One size never did fit all. We are moving away from a monolithic, lecturer-led model of education that fed students to a process designed primarily in service of business; toward a student-centered process that leads us to our highest individual potential, in a direction, and at a pace, that best suits individual intelligence. It’s never too late to learn. The context can no longer be K-12 or even K-20. The context must now be K-success.
In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen boldly predicts that by 2024 80% of all classes will be led, via the Internet, by remote and recorded instruction. The technical advances will facilitate student-centered models.
The former model was formulaic, and attempted to fit us to the form business, industry, and society expects to exploit. If the student fits, they are in. If the student doesn’t get it, they are out. Millions are left out. They literally drop out of school or are sent to their careers with little, if anything, to show for their time in the system.
Here’s the promise for what’s ahead. Students in classrooms designed to better support the learning curves of individuals will be busy working in teams, with the assistance of facilitated networks, at their own pace. Those who grasp their subjects quickly will either move on or help others. Some will create and post screencasts to help their friends. In areas that are challenging, students may move more slowly. Because of pause-and-repeat software, different views of information, and access to varied approaches including creative interventions, every child will have a higher probability of success. Educators have known for hundreds of years that we learn in different ways. We just didn’t have the time or resources to accommodate. Now, there is a potential to leverage student data and ready content in unprecedented ways.
What’s driving student-centered models didn’t start in the schools. Every attempt to change the culture from the inside out has failed. What is driving change, pushing the envelope, is pressure from the Internet, the ultimate facilitated network. A few decades ago the collective knowledge of humans was only available in print. Today, anyone can access information with a touch or click.
We are embedded in the Internet of things, and the Internet of things is watching and learning. What we watch on television, the Internet sites we visit, our purchases, test scores, social media, and so on is of interest to someone; and they have designed algorithms to mine and manage data about us for their own purposes. Even when we don’t consciously record our lives, others are doing it for (to) us through tagging, posting images, and mentioning us online. Corporations, governments, and each other are tracking and recording every scrap of information available, applying incredibly powerful computation to our footprints, and coming up with plans for our future. Billions are spent on harvesting data and mining it to see if we are terrorists or ready to purchase an automobile or open a line of credit. Do we have an equivalent effort in education? Not really. As the reader will discover in Volume Two, as educational data mining is discussed, progress is being made but adoption is slow.
What exactly might person-centered education look like? Imagine a digital avatar that understands your strengths and weaknesses, skills and desires, and has been with you since you were born – first as an advocate to your parents encouraging ‘language dance’, proper nutrition, and letting them know about shots and checkups; and then as a playmate and school chum pushing games and after-school learning activities, playing the role of intelligent tutor, encouraging you, letting you know on a daily basis where you are succeeding and making sure you have fun.
Later in life your avatar will help you manage your digital footprint, celebrate your accomplishments, and interface with other avatars on your behalf. Late in life, the avatar will monitor the sensors and digital instruments, and provide the tools that allow you to be independent longer. It will hold and analyze your medical data.
Behind the avatar will be the ever smarter, smartest computers on the planet, a machine that will, in the span of your lifetime, gain capacity at an exponential rate to be able to process literally 100 times the total archive of the current library of congress, every minute, then every twenty seconds, then every ten seconds and so on.
That sounds like a wild futuristic sci-fi dream to many but it’s not that far from reality. Your digital ID, a space in the machine, could know virtually everything you want it to know and much of what you don’t, within a few years.
Humans are learning more of the potential of the Internet, every day – and the Internet is learning about us. Technologist Kevin Kelly, cofounder of Wired Magazine, defines technology as a metaphoric organism, the one, the system, technium, and sometimes the machine.
We will be learned by the machine whether we like it or not, and it is our job, literally the job of educators if they’re up to the task, to ensure that what the system learns about us is not only of benefit to corporations, politicians, and criminals. Beginning immediately, we should engage in data-driven student-centered algorithms capable of servicing us not just while in school, but for a lifetime.
Let’s build the ‘conscience’ of the machine, embrace it as a life-long partner in learning, and change outcomes and impact or millions. Society needs a better way. Our educators need a better way. The time to start is now and the place to accelerate this process is at the margins of the educational system.