Another revolution?

The Third Industrial Revolution is underway – manufacturing is going digital.  A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in The Economist revealing manufacturers of the future will focus on mass customisation – tailoring products to our individual needs and specifications.   The revolution will not only affect how things are made – but where, and, importantly – the skills set required to deliver products to the hands of the consumer. This is yet another example of how our future workforce will be required to constantly shift to meet the needs of an ever-evolving economy.

As The Economist’s Paul Markillie reflects, with the revolution firmly underway it is timely for us to consider how we will capitalise on the opportunities this digital revolution presents in order to prepare all students for work in today’s world.  As educators, how do we ensure schooling remains relevant and reflective of the changes happening in the world?  More importantly, how can we respond to trends that have not yet evolved? And how do we deliver ‘mass education’ in order to meet individual needs?

The demand for tools that enable mass personalisation of education is evident in the success of researchers like Ramona Pierson who have made it their core focus to provide educators across the globe with tools to tailor instruction to meet the needs of students and teachers.  It evolves the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to teaching into a differentiated approach that adjusts content and instruction to ensure every student’s voice is heard through tools which focus on the elements of:

–    Real-time assessment;
–    Simplifying lesson planning;
–    Connecting with diverse learners – supporting visual, auditory and kinaesthetic instruction in individual, group and whole-class learning environments;
–    Encouraging participation via an interactive environment;
–    Providing the structure, tools and resources the whole class needs for success while providing individual guidance to students and small groups as they work to overcome challenges

I believe that combining this approach with a focus on refining online teaching access, open content, real time web delivery, independent course-wear provision and virtual learning environments will provide schools with great opportunities to ensure learning not only meets the needs of every student but is in sync with what is happening in today’s world.

These avenues by their nature exponentially build on accessibility. Students who may be based in remote and regional locations now have the greatest level of access to information and support that they have ever had. Retention of students in the education system who are geographically challenged will vastly improve over coming decades as we integrate these tools into all elements of our lives – and also enables the broader population to embrace life-long learning.

Delivery of content using today’s tools also enables niche course delivery – none of us are confined to 9-3pm learning. The opportunity to deliver a course relevant to hundreds of students across Australia that may have only been sought by a handful of students within an individual school means students are better able to ensure their schooling experience is customised to meet their future goals. It also provides a tailored support and like-minded network for each student to tap into – broadening horizons and perspectives beyond local geography.

I came across a relevant quote by Seymour Papert in his essay Education’s 19th Century Thinking in a 21st Century world:

The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill – the one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn. It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught in school, but to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught in school.  We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.

How will instruction adapt to this “megachange” if we’re not using all the available things that the technology hands out? Demonstrating that education is now as much about partnerships, innovation and engagement as about the traditional training grounds, the New York Times has enjoyed significant success with its New York Times Knowledge Network. The network offers a wide range of distinctive adult and continuing education opportunities, including online courses, programs and Webcasts.  Also tapping into the revolution are Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The universities have announced a new non-profit partnership – known as edX – to offer free online courses from both universities.

Technology for online education, with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and student-paced learning, is evolving so quickly that those in the new ventures say the offerings are still experimental. The new platforms present dual opportunities – to build a global community of online learners and to research teaching methods and technologies. Additionally, the barriers to education which define people’s ability to mould their futures will be broken down.

How will educational leaders become active drivers and leaders of this ever-shifting environment to ensure our students enjoy the greatest of these opportunities?

3 thoughts on “Another revolution?

  1. I agree with everything you have said. What I would like to add is that educators both inside and outside of the classroom have been excited and inspired to use 21st C tools with quality pedagogy and 21st C thinking. However, too many of them have encountered ‘failures’ which have disillusioned them and often led them to return to the ‘tried and true’ methods.

    As societal expectations and behaviours plus technological innovation have moved on, in schools we have emphasised technology integration often with outdated thinking and poor pedagogy. We have all watched as the tool became centre stage instead of the improvement of student outcomes and the increased ability to learn how to learn and create new knowledge. With this concentration of effort we have achieved progress in maintaining networks and machines.

    But where is the ongoing personal support for both leaders and individual teachers to innovate and update. Money has gone into the tools and professional learning. But ongoing support has been sadly lacking. Those who have succeeded in moving into 21st C thinking and learning have either had their own support networks or have an affinity for innovative ideas and actions. We need to help the rest or there will continue to be insignificant changes in student learning. The students are the ones who are missing out here. But the lack of ongoing personal support structures is failing our teachers and leaders.

    1. Sandra, I can’t disagree with your comments but I do think there’s always another way of looking at things. I find the answers to your questions often exist in the wisdom of the crowd and the networks I’m part of. It’s a 20th century way of working that continues to seek external support. The answers are not found by an external support structures but sustained innovation of doing things differently. I’m really energised by the changes I see in teacher practice: professionals working together to solve their own problems and empowering each other.

      We’ve changed our centralised approach by aiming to encourage innovation at the grassroots. This brings new challenges about rethinking the work of leaders and resource allocation but we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking we can’t or won’t change things because of a lack of external supports.

      1. Once again I agree with your comments. Great things are happening. But not everywhere. And that is what concerns me. We have pockets of excellence. These pockets are expanding but not fast enough. Online and peer networks, personal learning communities, social and professional networks are all means by which innovation can be sustained. We live in a thrilling time. Communication is easy and exceptionally fast. Lots of ideas spark with a great deal of energy and excitement this way. Students are benefiting hugely and generally they are part of this process.

        Yet there are many who have not yet switched into this mode of thinking or working. It is those for whom personal support/mentoring/motivation is needed to help kick start them into the 21st C. I know this is an ‘old’ method. But new processes can be used to make it more effective while modelling new methodologies and new thinking.

        Once these teachers and sometimes leaders have gained the confidence, changed their way of thinking and mainstreamed innovation, then those supports are no longer required. (Peer coaching is one such method that has a proven track record for producing these results.) But these processes cost and budgets are tight. So some teachers pay lip service to 21st C thinking, continue in their ‘old’ ways and students miss out.

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