Interviews

Knowmads on Umbrales

Last week, the Peruvian television program “Umbrales” (TV Perú) broadcasted a program on knowmads in Peru and Latin America. I was interviewed along with Cristóbal Cobo and other local and international experts on what the emerging knowmad paradigm means, and what the implications are for countries such as Peru.

The producers were kind enough to upload the complete program to YouTube, broken into four segments (in Spanish): http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlm3adGMhVbrjHpYOexXTm-JKuKZnjU0j

Who’s the best looking kid in an ugly family?

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(Spoiler: It’s Finland.)

I recently did a short interview for the Madrid magazine PLÁCET. Here’s the complete English version of our conversation:

What are the biggest mistakes that education has been committed in the last 50 years in western countries?

I think that it is easy – and very popular – to look at all of the problems in education and all of the mistakes that we’ve made. But, in actuality, our schools do precisely what they are designed to do, and they do it very well: prepare our youth for careers as factory workers and government bureaucrats.

The problem is, we don’t have as many factories as we had in the past. And, we certainly want fewer bureaucrats.

So, I think our biggest mistake has been in asking schools to prepare students for jobs that existed in the past, but have little relevance today or in our foreseeable futures.

Are the politically or economically powerful people the ones who dominate education, and are those who are interested in a well-educated population demanding their rights to design their own future?

I think there’s a real question on whether we can collaborate and build a collective capacity to develop a common education agenda. A lot of self-interest emerges when we approach any change in schools. We have to be willing to have an open and honest discussion what those changes mean to each of us, personally and professionally. Most people learn about education issues during elections, and they are often presented as “wedge” issues that prevent us from taking a long view or creating a shared vision of how we would like to develop our communities for the future.

So, we need to ask ourselves: What are our common goals? Can we agree on who a learner is? What is learning? What is a “positive” future for our community? And, who is the collective “we” making these decisions?

The world is changing faster than ever. What are the demands of the labor market of the near future?

We seem to be in a feedback loop where technological change prompts social change, which in turn demands further technological change, and so on… And, this is occurring at an increasing pace. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what the demands will be. So, we need to start thinking about how we can meet demands that we cannot imagine, yet.

In education, this means that we need to stop teaching what to think and what to know, and instead focus creating students that know how to learn beyond school, and how to develop new skills and competencies.

How will we determine technological innovation in our education, training, and work?

Technologies, so far, help us do things that we’ve been doing already a little bit better. The real game changer will be when we develop intelligence amplification and artificial intelligence technologies that augment (or even replace) our capacities for imagination, creativity, and innovation.

How does globalization affect education?

Whether we like it or not, today’s graduates are competing one-to-one for jobs with alike people around the world. Why hire a (Spanish) teacher in Madrid to teach your child Chinese when you can hire an actual Chinese speaker with greater qualifications from China, utilizing connective technologies such as Skype, for far fewer Euros?

What is Invisible Learning?

Invisible Learning is a recognition 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. It takes into account the impact of technological advances to really enable the invisible spaces to emerge. So, in the Invisible Learning project, Dr. Cristóbal Cobo and I explored a panorama of options for the future development of education that can be relevant today. We did not propose a theory, but sought to blend many ideas together to present a broadened landscape of ideas and perspectives. Because we are still building this paradigm, it is very much in “beta.”

What country is the world leader in education today, with proven results?

That’s like asking, “who’s the best looking kid in an ugly family?” In that case, Finland is the best looking. But, I’m not saying they’re looking beautiful…

What are the keys to happiness that every student (16 – 24 years old) should know to ensure a happy and well-off future?

I don’t know what the keys to happiness are, but today’s students need to prepare for futures where they can work anytime, anywhere, and with just about anybody. I call these people “knowmads.” Moreover, knowmads:

  1. Are not restricted to a specific age.
  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 contextually apply their ideas and expertise 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 and support open access to information, knowledge and expertise from others.
  7. Can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary.
  8. Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations.
  9. Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously.
  10. Are not afraid of failure.

The university of the future: Marching toward obsolescence?

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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).

JM:

  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: http://www.knowmadsociety.com
  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.

Play harder: An interview with Philippe Greier

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

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

The Singularity and schools: An interview with Vernor Vinge

Note: An mp3 of this interview is available for download.

Last week, I spoke with Vernor Vinge [Wikipedia | website], a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics. He is better known as a five-time Hugo Award-winning science fiction author. His works include True Names, Fast Times at Fairmont High, and Rainbows End. Most importantly, his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” argues that accelerating technological change will bring about the end of the human era as we know it, and that the world will become so complex and foreign to human observers, it will be impossible to predict what will happen next.

Ray Kurzweil and others have since contributed to the popularization of the Singularity, but the conversation has been centered on technological determinism. In a world that is consumed by accelerating change, what are the implications for systems that are at risk of being outpaced — namely, human systems? And, what are the implications for how we will learn and work in the near future?

Vinge:

I got this sort of vision where the human workplace is scattered in both space and time, and for a single career, it’s not a merely a matter of changing your career every couple years, it’s a matter of actually changing your point of attention on smaller time scales.

What can science fiction tell us about our future?

According to Vinge, a lot. He helped introduce the cyberpunk genre in the early with his 1981 Novel, true Names. He says, “the technological situation we have now is very similar to what was described in True Names, which actually was implicitly targeted in the year 2014,” but much of that can be attributed to pure luck.

The future authors of the genre have envisioned, he argues, has emerged today as a mix of expected and unexpected dystopian and hopeful elements. Society of today, he believes, has not changed much since the early 1980s. Corporate dominance in government, for example, is still at the same level as it was before, and our views on technology shifted since 1984:

Before the year 1984, people generally looked at computers the way George Orwell did in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 1984, people had these great visions of computers freeing the people from tyrannies, and that is still a real possibility… and it is a possibility that has come true in large parts of the world. But, I would say the jury is still out as to what the ultimate effectiveness of computers and communication automation favors tyranny or favors liberty. I’m putting my bets on liberty, but I would say it’s not an obvious win in either direction.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Singularity was introduced at the NASA VISION-21 Symposium. What’s changed?

I’m still where I was in my 1993 essay that I gave at a NASA meeting, and that is that I define the Technological Singularity as being our developing, through technology, superhuman intelligence — or becoming, ourselves, superhuman intelligent through technology. And, I think calling that the Singularity is actually a very good term in the sense of vast and unknowable change. A qualitatively different sort of change than technological progress in the past.

He still believes four pathways could lead to the development of the Singularity by 2030:

  1. The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent.
  2. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  3. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
  4. Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

When asked which one is more likely, he hinted that he sees a digital Gaia of networks plus people emerging:

The networked sum of all the embedded microprocessors in all our devices becomes a kind of digital Gaia. That qualifies, as an ensemble, as a superhuman entity. That is probably the weirdest of all possibilities because, if anything, it looks like animism. And, sometimes I point to it when I want to make the issue that this can be very strange. I think that actually the networking of embedded microprocessors is going like gangbusters. The network that is the Internet plus humanity, that is also going with extraordinarily surprises, if you just look at the successes in the various schemes that go by names like crowdsourcing. To me, those have been astounding, and should give people real pause with how to use the intellectual resources actually that we have out there. So far, we do not have a single computer that is really of human-level intelligence, and I think that is going to happen. But, it is a kind of an amazing thing that we have an installed base of seven billion of these devices out there.

What does this mean for schools?

Vinge believes talking about post-Singularity situations in education are impractical. In theory, is impossible for us to predict or comprehend what will happen, so we should not focus our attention on worrying about post-Singularity futures. Rather, we should focus on the ramp-up toward the Singularity, our unique talents, and how we can network together to utilize them in imaginative ways:

Talking about the run-up to the Singularity makes sense for several different reasons. One is, we have to get through it. The other is that it is our opportunity, as the chief players… it’s our opportunity to make things turn out safely and happily. In the meantime, at just the level of just getting one’s job done, I think there are real changes that are going to be happening in education and more broadly in training issues. I think one thing that is going to become more-and-more evident is the fact that we have seven billion people out there who are variously good … very good … at different things. And, there are ways of enhancing and amplifying that by collaboration. And, when I say “collaboration” […] it is a very good thing. But, if you look at some of the group mind projects and crowdsourcing projects, there is very great imagination that can be exercised in making collaboration effective. One thing is to interface people who have very different skills — that can actually be helped a lot by the network.

When dealing with unknown futures, it remains unknown how to prepare people best for these futures. He states that the best pathway involves teaching children “to learn how to learn” (a key theme in Fast Times at Fairmont High), and that we need to encourage the development of positive futures by attending to diversity in our learning systems. We need to not facilitate the formation of diverse students, but we also need to abandon a monoculture approach to education and attend to a diverse ecology of options in teaching and evaluation.

Most importantly, to meet the individual needs of students, he believes, we need to focus on “shifting the emphasis from intense attention to process and having the process of the teaching right … shifting that attention to having independent rating agencies that are not so much interested in process as they are in giving reliable rating information to people who have to judge the results of the money that is being spent on the education.”

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 d.school. They’re reinventing classrooms, he observed, and helping educators to think beyond static conceptualizations of “education.”

Building enclaves of entrepreneurship education through pirate-like thinking

On Tuesday, I stopped by the NEXT Berlin 2012 conference at STATION-Berlin to meet up with young innovators in the European education sphere. I had the pleasure of chatting with Inês Silva, co-founder of the Startup Pirates, a one-week startup school that works with various communities around the planet. Headquartered in Portugal, the Startup Pirates work to:

[…] help and foster new ventures that are going to be game-changers, capable of breaking the rules set in their markets. This way, we are creating an inspiring and informal environment, together with a great curricular plan and fantastic experts on the subjects. We expect to open minds and to provide the tools to come up with, and to develop some awesome ideas.

Watch my interview with Inês, where I ask her to describe what Startup Pirates works to achieve, and what the implications are for formal education:

Leadership and Entrepreneurship: "Knowmads challenge all structures"

De Baak‘s Ralph Blom wrote up a short interview with me for last month’s issue of Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

My favorite bit:

What skills are needed in a society 3.0?

“Because everybody is in it together it is not bounded by a specific generation. Nobody has done this before, there are no role models. We all have to co-create this together. Knowmads are highly engaged, creative, innovative, collaborative and highly motivated. They adapt fast in new situations and contextualize ideas due to situations. So schools need to find out how we can learn skills in motivation, creative orientation, being friendly, and an ungoing mindset on always keep up with technologies. All of us have to learn to share without geographical limitation. We have to create global footprints, go beyond the small communities and learn how to engage people all over the world in open and flat knowledge networks. A big cultural mindshift is needed, we have to start thinking that learning is everywhere, always and naturally. It is quit normal that even the biggest leader says: “Can you help me learn that?”. The most successful entrepreneurs do it all the time: “I don’t know how to do this. I have this idea. I want to get it to the next level. Can you help figure this out?” Innovation will not come from software and new technologies. It’s about mindware. That is our imagination, our creativity.”

Read the full interview on De Baak’s website.

Whose crazy idea is it anyway?

As the 21st century digital revolution continues to disrupt the economy, and the traditional knowledge claim held by experts of the 20th century is making way for a global entrepreneurial mindset, (university) education finds itself on the verge of its most radical transformations since the industrial revolution. Whose Crazy Idea Is It Anyway is an academic endeavor that has the ambition to set the agenda in the educational landscape of the coming decade.

The work conference takes a specific angle to tackle the education issue: the (presumed) tension between entrepreneurial and academic values. Where do these values overlap and when do they contradict each other? What kinds of learning environments can start to emerge when both these worlds join forces? And how can these new learning networks be equipped to address urgent societal issues?

Following a “Yes – No – What the F*ck” intermission exercise facilitated by the Knowmads business school in Amsterdam, I gave a keynote talk that centered on invisible learning, and how higher education can contribute toward building Knowmad Society.

Later, I chatted with Andrew Keen on how we might foster entrepreneurship and expressions of innovation in higher education. Unfortunately, the studio lighting couldn’t mask my jet lag and emerging head cold:

Other interesting interviews:

Parag Khanna

Zoltan Acs

Thieu Besselink

Hrobjartur Arnason