Published on 2012/02/24

Technology Harnesses Promise Of Tomorrow

Technology Harnesses Promise Of Tomorrow
Technological advances have the capacity to expand and unify the lifelong learning experience for students. Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

I think stating that education is broken and that we need to fix it by throwing money and technology on it is probably a natural but not necessarily thought-through reaction.

Sure, the education system could need a refreshment, but I won’t say that it is generally broken. It still does a good job in teaching the essential skills from literacy to arts. If we added some meaningful new technology to the mix and streamline some processes it should be fine.

The real problem lies in what the education system cannot do (anymore) which is to guarantee its students a job after they finished. This social contract is increasingly broken for a variety of reasons from outsourcing jobs to replacing humans with machines and robots. And even a college or university degree does not guarantee that you will be able to earn your money back one day.

Also, due to its linear curricula education is not able to adapt fast enough to the changes in society that happen at increased pace nowadays. No one can predict what the work place will look like in 10 or even 5 years from now, so there is basically no way for schools to prepare our children for the environment they’ll be faced with after they will have finished school or college.

What we need to embrace is the fact that the world flipped and that today a lot of important skills children and teens need for their future career are being adopted and learned in an informal setting, plus we as a society need to constantly learn and adapt in order to stay on top of the changes that occur around us and have an effect on our lives.

It’s what we can see already now with the flipped classroom model where kids learn the basics at home, watching videos of the Khan Academy and then focus on deepening this knowledge in school with their real life teacher.

Up to now, it was nearly impossible for us to keep track of all the skills we learned and the knowledge we gained in informal learning settings. Hence, there was no way to prove what one knows to a future employer for instance but by taking a standardized test of some sort. But those tests which would provide you with a certification of some sort have always been attached to a regular school setting.

Today’s personal technology like smart phones provides us with the possibility to keep track of everything we do. Database infrastructures are strong enough to keep up with an ever increasing stream of data. What we need to do is to develop ways to sort all this information and data sets and add it into a system I call the Knowledge Graph.

In the startup world we already see this trend of employers who are more interested in what you have built than what your degree is (if you have one at all). Showing a working prototype of some sort is more important than a number on a paper which is frankly just a snap shot of one moment in time – the day and hour you took the final exam.

The big picture is your blog archive, how many articles did you write over the past years before you applied for the job as writer for a popular tech media outlet. How many apps did you publish on the iTunes Store before you applied for the job as new lead developer at Zynga? How many recipe videos did you upload to YouTube before you applied for the job as chef in the new restaurant (that will still take some time, though)? But I recently became a fan of a YouTube channel called “FoodWishes”. Chef John has kept posting recipe videos for over 3 years now and in a lot of videos you will see the comment “When will you open a restaurant?” which generally receives a lot of likes as well.

We all know that a well-rounded person has a variety of interests that are the foundation of how this man or woman performs in the job setting. Today, we technically have the possibility to take data from check-ins (museums, theater, opera, events), purchases (books, films, documentaries), reads (blogs, news websites, forums) and so on already to combine them and put everything into a bigger picture.

That does not mean that every employer needed to know what sites I visit in particular but if those places are tagged by art, science, politics etc., one would come up with a very clear graph of a person’s interests, abilities, capacities and knowledge that is easy to understand and delivers more than some numbers on paper.

I believe, this is the focus we need in order to prepare our children for the future, adding iPads to the classroom is just the usual replacement cycle, only this time we don’t switch from one book to another book. That’s what makes it so different in the first place. If we took the chance and started tracking learning related data with those devices it would change everything.

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