepreneurship
This summer course is all about experiencing the Knowmads way of working. We will work with you, in a team of minimal 15 and maximum 25 internationals, on a project in Israel and/or Palestine. The project we are going to create will connect to youth, community and entrepreneurship and will have an impact for you, for the community and for the world. We call it a win-win-win project.

The 4 weeks
The project takes in total four weeks. In the first week we will get to know each other and investigate each other’s talents. By doing this we create a team that will really rock the boat. The second week we will start with creative and innovative idea development for the project. The third and fourth week we will work together on the project and make the things happen planned in the first two weeks.

Who are we looking for?
We are looking for outstanding, creative and highly motivated young people willing to undertake an entrepreneurial challenge. There is not a specific or ideal type of candidate for this course. You have to be willing to work with your head, heart and hands.

What does it cost?
The price of the course is Euro 2000,-. This is inclusive all the material, travelling in Israel/Palestine and housing. This price is exclusive travelling to (and from) Tel Aviv, food and drinks.

Why to choose Knowmads Summer Course?

  • The course is a highly specialised programme, with a strong focus on a real life case.
  • There are networking opportunities with entrepreneurs / companies / municipalities / NGO’s, also after the programme
  • You have the chance for transferring successful ideas to your own country.
  • You can challenge yourself and be coached in this
  • There is didactic quality guaranteed by Knowmads; 3?6 Knowmads will facilitate the course.
  • You will work in an International atmosphere in a truly multicultural environment.

How to sign up?

  • Apply before the 24th of June 2010.
  • Before the 26th of June we will confirm your registration; we will only start our course with a minimum of 15 applicants.

Practicalities

  • The spoken and written language of the course is English
  • During the course we will work six days a week
  • The tuition fee needs to be paid before the 10th of July. We will provide details later.

Info: send an e-mail to Pieter@knowmads.nl or call 00 31 6 814 90 700.

The value of invisible learning

In the past two months since the announcement of the Invisible Learning project, we have received a tremendous response in Twitter and the blogosphere. (Interestingly, most of the discussion originates from Latin America and Spain — and less from the United States and Canada.)

Much of the recent conversation has been on defining what is invisible learning, and whether we need invisible learning in an already crowded ecosystem of ideas. For example, in a comment posted at Blog Nodes Ele, Juan M. Fernández wrote:

Están bien todas estas propuestas pero por momentos tengo la sensación de que están cayendo en una retórica autocomplaciente y poco práctica. ¿Dialogan entre ellas o prefieren ignorarse? ¿No ha llegado el momento de tomar alguna de estas propuestas y desarrollarla?

He is right. Nobody should get self-congratulatory about adding new ideas or terminologies to an already crowded ecology of conceptualizations. What I feel is important, however, is how we approach the interconnectedness and blending of many of the key ideas and concepts that, to a great extent, were isolated. This is why invisible learning is valuable:

Invisible learning includes not only non-formal and informal education, but also addresses the need to recognize, understand and leverage the essential meta space between non-formal/informal education and formal education. Moreover, as Cristóbal Cobo points out, invisible learning is also inclusive of new social and cultural interfaces within this new paradigm of learning (i.e., edupunk). This means that we do not need to rely on new technologies to teach old ideas, but rather we can fuel new learning by tapping into our inherent imagination, creativity and innovation capacities that thrive in invisible learning’s spectrum of possibilities.

Games in the Classroom 6: cultural modeling and education beyond abstraction

Do kids just naturally get it? Are they just good at games, computers, phones, and all things digital?

My experience and common sense says no, although I wish it were a general truth.

Do kids need to learn about games in school?

Yes, if we want to guide them in optimal usage, and maybe learn something from them.

This post looks at formal and informal learning and begins to make connections between what is done in school: formal learning and what is done out of school: informal. The importance of this inquiry is to look at how we can recruit these informal processes to create leverage and development in formal learning situations. What is generally true for informal learning is that the learners are learning spontaneously and then moving to the next experience. This spontaneous learning is often thought to be tacit, or below the conscious awareness. One may be able to do a thing, but may not be able to describe the process they created, much less know a name for it. Conversely, in classroom, or formal learning experiences, we hope that students are being guided through learning experiences with structured reflection to give the process and elements of the process a formal name: like reading is a process.

There are four pieces to this post:

  1. Are the kids just born with gaming skills?
  2. Should we teach with them? Games as embodied informal models of scientific reasoning and the role of play.
  3. Why we should recruit culturally relevant knowledge like games and other out of school experiences?
  4. What happens when we honor the culture, language, and experience outside of the classroom by bringing it into the classroom to connect with formal academic culture, language, and experience?
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Video Games in the Classroom (part two)

To do is to be

To be is to do

So Do We?

It is just good teaching

Games taught me that modeling environments and taking on the roles are powerful ways to teach and learn.

Piaget talked about roles as assimilation. You try on the role and see what part of the character is you.

Gibson talked about environment and context, with affordances and constraints. What the world gives you for advice, warning, limitation, and opportunity.

These ideas are present in embodiment and how we might contextualize our curriculum as an activity system.

One of the big lessons from games is design. Good learning is by design. A teacher, like a game designer creates the environment where we learn.

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