Revolution or Evolution?

I’m a big fan of “Learning Without Frontiers.”  I believe Graham Brown-Martin, et. al. is interested in a learning revolution not evolution.  And if that’s the case, count me in.  Disintermediation and disruption.  In fact his latest blog posting [See - I don't think Graham really cares if you watch the whole excerpt from 'The Matrix" – fast forward to the pill scene] lays out a case for this very position.

I believe we agree that changing corporate learning and school-based instruction will require more than pilot programs all based on some version of what currently passes for learning delivery methodology.

It’s only a revolution that will fundamentally redress the debilitating arthritis in learning.  But for such a massive change, many elements must come together at the right time and place.  Is this the time?  I believe this is our ‘Sputnick’ moment-and we’ll have to act quickly before it get’s weighted and watered down.

Let’s inventory what we have before us:

1. Leadership: Firstly, individuals who will ensure the philosophical foundation is solid.  They are followed by learning politicos who will carry the vision of what can be to the masses.  Then practitioners who will align the practical with the realistic by which the revolution will be carried out and perhaps most vitally, the mentors who will work with learners to maximize their capacity for individual growth while providing a baseline of knowledge, skills and behaviors we as a society require.

2. Attitudes: In “Learning Without Frontiers” (the blog, website, conferences) we know revolutionaries are gathering in places around the globe.  Realizing that mere adjustments to the learning process have yielded the usual results – with few exceptions – we are growing tired of tweaking the system rather than disrupting the system at its core.  Moreover, from acolytes like Guy Kawasaki to Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson to Daniel Pink’s anointing Karl Fisch’s teaching technique ‘Flip Thinking,”, there is a ready movement expressed in these attitudes of change.  And I would be remiss if did not call to the fore Steve Jobs recognized for his vision and creations – products that enabled a dissembling of information as well as recreation and have instigated changes everywhere.  Here is a fine tweak that for all its unassailability is only a riff on what is, in a limited way for a limited few)

But that’s not this:

3. Tools: From YouTube videos to gaming, tablets to the simplicity of interconnection, the awakening won’t lack for methods of communication.  Students of history – and warfare – will agree that without the ability to deliver messages and receive replies in a timely way, all necessary actions are in either jeopardy or collapse.  Look at today’s young learners and then at the GenX and Millenials in the workforce.  They are linked by their amiability using technology – no anxiety there for they never knew a world without it.

4. Situation: This country and most of the world is approaching a tipping point where not only the educational status quo is unacceptable, but trying to massage it into something that passes for learning but with better tools (more computers) socialization structures (class size) or physical spaces (schools that reflect a new social/technology order) is only putting a shine over rust.  Because the conventional economics of learning – organizational or school – come with a growing price tag, a plummeting ROI and still sliding economy, they will cross each other on the graph.  It would be fair to ask, what now?  By then however, it’s too late.  Sort of like climate change.

My argument about schools is the same as when I was a 21-year old neophyte art teacher.  Schools are not working and cannot be fixed incrementally — tear them down.  Start fresh.  Same in corporate training; if we turn out even the most exciting learning using the most interactive and compelling technologies, it will pale before one :30 second television commercial.  No, let’s not make better commercials (not that we could afford the production costs), instead let’s do something completely different.

And that could be this:  Provide a technology toolkit and ensure users are capable of using their new ‘pencils’; set up the problems to be solved, provide a mentor to guide, probe and question and let kids and adults have at it.  Each learner will first attempt to resolve problems usually working within their own learning styles (thanks Howard “Well-Ahead-of-My-Time”) Gardner, individually or collaboratively, in or out of a place called a “school” or a “learning conference center.”  By the way, that’s not to say we abandon goals and objectives, nor vital content, just utilize different tools and walk through a different door. See #1.

And the term for this approach?  One I believe will cause less hand wringing.  I suggest “decentralized” learning. Each individual or collaboration is a producer of content, policies, rules, methods, devices, models, visuals, video, and audio in order to resolve, explain, and defend a solution from a problems designed to integrate both historical, present-day and future revelations of what might be.  When put that way it seems straightforward, almost simplistic.  Of course, it’s not and will challenge both students and adults to solve problems and learn on occasion to work as teams.

Welcome back to the 60’s – where the “The Whole Earth Catalog,” Stewart Brand, Marshall McLuhan, and his flock predicted this would come to be.  Moreover, they based their thinking on the technology of what today would be a joke; a Sony black and white camera with no monitor, a separate tape deck, and little ability to edit.  But when I loaned the two I had for kids to take home and experiment, magic started to happen.  I can only imagine what lies ahead if we have the courage to take on this challenge. It’s said that in architecture, every act of construction begins with an act of destruction.  Think about it – whether tearing down a seedy motel or digging up empty land for a new firehouse, it’s the same.  Why don’t we have the determination to carry that analogy into the realm of education—tear it down—and build it up?

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