Education is a Time Machine Aran Levasseur Our system of education is a time machine preparing students for yesterday. It has fallen prey to the rearview mirror syndrome, where familiar objects receding in the mirror appear more real than what is approaching in front of us. As vital as it is to understand our past, yesterday’s maps no longer match the territory emerging before us. As times change we are called to adapt to this new landscape. The San Francisco longshoreman and philosopher, Eric Hoffer, understood this dynamic clearly when he said, “In times of changes learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Universal education was designed to meet the social and economic needs of the industrial revolution. The social, economic and civic realities of today and tomorrow are developing within a digitally networked society. Passive, rote and standardized learning aren’t modeling the kinds of creative and collaborative environments that students will be expected to work in. Yet, while digital tools will become the cornerstone of learning and working environments of tomorrow, they aren’t solely sufficient. Flourishing in the future requires not only facility with digital tools but, perhaps more importantly, being digital, which entails new ways of thinking and communicating. It requires new forms social organization. Technology may be a powerful driver of change, but it is only a more evolved social structure — the ways in which people interact within all facets of society — that can capture the potential of the technology to transform learning and productivity. Nicholas Negroponte, in his prescient book from the ’90s, Being Digital, writes about the power of digital technology to globalize society, decentralize control and flatten organizational hierarchies. He even speculates that digital technology is helping erode the power of the nation-state, which may eventually become an artifact of history. In education, digital technology and 21st century learning have become quite fashionable. Schools that have the resources to integrate digital tools are eager to do so. But digital tools are only the beginning. They are intimations of greater changes to come. Integrating digital tools into an industrial paradigm won’t deliver the innovation that society needs. It will be the novel and creative ways that people interact using technology that will generate the innovation all sectors of our society are looking for. If flattening hierarchies and decentralizing control are previews of coming attractions, then what does that mean for education? Let’s start with the classroom. Flattening hierarchies and decentralizing control would increase autonomy and augment network interaction. A flattened hierarchy would transform the teacher from an omnipotent silo of knowledge to more of a designer, coach and guide. This would enable greater autonomy for students to pursue what intrinsically motivates them within an environment shaped by design thinking and under the guidance of a teacher. Greater network interaction would emphasize collaboration versus individual achievement. With an Internet connection via a smartphone, tablet or laptop, a learning network would be rooted in the local environment but limited only by one’s imagination. Integral to this structural shift is the collapse of departmental walls and cultivation of multidisciplinary thinking. Joichi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, in a New York Times essay stated, “The Internet isn’t really a technology. It’s a belief system, a philosophy about the effectiveness of decentralized, bottom-up innovation. And it’s a philosophy that has begun to change how we think about creativity itself.” Creativity is an exploration of the possible. It is a journey into the unknown that requires embracing uncertainty and failure. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill. We don’t have maps for the territory of tomorrow. As a result, all citizens must become explorers of this emerging world. The best way to prepare for the emergence of the future is to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful. Aran Levasseur has taught outdoor education, science and history. Currently he works with teachers to integrate technology into their classes to enhance their teaching and student learning. Aran also writes about the intersection of technology and education for PBS's Mediashift, and he is a researcher for The Hybrid Reality Institute. When he's not thinking about how the internet is changing the way we think, he listens to reggae music and contemplates the world of wabi-sabi. Thumbnail by Maria Carrasco Rodriguez via Unsplash; 2nd image CC BY-ND 2.0 by dgray_xplane via Flickr Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.