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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

#OpportunityValley – and what we haven’t learned from 30 years of digital counterculture

This week, Hugo Pardo Kuklinski released Opportunity Valley. Lecciones <aún> no aprendidas de treinta años de contracultura digital, a text (in Spanish) that asks the question: What lessons have the previous three decades of digital counterculture taught us?

#OpportunityValley es el territorio de opciones que tienen empresas, instituciones y personas si toman las lecciones apropiadas de lo que ha enseñado treinta años de desarrollo y consolidación de la contracultura digital a nivel mundial. Muchos entornos y ciudades de Iberoamérica utilizan el xValley para posicionarse como ciudades o entornos innovadores a través del diseño de polos tecnológicos o emprendimientos digitales. Más que aprender de la consolidada cultura digital y emular algún aspecto del paradigma del Valle del Silicio californiano, estos entornos bajo la denominación xValley o sin ella, resultan más en inversión o especulación inmobiliaria, marketing político de ciudad, organización de eventos, comunidades de geeks y poco más.

The book tracks the birth of digital (counter)culture in California, but extends the “so what” social implications to global contexts – particularly Latin America. Pardo discusses perspectives from the lenses of labor (esp. knowmadic workers), professional networks, new learning architectures, DIY culture, and collaborative consumption, among others.

If you do not yet understand where and how to move in the digital world – or – if your company is repeating old practices from the previous century – or – if you have a thousand ideas in your head that you cannot sort out how to implement, you may find this text useful, with guidelines on how to learn from the experiences of others. We can find pathways to transform ourselves and the environments in which we live. Change yourself before you are forced to do so by others: Welcome to #OpportunityValley.

Opportunity Valley is available on the iTunes AppStore, Android, and as a PDF at the official website: http://opportunityvalley.net

Rise of the Knowmads: John Moravec at TEDxUMN

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers –creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. The jobs associated with 21st century knowledge and innovation workers have become much less specific concerning task and place, but require more value-generative applications of what they know. The office as we know it is gone. Schools and other learning spaces will follow next.

Watch John Moravec’s introduction to Knowmad Society at TEDxUMN, and read the book, Knowmad Society at http://www.knowmadsociety.com

Knowmad Society released – and it is beautiful!

I am very pleased to share that the print edition of Knowmad Society is in press, and it is beautiful!

Knowmad Society cover-print-smallYou can read it now at http://www.knowmadsociety.com – the book is available in print, PDF, iOS, and Kindle editions. If you enjoyed a free copy of the book, please consider purchasing a printed copy. It helps us recover our costs, and, as I can’t say enough: It is beautiful.

Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in a world driven by accelerating change, value networks, and the rise of knowmads.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers: Creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. The jobs associated with 21st century knowledge and innovation workers have become much less specific concerning task and place, but require more value-generative applications of what they know. The office as we know it is gone. Schools and other learning spaces will follow next.

In this book, nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work. Educational and organizational implications are uncovered, experiences are shared, and the contributors explore what it’s going to take for individuals, organizations, and nations to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Coda: In producing the print edition, Martine Eyzenga took charge of the creative layout of the interior, and the cover was illustrated by Symen Veenstra. Thank you to everybody who provided feedback while the book was available in its “preview” format – you provided critical peer review.

Nine key characteristics of knowmads in Society 3.0

A knowmad is what I have previously termed a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Moreover, knowmads are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas the industrialization of Society 1.0 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 in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.

In Invisible Learning, Cristóbal Cobo and I presented a “passport of skills for a knowmad” (p. 57). Refining the list a bit, I am pleased to present an update with nine key characteristics of knowmads in Society 3.0:

Knowmads…

  1. Are not restricted to a specific age. (see note, below)
  2. Build their personal knowledge through explicit information gathering and tacit experiences, and leverage their personal knowledge to produce new ideas.
  3. Are able to apply their ideas and expertise contextually in various social and organizational configurations.
  4. Are highly motivated to collaborate, and are natural networkers, navigating new organizations, cultures, and societies.
  5. Purposively use new technologies to help them solve problems and transcend geographical limitations.
  6. Are open to sharing what they know, and invite the open access to information, knowledge and expertise from others.
  7. Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously, and can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary.
  8. Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations.
  9. Are not afraid of failure — and see their failures as learning opportunities.

The remixing of places and social relationships is also impacting education. Students in Knowmad Society should learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. But there is little evidence to support any claim that education systems are moving toward a knowmad-enabled paradigm. When we compare the list of skills required of knowmads to the outcomes of mainstream education, I wonder: What are we educating for? Are we educating to create factory workers and bureaucrats? Or, are we educating to create innovators, capable of leveraging their imagination and creativity?

These questions –and more– will be explored further in the book Knowmad Society, which will be released later this year.


Note: Due to current social structures that limit participation in the new society (i.e., access to pooled health insurance), the largest growth in knowmadic workers today are among youth and older workers.

The impact of NCLB in the workplace

This year, Minnesota 2020 has released some exciting critiques of the state of education in Minnesota and nationally. And, by “exciting,” I mean sometimes scathing critiques … with a glimmer of hope. At the top of their hit list (and rightfully so) is No Child Left Behind. This morning, they blogged:

Last fall, the prestigious publication Education Week hosted an on-line chat about the federal No Child Left Behind law. One of the panelists was David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Ellen Solek of East Haddam, Conn., asked if Figlio was aware “of any current research that has, or is being conducted that determines correlation (if any) between K-12 student test scores, accountability, and future success in the workplace?”

This is a magnificent question because it goes to the heart of NCLB and how it relates to every Minnesotan. The question is simple: What difference does NCLB make?

Figlio doesn’t really have an answer. First, he says this: “It’s too early to know about the effects of accountability on workplace success.” Then he says “there have been a number of studies that have linked K-12 test scores to labor market outcomes as adults,” but then adds “these papers use data that are decades old, however.”

This is a great question: Does the government’s vision of education output products that are meaningful in today’s workforce? My hunch is that research will show that NCLB is failing to produce workers of the caliber the United States needs. NCLB is great at producing automatons that can parrot back responses required for tests (or make great assembly line workers), but not creatives that will power our growing imagination- and innovation-driven economy. Who will hire graduates from the NCLB generation?

No burger flippers left behind

About an hour ago, Maya Frost tweeted something utterly disturbing:

Not So Global: Share of US public elementary schools teaching foreign language classes drops by 40% in last decade http://tinyurl.com/ak4at9

From the linked article (via Public School Insights):

The share of U.S. public elementary schools teaching foreign language has fallen by almost 40% over the last decade. You know–the decade when 9/11, globalization, and growing diversity at home fueled calls for greater knowledge of other languages and cultures.

Education Week published these disheartening preliminary results of a new survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). The full results will be available in autumn.

My fear is that is a part of a widening trend where the U.S. education system is failing to meet the needs of the workforce. If graduates from U.S. public institutions cannot function in a global, intercultural environment, what employment hopes do they have? A low level role at McDonald’s?

2020 skills forecast for the European Union

Europe

Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, supplied a comprehensive assessment of Europe’s skills requirements up to 2020 to the European Council.  In the study, they identified six employment trends leading to the year 2020 horizon:

  1. Services sector still expanding: Europe continues to shift away from manufacturing and agricultural industries
  2. Around 20 million new jobs in Europe by 2020 despite the loss of well over 3 million jobs in the primary sector and almost 0.8 million in manufacturing
  3. Workforce shortages by 2020: based on demographic developments, there will be an increase in retirees and a decrease in the working-age population
  4. High and medium-skilled occupations on the rise as will the demand for the number of lower-level jobs (such as agricultural workers and clerks)
  5. Polarization of jobs as high and low-level occupations increase: “Skill supply as an important push factor on the demand side of the labour market, however, raises concern. Are people’s skills adequately valued? Do the skills provided match those required? Are people overqualified carrying out jobs that could be done by people with lower educational attainment?” (p. 11)
  6. Increase in qualification levels: The growth of skilled occupations require an increase for qualified workers.  Fewer jobs will become available to workers with few qualifications.

From these trends, Cedefop generated a set of policy implications, most notably:

Based on these findings, overall demand for skills is likely to continue to rise. For Europe to remain competitive, policy needs to ensure that the workforce can adapt to these requirements. Europe needs a strategy to satisfy the demands of the service-oriented knowledge-intensive economy. Continuing training and lifelong learning must contribute to a process that enables people to adjust their skills constantly to on-going structural labour market change.

The young generation entering the labour market in the next decade cannot fulfil all the labour market skill needs. This has implications for education and training. Lifelong learning is paramount. It requires implementing a consistent and ambitious strategy that reduces the flow of early school leavers and drop-outs, establishes a comprehensive skills plan for adults/adult learning and which increases the supply of people trained in science and technology.

[…]

Labour market and other social policy measures need to be more flexible for those needing to change their job. Alongside flexicurity measures, Europe must make proposals to maximise the employment potential of its workforce. Bringing more women into the labour market and longer working lives are crucial and unavoidable measures for Europe’s sustainable future.

How to balance work with personal and family lives? Reconciling the work-life balance in the context of social policy agenda and corporate social responsibility is a challenge for the coming years. (pp. 14-15)

[View the report in its entirity here.]

Bill Gates on keeping America competitive

An editorial by Bill Gates appears in today’s Washington Post. He argues that if the U.S. continues to fail to produce the skilled talent it needs to succeed in an innovation economy, the country should import knowledge and innovation workers:

To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools [as High Tech High] and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.

American competitiveness also requires immigration reforms that reflect the importance of highly skilled foreign-born employees. Demand for specialized technical skills has long exceeded the supply of native-born workers with advanced degrees, and scientists and engineers from other countries fill this gap.

Read the full editorial…