The Future of Learning?

I recently watched The Future of Learning, a production by the international ICT giant Ericsson. In this video, the company is presenting the role information and communication technology plays in our “networked society” by interviewing internationally-known educators to explain how learning has changed from a static/analog environment to one centered around individual needs. Doubtlessly, Ericsson has a business interest in networked education…still the video is illustrating how technology has changed the world we live in and has influenced how we teach and learn.

As technology continues to transform our society, those responsible for our current systems of learning and education are facing overwhelming pressure to adapt. Education technology, connected learning and the rise of the Networked Society is transforming the established concept of learning, teachers’ roles and even the the nature of knowledge itself. (http://www.ericsson.com/thinkingahead/networked_society/learning_ed…)

The video starts with a look at the roots of our education system–the need for “identical people”, be it as soldiers for the military, as assembly line workers during the Industrial Revolution, or as consumers who buy the same things. But today, as is stated in the video, and I agree, the old “structures and strictures of school” no longer apply in a world where information is abundant. “A teacher doesn’t need to give any answers, because answers are everywhere.” Also, students who find an answer for themselves retain information better. The problem is that “education is being very slow to look at data, to look at numbers, to look at analysis and at what is actually happening.” Instead, we rely on tests and exams for data. So, the prediction is, according to the video, that the ability to analyze learning is the next big thing.

Computer-analyzed learning, or “adaptive learning” is introduced by Knewton, a company that offers “personalized education for the world”. While I agree with many of the statements in this video, I strongly disagree with this personalized form of education pushed by Knewton.

Knewton is a technology company that uses data to continuously personalize online learning content for individual students. Knewton analyzes data about the performance of each student and similar students on the platform, as well as the relevance of the educational content, in order to serve up the best activity for each student at a particular moment in time….The platform is continuously adaptive, meaning it responds in real time to each student’s activity on the system and adjusts to provide the most relevant content. The platform refines its recommendations through network effects that harness the power of all the data collected, for all students, to optimize learning for each individual student. (http://www.knewton.com/about/)

My reaction to this segment of the video was decidedly negative. I envisioned little student robots glued to computer screens, surrounded by a glass bubble. Is this what we want the future of learning to be? Is this student-centered learning? Do we want teachers to be replaced by online “substitutes”? If learning is social, where is the social aspect in such an online learning environment? In my last position, I’ve taught online classes, but even then, there was communication via chat rooms, discussion forums, video conferencing, and email. This was at the college level. I am not a proponent of online classes for the K-12 environment. I think for our students it is crucial to be part of the social environment offered by a classroom and school. Social skills are learned! Also, where is the creativity in an online environment? Where is the room to wonder and ask questions? To think outside the box? And are we not learning from mistakes as well?

Individualized/personalized learning is a good thing, but it must not be a student-computer relationship. We must not forget that educational technology is merely a tool to achieve learning. When we are networking it is about connecting with people not with a computer.

I believe computer-enhanced learning offers a great supplement to classroom learning–but should never replace it.  I’m very cynical about profit-driven corporations taking teachers out of the classroom. Especially during the formative years of K-8, learning in a real-time physical community offers children the greatest protection against our system producing “identical people.”

 

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