Learning Technologies and the Educational Revolution

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In his TED Talks segment, Bring on the Learning Revolution!, Ken Robinson issued a call to action for an educational revolution.  Robinson argues our current educational system dislocates people from their natural talents. Robinson warned that, as a society, we are so set in our ways that we must “disenthrall” our “hypnotized” minds from the way education currently is, and, how it has always been.  He cautions that any attempts toward educational reform – without disenthrallment from old mindsets – would simply be an effort to repair a portrait already broken beyond repair.

Is Ken Robinson right?  Is an educational revolution well overdue?  Robinson supports his position by pointing to three traditional misconceptions about education that could inhibit and constrain innovation during implementation of integrating learning technologies into K-12 and post-secondary education.  This post is an attempt to explore three misconceptions Robinson identified and consider whether or not they are rooted in the traditional, and prevalent, objectivist learning theory .

Misconception #1: Education should be linear move along a clear path toward completion.

In 1995, Dorothy E. Leidner and Sirkka L. Javenpaa appeared to predict the time would come when there would be cries for education revolution.  At that time, the two researchers wrote that, while post-secondary educators were focused on acquiring and creating new knowledge — they obviously were not in pursuit of new knowledge for themselves.

According to Leidner and Sirkka, the University of Maryland created a new electric classroom and Harvard’s Business School created a cloud computing and communication semantic network in one of their dormitories n the late 1990s.  But, the two researchers infer the installation of the new technology was only for show. Leidner and Javenpaa infer neither quantitative or qualitative data was collected to determine the impacts of the two “experiments” on teaching, learning or student behaviors.  As such, Leidner and Javenpaa infer the two “experiments”, therefore, represent the missed opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of information technology integration into everyday college life and instruction several decades ago. Further, considering that the primary mode of instruction in colleges and universities to this day remains the traditional linear wise old sage engaging eager young students in one-way dialogues (the objectivist model of learning), one might tend to agree with the two researchers’ position that the only lasting impressions from University of Maryland and Harvard Business School experiments are the state-of-the-art” facilities:  “impressive yet intimidating (Leidner & Javanpaa, 1995, p. 266).

This research and its conclusion appears to support Robinson’s point that America’s linear education system’s defined starting point and ending point is more aligned with manufacturing or industrial conveyors. Robinson used the K-12 and undergraduate through graduate educational models to evidence that education’s objective and linear model has the sole purpose of moving people through a tunnel toward graduate school. Robinson argues this causes people to get “batched” into those that make it and those who won’t.  He warns that such a system “chokes” the life out of learning because it limits aspirations.

 

Misconception #2: Standardized tests measure learner’s aptitude and ability to learn.

What is intelligence? Howard Gardner theories “intelligence” can be many things.  In his groundbreaking book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence, Gardner argues the constructivist model of learning that, while it is important to celebrate the intelligence of students who excel in mathematics, language and sciences, it is just as important for educators to celebrate students the intelligence of learners that excel as musical prodigies, athletes with superior physical control and balance, artists able to envision and create masterpieces, environmentalists who walk as one with nature, or complex thinkers able to think themselves out of bad situations – then turn the situation to their advantage. Gardner classifies these abilities as innate intelligence that should also be respected and considered as indicators of a learner’s aptitude for learning as well.  Gardner advocates that short-answer performance assessments, not multiple choice questions, should be used for intelligence assessments because short answers essays better reflect the workings of the mind, measurements of episodic memory, which research indicates is a more appropriate benchmark for determining a learner’s “linguistic, logical, aesthetic, or social performance” recall (Checkley 1997).  As such, Gardner argues intelligence comes in many shapes and forms and that all capabilities should be considered before judgments are made about whether someone is intelligent or not (Gardner, 1983).

In his studies, Lev Vygotsky argues against using standardized testing to pigeon-hold a people, which creates judgments about their development potential that can follow them the rest of their lives.  Vygotsky advocates that educators should understand that a child begins learning the moment they come into the world, long before they step into a classroom, and will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. Therefore, Vygotsky’s position is, the role of teacher/instructor is to assess a learner’s “zone of proximity”, or level of development at the point at which they are encountered, then to help that student create a map that will help him/her navigate toward the reality they envision for themselves in the future.  Vygotsky argues, when done properly, the student will become an active participant in their development as opposed to accepted a life of delayed development because of judgments made about them based on standardized test score (Vygotsky, 1978)

Similarly, Robinson railed against standardized testing.  His position is that such test represent the “conformity” that defines public education today.  Gardner compared standardized testing and curricula to fast food chains. He said that learners are expected to “eat” from the standard fare offered then leave. Gardner concluded, if American students continue to digest standardized education like they do fast food, both their bodies and their minds will become “impoverished” and their true potential will never be realized.

Misconception #3: “If you want to be successful in life, you must finish to college.”

During her TED Talk, Blending Technology and Classroom LearningJessie Woolley-Wilson predicted America will soon be able to say goodbye to education by ZIP Code or street sign. Woolley-Wilson identifies “blended learning” model as an example of how learning technologies are affording the ability to educate all children, wherever they are. Woolley-Wilson states the increased integration in the classroom is being driven by three external trends. First, changing economics have resulted in states cutting their education budgets almost across the board. This is requiring school districts and teachers to find ways to do more with less.  Computer-based instruction enables teachers to reach multiple students at multiple campuses simultaneously at no additional cost. This trends makes leveraging technology in the classroom almost a must in some districts. Second, advances in adaptive learning technologies is rapidly helping students learn the way they learn best. Virtual manipulative learning tools gather information each time a student responds to a question, such as the right and wrong answers, then automatically makes adjustments to progressively move the student toward mastering core objectives at their own pace. Such technologies put the student in the driver’s seat and makes them the architect of their learning experience. (Woolley-Wilson, 2017). Finally, blended learning technologies creates a platform for creativity and innovation. Today’s students are tech savvy digital natives accustomed to instantaneous responses and reactions. Research has proven that today’s digital learning games and instructional software platforms move as rapidly as the students, which can make learning enjoyable and fun, which often equals more time on task.  Because of these trends and others, Woolley-Wilson argues that technology is blurring the walls that made a good education geographically restricted to a privileged few and that is a good thing and few could argue that better education youth are more likely to become successful and productive workers.

In addition, in his TED Talk, Robinson used a quote from W.B. Yeats’ “The Cloths of Heaven” to warn that we must tread carefully upon the dreams our children place beneath our feet.  Robinson made the point that civilized human communities thrive upon diversity both in abilities and talents. The quote should make one consider that the jobs available to the next generation probably do not exist today.

Conclusions

The above things considered, it appears that Robinson’s revolution is near. But, to ensure a smooth transition, Robinson warns education should stop focusing on conformity  and begin functioning similar to the principles of agriculture.  Robinson challenged the education system to become organic. Robinson used an analogy that compared people to fruit. Different students have different abilities and interests. Therefore, different students need different things to grow and prosper.  Robinson warned that, if the current educational system does not evolve to feed the spirit, it the crop will not receive the nurturing it needs to grow.  Robinson further warns, if America’s education does not heed this call,  it could find itself falling further and further behind other civilized societies.

I, myself, am a proponent of the social constructivism, or sociocultural model of learning. I do believe that educators should understand, and accept, that learners learn differently, that intuitive instructional design should be adaptive and flexible enough to accommodate differentiation and personalization, and that instructors should be more coach leading learners toward stated learning objectives than lecturer. But, educators must also understand, and accept, that race does matter. Whenever we meet anyone, we must stop to take into account that their perspectives have been influenced by their  environment. Expecting that individual to simply forget everything they have learned and experienced so that they can conform to our definitions of reality is just not – well – realistic.

Consequently, and based on my experience, I feel that the best model for teaching anyone anything is to ensure that an honest, respectful and emphatic ear is listening to what we say to determine if it is the truth according to where they live and who they are.  Otherwise, our lectures and other communicative actions might sound good to us, but, the information will go into one of their ears and right out of the other.

References

Blending technology and classroom learning: Jessie Woolley-Wilson at TEDxRainier. (2012, December 17). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://youtu.be/o0TbaHimigw

Bring on the Learning Revolution! | Ken Robinson | TED Talks. (2015, September 15). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/kFMZrEABdw4

Checkley, K. (1997, September). Educational Leadership:Teaching for Multiple Intelligences:The First Seven. . . and the Eighth: A Conversation with Howard Gardner. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept97/vol55/num01/The-First-Seven.-.-.-and-the-Eighth@-A-Conversation-with-Howard-Gardner.aspx

Leidner, D. E., & Jarvenpaa, S. L. (1995). The use of information technology to enhance management school education: A theoretical view. MIS Quarterly, 19(3), 265. Retrieved from https://libproxy.library.unt.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/218130058?accountid=7113

Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: Affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147-168.

Vygotskij, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). L.S. vygotsky. mind in society

 

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