prosumers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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: 3D printing, 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.