students

Building a manifesto for evolving learning

What? Why? And, for whom?

We separate kids by age and grade, we manage schools in a top-down style, we operate within industrial hours, and teachers hold absolute power and authority over students — these are part of a structure in education around the world that is not backed by research. We’ve assumed that if we don’t tell kids what to learn, they will not learn anything at all.

This is absurd!

We’ve lost touch with WHAT we are educating for, WHY we do it, and FOR WHOM this is all intended to benefit.

On January 1st of this year, I released a statement that started a conversation. It is about principles for building positive education futures by evolving learning. The document is called “Manifesto 15” – a public declaration of a vision for education futures. After I completed a draft, I invited others to join in reviewing, editing, and to also add their names as co-authors. We are a group of 33 scholars, teachers, artists, designers, thinkers, and medical doctors. In the last three months since its release, it’s been read and discussed by thousands of people; signed by many; and volunteers translated it into 18 languages!

What we have learned so far:

  1. “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” (William Gibson in Gladstone, 1999). The field of education lags considerably behind most other industries largely from our tendency to look backward, but not forward. We teach the history of literature, for example, but not the future of writing. We teach historically important mathematical concepts, but do not engage in creating new maths needed to build the future. Moreover, everything “revolutionary” taking place in learning has already happened at different scales, in bits and pieces, at different places. The full impacts for ourselves and our organizations will be realized when we develop the courage to learn from each others’ experiences, and accept the risk and responsibility in applying a futures orientation in our praxis.
  2. 1.0 schools cannot teach 3.0 kids. We need to redefine and build a clear understanding of what we are educating for, why we do it, and for whomour educational systems serve. Mainstream compulsory schooling is based on an outdated, 18th century model for creating citizens with the potential to become loyal, productive factory workers and bureaucrats. In the post-industrial era, this should no longer be the end goal of education. We need to support learners to become innovators, capable of leveraging their own imagination and creativity to realize new outcomes for society. We do this because today’s challenges cannot be solved through old thinking. And, we are all co-responsible for creating futures with positive outcomes that benefit all people in the world.
  3. Kids are people, too. All students must be treated and respected as human beings with recognized, universal human rights and responsibilities. This means students must have an active say in the choices regarding their learning, including how their schools are run, how and when they learn, and all other areas of everyday life. This is inclusion in a real sense. Students of all ages must be afforded liberties to pursue educational opportunities and approaches for learning that are appropriate for them, as long as their decisions do not infringe on the liberties of others to do the same (adapted from EUDEC, 2005).
  4. The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. We need to embrace flat, horizontalized, and distributed approaches to learning, including peer learning and peer teaching, and empower students to realize the authentic practice of these modes. Educators must create space to allow students to determine if, and when, to jump off the cliff. Failing is a natural part of learning where we can always try again. In a flat learning environment, the teacher’s role is to help make sure the learner makes a well-balanced decision. Failing is okay, but the creation of failures is not.
  5. Don’t value what we measure, measure what we value. In our obsession over testing, we have somehow allowed the OECD to become the “world’s ministry of education” through the PISA regime, and the cult of educational measurement is spreading throughout the world. At a national, state-to-state level, it is as if we are competing to be the best-looking kid in a humdrum family. Even worse, our schools are producing politicians and policy leaders that do not know how to interpret test scores. The best innovations are often killed the moment we start worrying about measurement. We need to put an end to compulsory testing and reinvest these resources into educational initiatives that create authentic value and opportunities for growth.
  6. If “technology” is the answer, what was the question? We seem to obsess over new technologies while having little understanding of what they’re for or how they can impact learning. Technologies are great for doing what we have been doing better, but using new technologies to do the same old stuff in the classroom is a lost opportunity. Black boards have been replaced by whiteboards and SMART Boards. Books have been replaced by iPads. This is like building a nuclear plant to power a horse cart. Yet, nothing has changed, and we still focus tremendous resources on these tools, and squander our opportunities to exploit their potential to transform what we learn and how we do it. By recreating practices of the past with technologies, schools focus more on managing hardware and software rather than developing students’ mindware and the purposive use of these tools.
  7. Digital skills are invisible, and so should technologies be in schools. 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 (Cobo & Moravec, 2011). It takes into account the impact of technological advances to really enable the invisible spaces to emerge – but, like the spaces, the use of technologies is likewise invisible and fluid. If the challenge for our schools and governments is to create students that stand out in creativity and innovation, and not students that mindlessly memorize and repeat old ideas, any use of technologies for learning must enable these creative and innovative directions. Schools should not use computers to “do work” around preassigned parameters with prescribed outcomes; they should be used to help design and create products and learning outcomes that extend beyond the imagination of the curriculum. Rather than putting technology in the forefront and obscuring learning, make it invisible yet ambient, enabling learners to discover their own pathways for development with these tools.
  8. We cannot manage knowledge. 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 informationKnowledge 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.
  9. “The network is the learning” (Siemens, 2007). The emerging pedagogy of this century isn’t carefully planned. Rather, it’s developed fluidly. Our traversals across networks are our pathways to learning, and as the network expands, so does our learning. In connectivist approaches to learning, we connect our individual knowledges together to create new understandings. We share our experiences, and create new (social) knowledge as a result. We must center on the ability of individuals to navigate this space and make connections on their own, discovering how their unique knowledge and talents can be contextualized to solve new problems.
  10. The future belongs to nerds, geeks, makers, dreamers, and knowmads. While not everybody will or should become an entrepreneur, those who do not develop entrepreneurial skills are at a great disadvantage. Our education systems should focus on the development of entreprenerds: individuals who leverage their specialized knowledge to dream, create, make, explore, learn and promote entrepreneurial, cultural, or social endeavors, taking risks and enjoying the process as much as the final outcome, without fearing the potential failures or mistakes that the journey includes.
  11. Break the rules, but understand why, clearly, first. Our school systems are built on cultures of obedience, enforced compliance, and complacency. The creativities of students, staff, and our institutions are inherently stultified. It is easier to be told what to think than to think ourselves. Openly asking questions, and building a metacognitive awareness of what we have created and what we would like to do about it, can best cure this institutionalized malaise. Only then can we engineer justified breaks from the system that challenge the status quo and have the potential to create real impact.
  12. We must and can build cultures of trust in our schools and communities. As long as our education systems continue to be based on fear, anxiety, and distrust, challenges to all of the above will continue. In the Minnevate! project (MASA, 2014), the researchers found that if educators are to build a collective capacity to transform education, we need engaged communities, and we also need to engage with the communities we serve. This requires a new theory of action, centered on trust, where students, schools, governments, businesses, parents, and communities may engage in collaborative initiatives to co-create new education futures.

(Read the full text and add your signature to Manifesto 15 here).

I’m thankful for the interest and success of this project; and, I traveled to TEDxUFM in Guatemala to share what I learned so far. In just a few months, we find ourselves driving a new global conversation on learning.

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Three months later, the conversation on evolving learning continues. Manifesto 15 is a set of principles, built for open discussion, remixing, and sharing.

And, here’s the best part: This is a conversation we all own.

Take this document as a starting point, building in your own ideas. Or create a new manifesto of your life. We learned that we can build a collective capacity to evolve learning, but this requires a tremendous amount of trust from all of us to realize our visions. And, we need to challenge the assumptions our learning systems are built on. We need to understand why, how, what, and for whom we are educating.

While we may not be able to predict the future with precision, we can at least set the vision for the type of potential futures we can create with others. And, from this, we can take meaningful action today. Manifesto 15 is not a mirror to the past, but it is a prism that takes a diverse spectrum of ideas and melds them into a coherent vision. We’ve set our vision.

Mahatma Gandhi is credited for teaching us: “Be the change you want to see.” Our invitation remains open to join us and build community, centered on trust and open dialogue, as we work to change the face of education – the absurdity ends now.

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Report from Peru: Growing a Knowmad Society in Latin America

During the week of September 21, I was invited by the Peruvian Ministry of Education and IPAE (Instituto Peruano de Administración de Empresas) to conduct a workshop on education in Knowmad Society and deliver a keynote at the Encuentro Nacional de Jóvenes Innovadores (“ENJi” – the national encounter of youth innovators). The outcomes were stunning.

Dr. Cristóbal Cobo and I first teamed up for the workshop at MinEdu, which was constructed as a localization of our “Sociedad Knowmad” workshop series. The workshop offered government officials frameworks for the formulation of relevant policies and legislation for achieving goals set by the Ministry, while embracing “umbrella” concepts such as Invisible Learning and Knowmad Society. Over the two days, we engaged in conceptual dialogue, thinking forward activities, policy roadmapping, and a World Café session on building innovative futures in for Peruvian education.

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Cristóbal and I again teamed up with our complementary keynotes for the 400 young innovators at ENJi. Focusing on our work on the Invisible Learning project as a starting point, Cristóbal talked about incorporating the creative process into our work and learning by developing soft skills (i.e., interest, curiosity, reflection, unlearning) to create new value for ourselves, our organizations, and our communities. In my talk, I emphasized the value of nonconformity in the interest of pursuing what we truly love, and how this relates to knowmadic work. Our talks intersected on the development of “entreprenerds,” people who dream, create, make, explore, learn and promote businesses or social endeavors, taking risks and enjoying the process as much as the final outcome, without fearing the potential failures or mistakes that this journey includes. (Incidentally, “entreprenerd” is the topic of our next collaborative project.)

Image by IPAE

What really amazed me was the extent to which the knowmad concept is catching on in Peru – as well as elsewhere through Latin America. IPAE pulled out all the stops to give the knowmad “brand” a successful presence: signage, bags, t-shirts, badges, and so on. Not to mention an aggressive television and print media campaign. As for the impact, #knowmad was a trending topic in Twitter at the national level. It was an honor to witness so much visibility for the idea as it develops into a movement.

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At the closing panel discussion at ENJi, I asked the audience, “starting tomorrow, who’s going to take action to make Knowmad Society a reality in Peru?” A number of hands raised, and there were some great responses with specific actions. One stood out, however: Daniel Navarrete (@danielitohead) announced that he is creating a new group called “Mundo Knowmad” to support and help co-lead the creation of new knowmadic possibilities in Latin America. Great! Two days later, I joined them for their first meeting in Lima:

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For more information on Mundo Knowmad, please get in touch with Daniel and join his Facebook group.

This was a great conference, and we had a great time. I’d like to give special thanks to Maite Vizcarra, Lorena Sánchez, and Roberto Esparza with IPAE and to the team at PromPeru for their generosity and for being such great hosts!

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.

What I'm watching: Dustin Haisler on disrupting education

From TEDxLivermore:

Dustin Haisler shares his experience from the front edge, in an age of hyper-connectivity and rapid innovation, the pace of which is fundamentally shifting. Every minute of the day, 30 hrs of video are uploaded to YouTube alone. As we move from consumption-based learning to consumer-based learning (on our computers, on our phones, and on our ipads) we are seeing the rise of a new crowd. Dustin’s basic premise is that people are creation machines. People, even teenagers, are harnessing the power of rapid innovation, gamification, crowd-sourcing, and connectivity that allows them to quickly move from idea to prototype. What is the role of education in this new era? Dustin feels that education aimed at providing children the tools, the right environment, expertise and mentoring will unleash a whole new generation of creators.

Dustin Haisler, President of KlabLab, has developed collaborative approaches for discovering the relevant questions, and creative solutions, from within a community itself, be it student or citizens. At KlabLab, he launched The Sound of Knowledge Tour 2012, which brought a mobile recording studio to schools, where students could write, perform and record their own songs. As CIO and assistant City Manager of Manor, Texas, Dustin launched Manor Lab, an online civic engagement platform. His background is disrupting banking, disrupting government, disrupting private business, and now disrupting education. These experiences have revealed the explosive pace of change when a community is unleashed.

For more information on Dustin see www.dustinhaisler.com.

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.

We need to challenge our basic assumptions of motivation in schools

Marcel Kampman (who is busy work on a brilliant design for the print edition of Knowmad Society) forwarded this KQED/MindShift article on Dan Pink’s approach to selling love of learning to students.

Having just awoken, I fired off a quick response from my iPad:

Why do we keep thinking that motivation needs to be driven externally? If we don’t tell kids what to learn, they won’t learn anything?

And, Marcel immediately sent a much more brilliant reaction:

I agree.

Intrinsic motivation by curiosity – and doing things fearlessly, but of course, not unafraid, wanting to find out how things work, go, etc. has always been my motor that brought me to places I have never been before. External factors influenced my path of course, like walls I bump into, and then continue another way with even more energy than before the hit. A bit like Pong, but with the difference knowing that there is always a second or a third wall that bounces you back, unlike the game where you can miss and die. Reality always has a safety net you only learn to know about when you sometimes miss the the first wall, either by accident or choice. When you’re little you never think about “failing.” Failing is succeeding – you win that you learn. When you’ve grown up, you have learned that succeeding = “not failing,” and with that you learn nothing. Then, repetition = success, not trying something new, but something known = success. Best practises dictate everything and do not allow for new practices that require risk and the willingness to fail. Same is boring. New is energy. The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have when someone will push you off the cliff. Then, you never have the same conscious experience — you’re just making sure you survive and land safely.

Should it be any surprise then that the vast majority of what we learn comes from outside formal schooling experiences?

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.

Hartkamp: "Children are like slaves of the modern age"

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Editor’s note: This provocative commentary originally appeared in Heb jij iets geleerd vandaag? – Een Sudbury school perspectief op leren, a blog by Sudbury schools in the Netherlands. We present it translated into English from the original Dutch, and with updates by the original author.

Children: Like slaves in the modern age

by Dr. Christel Hartkamp, staff member at De Kampanje Sudbury school in The Netherlands

Foreword: In the Netherlands, by law, all children must attend a by state approved school in the ages between 5 and 18. Home schooling is not allowed. Parents, who keep their children home, are criminally accused. During the trial of the Dutch Sudbury schools (private schools), the verdict of the Council of state that Sudbury schools are no schools, makes clear that there is no Freedom of Education in the Netherlands, and that there is one vision on education prevailing: The State-Pedagogy. Parents from the Sudbury schools now face criminal prosecution. With this background, the following article was written. Note that: “I do not have the intention to hurt or being rude to a particular cultural, political or religious group or people in general, in using the word ‘slave’.”

Slavery in the modern Western world has long been abolished. A slave, as I want to refer to in this article, is “a person who is forced to work for another against his will” (World English Dictionary).

A girl of 8 years old in our Sudbury school replied lately to the question what the difference was between her previous traditional school and our Sudbury school: “At my previous school, I felt like a slave. Here I feel free. I feel like a lion that has broken loose.”

My opinion is that children are treated like slaves in our modern times. And very subtle, this form of slavery is unfolding before our eyes, but nobody sees it. Even parents don’t recognize that their children are being enslaved by the state education system.

The Netherlands has an estimated 2.5 million children of school age, who are forced every day to go to school where they are required to work. All this we accept because we are told that it is for their own good, and then it is apparently not so bad.

Some of the reasons I heard for forcing a child into this situation are that they have to get used to accept some sort of labor later in life (conformism). But one forgets that as an adult, you have the choice to stay in a situation you don’t like, there is nobody forcing you from outside – it is truly your own choice. A child does not have the choice to leave school, it is forced to remain in a situation that is unnatural, it’s like being in prison. When the child gets sick of the situation and stays home, and as a result of stress and pressure, has become depressed, apathetic, tired of life: then the attendance officer of the municipality threatens with a big stick: with an order for truancy and / or with a complaint with Child Protective Services. A child (and often also the parents) are stuck, they are literally driven into a trap. This situation cannot be healthy in a “free democratic society”. Children are indeed not without reason sick from school; nature has ensured that certain defense mechanisms start to work when a person is placed in unnatural conditions of long lasting pressure or stress. It is a defense mechanism of the body and the mind.

There were two types of illnesses that manifested only in slaves: Drapetomanie (the tendency to flee) and Dysaethesia Aethiopica (a state of apathy, totally immune for impulses from outside).

Don’t we see the same diseases in our youth today? Is ADHD not a modern kind of Drapetomanie or Dysaethesia Aethiopica? Or what about Hikikimori, and what about demotivation, lack of concentration, apathy, ADD? I don’t want to say that these are equivalents to those diseases, but they might be equivalent in the effect of the circumstances children are facing today.

We were impressed when this student of 8 years said: “At my previous school, I felt like a slave. Here I feel free. I feel like a lion that is loose.” It was her first week in our school. After the weekend her mother told us, “I have my own daughter back again”. A Sudburyschool is a special place where children are regarded as full human beings, who are treated with respect and trust, and with the same rights as everyone else in the school. Several students have said: “There is no stress” and “Here you are not bullied.” The basis for a good development is a safe environment free from stress. An environment where you have influence in those things that are important to you. That is living in a direct democracy, living with your own choices, living with the consequences of your choices.

Any form of unsolicited or imposed interference, patronizing, guidance, assessment or observation is a violation of the right to individual freedom and make your own choices. The right to be treated as a fully-fledged human being. Children are not treated as slaves in a Sudbury school!

Notes and resources

‘School Is A Prison!’ – Psychologist Dr. Peter Gray Interviewed on Freedomain Radio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_DJAZ-ByV0

Hikikomori (literally “pulling inward, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal”) is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. In other countries there is another designation such as social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder, agoraphobia, burnout or depression.