The next big thing

I think many people over forty have a problem with technology and the older you are the more technology seems difficult to understand. We always seem to be playing catch up as the NBT ( next big thing) hits the market. New and converging technologies appear and we often feel powerless in the face of the tsunami of technological innovation. We look at the shiny new device and note immediately that  it is smaller and much faster than its predecessors; does more things or claims; looks sexier and is relatively cheap. How can any of us keep up with this relentless innovation and development cycle?

Spare a thought then for schools.  They face an enormous challenge in providing the most appropriate technologies for students and teachers. The struggle to stay current is taxing and exhausting and the probability of poor decision making is high. For the past twenty years school leaders have struggled with the challenges of providing a range of ICT tools for their learning communities.

But is this where we should be focussing all of our energies?

Over the Christmas break, I read Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. This is a warts and all account of his life and achievements and well worth the read. One thing really struck me though as I read the book and it was something that Jobs himself came to understand in the early part of this century. He had spent his entire life pushing the boundaries of technologies – the relentless quest to build a better computer and a successful company – Apple.

In early 2000 Jobs decided to delete the word “computers” from the company name because he realized that Apple was not in fact, a technology company, it was a “lifestyle” company. Apple technologies had begun to revolutionise the way people live work and play. iTunes, iPhoto. iMovie and most importantly iTunes were reshaping the music, movie and the publishing industries. The old ways were gone and vanished quickly. All the technology did was to enable this change to take place.

If you want further evidence of this seismic shift pay attention to car advertisements. You can now personalise your car, it can match your moods or the “other you” as one car company claims. The car is incidental, it is the lifestyle that is more important. Notice how other tech companies like Apple and ACER are dropping the direct reference to computers in their names. The technology has become invisible – it’s how you use it that is significant.

And the ones who really understand the shift that has taken place are young people. Technology has allowed them to live their lives very differently to previous generations.  Technology allows them to express who they are, how they learn and how they communicate.

Before the arrival of Facebook, Twitter and IM, school was the place to socialise while learning.  What is school to young people today, does it offer the same level of opportunities and engagement for self-expression and independent learning?  Do young people see school as an integral part of their lives or is there an alternative? And is school just another aspect of their lifestyle?

As we prepare for another school year, perhaps we need to be thinking about making schooling the next big thing for today’s learners.

6 thoughts on “The next big thing

  1. It seems to me that the challenge of keeping up with the pace of change (eg in our jobs, our use of technology, our methods of communication) is biggest for the largest institutions (whether that’s a company or an organisation like the educaton system). And the ‘dragging anchors’ that slow that change have disproportionate weight. For example, the assessment system will act as a dragging anchor that will slow down the changes in the what/why/how of learning.

    I think the challenge is how to make the ‘education within the system’ the ‘next big thing’, because looking at the amount of learning that’s going on around us all the time, then I think it’s clear that ‘education’ is already the next big thing. For evidence, look at the success of self-help videos on YouTube, self-driven learning programmes and books. And for evidence that education is the next big thing in Sydney, take a ride on the metro through Sydney’s CBD and count how many platform adverts there are for education services compared to other products & services – it’s almost 50% of the adverts at the central stations.

    1. Ray, thanks for the comment. I agree. We have to be committed to changing the nature of our schooling; and our understanding of education. Now that learning has been ‘democratised, globalised and connected’ as you point out. We cannot ignore the pressures to change. This of course causes a degree of angst but I personally believe this isn’t an option but a necessity in 2012.

  2. Not sure about the ‘over 40’ thing, Greg.

    Baby Boomers have grown up with technology, having B&W TV since 1956 and an ever increasing range of technologies every year. Many are very savvy. In my experience there are many young people (under 40s) who struggle with technology. Recently, I was a little shocked at post-graduate students, in their early 20s, who were not very savvy at all. I do not think it is age-related issue but more to do with attitudes towards learning and purpose/need. My 5 and 8 yo are, of course, in a different situation to someone born in the last century as they are growing up with wireless, iPhones, iPads and PS3s etc but I suspect there will still be far too many in their generation who struggle with the ever-changing nature of technology too.

    BTW I am 43 😉

    1. Agree with you Darcy just picked a decade to make a point. The issue is not age at all, it is about inquiry and how you want to live your life.The kids today have a different environment from past generations and respond accordingly. This doesn’t however mean that they’ll be more ICT savvy, only that they’ll be less inhibited and open to play with the technology and thus learn. Good to be back in touch

  3. Apple aims to remove the underlying technology from the task the individual is trying to achieve. This they achieve to varying degrees depending on the platform better than most. This coupled with nice design, great user interfaces and a fanatical following has provided a great success.

    I think the lesson is clear for anyone implementing solutions in that the task at hand is the important factor and the how, why and by what is irrelevant. As long as the task can be achieved by all users including those users who consider themselves “Luddites” without much if any prior understanding of the technology involved then that should be the most important measurement.


    Darren Hofler

  4. I’m reflecting back on the Year 6 graduation speeches made by students over the last 5 years and they all comment on two things significant teachers over the years and friendships they have made which = key relationships.

    Sure they use social technology (face book etc) to continue building those relationships but they start for most through the face to face experiences. Increasingly I see school as having a significant role in strengthening the skills, values and attitudes of people to build and maintain these relationships. This is what ask all teachers to focus on at the start of each year building relationships that enable classroom learning communities to add value to each students learning.

    Ray is right to mention anchors – but perhaps that where leadership come in to provide perspective on the relative merits and priorities for 21st century learning. Just a thought.

    Hope Christmas was good for you Greg.


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