Skip to content

The Future of Learning: Digital, Distributed, Data-Driven

Yesterday as I was traveling (with free wifi from the good folks at Norwegian Air, I might add), I caught this tweet from Jim Groom:

The comment was in response to my previous post where I detailed my interest in understanding how learning analytics were progressing in Chinese education. My first internal response was going to be something snarky and generally defensive. We all build in different ways and toward different visions. It was upsetting to have an area of research interest be ridiculed. Cause I’m a baby like that. But I am more interested in learning than in defending myself and my interests. And I’m always willing to listen to the critique and insight that smart people have to offer. This comment stayed with me as I finalized my talk in Trondheim.

What is our obligation as educators and as researchers to explore research interests and knowledge spaces? What is our obligation to pursue questions about unsavoury topics that we disagree with or even find unethical?

Years ago, I had a long chat with Gardner Campbell, one of the smartest people in the edtech space, about the role of data and analytics. We both felt that analytics has a significant downside, one that can strip human agency and mechanize the learning experience. Where we differed was in my willingness to engage with the dark side. I’ve had similar conversations with Stephen Downes about change in education.

My view is that change happens on multiple strands. Some change from the outside. Some change from the inside. Some try to redirect movement of a system, others try to create a new system altogether. My accommodating, Canadian, middle child sentiment drives my belief that I can contribute by being involved in and helping to direct change by being a researcher. As such, I feel learning analytics can play a role in education and that regardless of what the naysayers say, analytics will continue to grow in influence. I can contribute by not ignoring the data-centric aspects in education and engage them instead and then attempting to influence analytics use and adoption so that it reflects the values that are important for learners and society.

Then, during the conference today, I heard numerous mentions of people like Ken Robinson and the narrative of creativity. Other speaking-circuit voices like Sugata Mitra were frequently raised as well. This lead to reflection about how change happens and why many of the best ideas don’t gain traction and don’t make a systemic level impact. We know the names: Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on. We know the ideas. We know the vision of networks, of openness, of equity, and of a restructured system of learning that begins with learning and the learner rather than content and testing.

But why doesn’t the positive change happen?

The reason, I believe, is due to the lack of systems/network-level and integrative thinking that reflects the passion of advocates AND the reality of how systems and networks function. It’s not enough to stand and yell “creativity!” or “why don’t we have five hours of dance each week like we have five ours of math”. Ideas that change things require an integrative awareness of systems, of multiple players, and of the motivations of different agents. It is also required that we are involved in the power-shaping networks that influence how education systems are structured, even when we don’t like all of the players in the network.

I’m worried that those who have the greatest passion for an equitable world and a just society are not involved in the conversations that are shaping the future of learning. I continue to hear about the great unbundling of education. My fear is the re-bundling where new power brokers enter the education system with a mandate of profit, not quality of life.

We must be integrative thinkers, integrative doers. I’m interested in working and thinking with people who share my values, even when we have different visions of how to realize those values.

Slides from my talk today are below:

7 Comments

  1. So, you have read Sarason, right?

    “Unfortunately, none of these reformers confront the governance system as a system that includes the school, the school system or district, the board of education, the state department of education, the university, the parents, the legislature, and the executive branch of government. These are stakeholders in a very complicated educational system. They are not passive stakeholders; they have similar but by no means identical interests and agendas; more often than not they are in conflict with and mistrust one another. It is a system so balkanized as to prevent meaningful discussion of, let alone agreement about, educational goals and priorities. It is not a system that can initiate and sustain meaningful reform. on the contrary, its features are such as to make reform extraordinarily difficult and even impossible. Under severe and unusual pressure it may permit tinkering, even the appearance of reform, but as time goes on and the pressures decrease, the leadership changes, the tinkering and reform lose force and purpose, confirming the adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. It is not a self-correcting system; there are no means, procedures, forums through which the system “learns.” It is a system with a seemingly infinite capacity to remain the same in the face of obvious inadequacies, unmet goals, and public dissatisfaction. It is a system in which accountability is so diffused that no one is accountable. It is a system that has outlived all of its reformers, and will outlive the present generation of reformers. ”

    (How Schools Might Be Governed and Why)

    Lots more on that, power relationships, reform where that came from… ;0)

    Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  2. Coincido con George que los cambios en la educación deben fluir en muchas direcciones, tanto para dentro como principalmente para afuera y des de fuera.

    El Analytics learning queramos o no es necesario especialmente en la personalizacion de los aprendizajes y lo que significan en su “diverdidad” (inclusión) y su posterior aportación diferenciada como valor al social learning. Por tanto es una condición Coincido con George que los cambios en la educación deben fluir en muchas direcciones, tanto para dentro como principalmente para afuera y des de fuera.

    El Analytics learning queramos o no es necesario especialmente en la personalizacion de los aprendizajes y lo que significan en su “diverdidad” (inclusión) y su posterior aportación diferenciada como valor al social learning.

    Por tanto es Coincido con George que los cambios en la educación deben fluir en muchas direcciones, tanto para dentro como principalmente para afuera y des de fuera.

    El Analytics learning queramos o no es necesario especialmente en la personalizacion de los aprendizajes y lo que significan en su “diverdidad” (inclusión) y su posterior aportación diferenciada como valor al social learning. Por tanto es una condición sine qua non el analizar datos de cada aprendiz para aprovechar mejor sus fortalezas y lograr su “Excelencia Personalizada”.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  3. Jon Harman wrote:

    It was great to finally meet you in person in Trondheim, and this post nicely sums up a sense I got from your talk about so many of the important factors. Having been one of the people standing up and proclaiming “creativity” and promoting ed tech snake oil and being around the VC´s and finance people. I lost my faith and went back to critically evaluate so much, getting that balance is so crucial and understanding the pro and the negative, not just buying the “make the world a better place” on every ed tech pitch deck, and I think crucially it was going back to an idea I had almost lost sight of, all I wanted when I was a kid was for a teacher to get me, to see me for what I was and what I could be, not a grade point or a top student. Anything that we can empower to help that happen for future students is what gives me hope, because I see too many kids with mental health issues trying to conform to a stupid rigid robotic idea of education we created.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  4. From my view, positive change is happening. I’m uplifted when I engage with teachers who then shift their teaching practices and classroom climate to reflect what is known from developmental research. This has a multiplying effect. I’ve witnessed one teacher share practices with her grade-level teachers, other teachers, the principal, other schools, and eventually a school district. Reformers may never see their legacy, but let me be incredibly cliche and say that changing the life of even one child can change a system.

    I would say that Vygotsky has impacted the system – his theory has developed early childhood programs that have potentially put children on an entirely different life trajectory than the path they were headed. One problem is that we have no scientific evidence to support this. What we measure defines what we do. Let’s begin researching and measuring the things we know matter – psychological well-being, self-regulation, happiness, physical health – avoiding using these measures as accountability. Once we can show that focusing on these aspects of children (and adults) is related to academic performance, those in power have no choice but to listen.

    I’ll continue wearing my rose-colored glasses until someone punches them off. And then I’ll tape them back together.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Maybe it’s too much to ask that everyone be “interactive thinkers, interactive doers”? I’m thinking that positive systematic change might have the best chance of success when based on the input of:
    - Creators who inspire and challenge us and pose the tough questions, even when they are not “doing” anything – Worth listening to.
    - Innovators who “do” experimental, often ill-funded projects on the fringes – Worth learning from.
    - Implementers who navigate the politics of change and translate between the creators & innovators and “real world” folks who might otherwise not connect – Worth talking to.
    - System runners who’ll continue to refine and keep things running long after the others have moved on to new things, once they’ve been convinced to try something new – Worth not straying too far from.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  6. I know we have discussed this before, but I do believe there are many out there that do “reflect the passion of advocates AND the reality of how systems and networks function.” There are, of course, many that do not, but I read and follow many that do get “involved in the conversations that are shaping the future of learning”. We can’t ignore the other problem in this equation: those in power don’t really care much beyond “the reality of how systems and networks function.” They probably got into the position of power because of their focus on reality. And they stay there by not caring as much about taking risks inherent with listening to “Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on.” We always seem to focus on how the social justice side needs to gain more balance, but why do we not hear as much about how the people in power maintaining the status quo need to also become more open to experiment? I think it is really both that need to work towards each other.

    I think we see this play out with the dual-layer/pathways design. We have like, what, 5 people in the world interested in it? And who knows how many telling us it doesn’t make sense? It’s too practical to the reality of how systems work for some, and too experimental and networked and open and restructured and advocacy-y for others. So, yes, I agree that there is a lack of thinking like you say, but also a lack of interest in those that are already thinking that way from those that are basically the gate-keepers of our field. So the question becomes, do the people that “are not involved in the conversations that are shaping the future of learning” in that position because they don’t want to be, they were unable to cross the barriers to being in the conversation, or were intentionally left out? Probably all three, but we don’t want to lump reason #2 & #3 in with #1. Or am I just being too much of a SJW? :)

    Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  7. Alan Levine wrote:

    Oh you kids with your clever sub tweeting / sub blogging, kudos for staying on the relatively higher road.

    I vividly remember in 2011 when we sat on a corner coffee shop in Edmonton and you described the approach in pursuing your academic interests; everything I have seen you do has been consistent with that.

    That might not be the case if all my interactions with you were from reading blogs, social media, or watching presentations. There’s a lot more of is on the spectrum between robo data crunching lovers and dance harping rainbow chasers.

    Analyze on. And keep tossing some snark.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink