12 Ideas That Will Probably Break Education

12 Ideas That Will Probably Break Education

by Terry Heick

As the education changes, it depends primarily on internal catalysts for that change.

That is, the ‘things’ that change it are on the ‘inside’ of that system itself, most notably data, assessment, PLCs, and running a distant fourth, technology. It’s interesting that technology is among the least impacting “agents of change” in the classroom. Certainly it has caused teachers and districts to update some of their practices (e.g., budgets, teacher training, and IT policies) but very little of their thinking (e.g., peer-to-peer and school-to-school collaboration, assessment forms, and learning models).

At some point, this will change. Eventually the tethers will break and education–in whatever form or forms–will shoot forward like it’s been held back in a slingshot for nearly a century. It may not feel triumphant at first. When things you lean on give way, you flail and panic and yelp.

There will probably be a lot of that. It may be messy, implementation dip and all. It will require innovation and perseverance. But if we are courageous enough to let these ideas “break” education, we have the chance to come out on the other side evolved.

12 Ideas That Will Probably Break the Education

1. Connectivity is replacing knowledge.

Or rather usurping it in terms of sheer credibility.

Businesses, the education institutes, groups, organizations, people—everyone wants visibility and access. These occur through connectivity. The ability to survey digital landscapes, identify trends, adapt language and rhetorical forms, experiment with the fluidity of media, and create ‘traction’ for products and ideas across dozens of social networks—these are powerful agents for disruption and change.

What do I know, and what should I do with what I know? How does always-on access to Google, digital communities, and vast multimedia libraries credit or discredit the idea of ‘knowing’ something? How are we connected to one another? How does technology enhance and limit those relationships?

How can I use those things I am connected to and with to live the kind of life I want to live? Now replace ‘the things I am connected to and with’ with the word ‘my education’ and read it again.

Knowledge will always matter, but in an economic sense of supply and demand, information is boundless. It’s authentic feedback loops and resultant behavior modification that are now scarce.

2. Most academic standards have limited value.

It doesn’t mean they’re not worth knowing, but the mix of skills and understandings collectively represent an index of academic priorities that don’t directly speak to the human experience. And that is an extraordinary failure.

3. Technology is extraordinarily expensive.

From the initial cost of purchase, to the cost of training and ongoing Professional Development to long-term cost of obsolescence, technology is expensive enough to sink even the largest, most successful business if not integrated properly. For thousands of schools across dozens of states, the cost could reach into the billions.

4. Technology integration is difficult to do well.

Effective technology integration in the classroom is difficult. To accomplish it on a daily basis—and do so well enough to justify the enormous cost referenced above? Even more of a challenge.

Get it wrong and money is wasted, teachers leave the profession in droves, and student learning slows or becomes even less authentic and more ‘like school’ because keeping pace with the real world just isn’t sustainable.

When this happens year after year after year, generation after generation, eventually school discredits itself and forced new solutions to learning to emerge.

5. Adaptive software can replace 75% of what a teacher does.

No, apps can’t replace teachers, but in terms of the way teachers spend their time, adaptive software—whether minor or major in scale—can automate the bulk of these tasks. Ideally, this would free teachers for more human and emotionally complex interactions, provided strategic adjustments are made.

6. Students are messaging more but communicating less.

That is, they’re writing more but saying less.

7. Digital media is more engaging than non-digital media.

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Whether because of social elements, gamification, curation possibilities, or the lights, colors, and sounds, digital media has the attention of our children.

Think about YouTube. YouTube is packaged for consumption. It’s visual, social, diverse, mobile, and “chunked” in ways that promote (often reckless) consumption. Always-on learning must compete with this—which means reading and writing must compete with this as well. This doesn’t mean books and essays aren’t useful, but rather that they exist in a new and dynamic context. Do we understand that context?

What is the relationship between Walt Whitman and poetry and race and bullying and texting and smartphones? There is one; it’s on you and I as educators to find it.

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8. Reading and writing should be social, and the education has trouble handling “social.”

This doesn’t mean they always have to be social, but they need that potential built-in from the ground up. Instagram comments and eReaders with annotations is about as close as we’ve gotten to social reading and writing, while we’ve got dozens of ways for people to send one another minor little episodes of text, images, and video.

The next step is to leverage the social to create sustained opportunities for reading and writing.

9. Mobile changes everything.

That is, mobile technology will eventually change everything we do as a culture. It’s not going to stop at shopping, communication, and entertainment.

Not sure why this one isn’t agitating our thinking more. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Honda, Amazon, and well just about every other forward thinking company on earth are scrambling to adjust for a mobile culture that is cloud-based and social.

This should affect everything in the education, from how learning models and curriculum are designed, to how students interact with one another and their local communities.

10. Parents don’t understand teaching and learning.

Parents speak in the language of terms and compliance because that’s how we speak to them.

They understand grades, behavior, some of the fundamentals of literacy, and other abstractions like effort, inspiration, success, and failure.

But what if they understood how people learn even half as well as most teachers? What if they understood the pros and cons of certain assessment forms (this isn’t rocket science), the inherent limitations of letter grades (there’s no way they don’t already have an instinct for this), or how to coach critical thinking and observation on a daily basis?

Parents are the sleeping giants in the education. Think of them as students with 25 years of life experience–and reality–tacked on. If they had any clue how poorly education serves most students (no matter how “successful” the student navigates the education in its current form), they might redirect anger currently pointed at teachers and principals, and point it instead at policymakers, and perhaps even take up the task themselves as entrepreneurs.

11. Universities are decaying.

At least in their current form.

And they’re exorbitantly expensive.

Without quick thinking and rapid adaptation, only the most prestigious universities will survive into the next century—likely as cultural relics and niche training and certification institutes (medical school, law school, etc.) They simply cannot survive as they now exist—an awkward kind of hybrid of career prep and highbrow intellectualism.

As they sit, many are racing to justify themselves instead of serve the people that depend on them, which is horrifying.

12. Meaning is generational.

Gender. Language. Equity. Race. Success. Sexuality. Community. Religion. Citizenship. Job. Literacy. These ideas are at the core of what it means to be a human being, and the meaning of each seems to shift some every generation, giving the education a bit of a moving target to hit.

Get this one wrong and the word ‘school’ doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

Students Have Real Options.

There are new options for learning, and the most innovative don’t have the word “school” in them. Charter schools and eLearning have been about as brazen as the education can bring itself to be. But to appeal to the children of millenials—and their children and so on–they will have to compete with other possibilities that are frankly more compelling, creative, and social than marching through indexed curriculum.

How should schools and eLearning work together? What is the relationship between Google and a test? An app and a textbook? Mobile Learning and standardized assessment?

As new options emerge, how can–and should–formal public education respond?

Disrupting Education: 12 Ideas That Will Permanently Break Education As We Know It; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

  1. Justin Mann says

    Some great points made here in this article Terry. I’m especially excited about Adaptive Technology. We need more tools that help free up teachers to do the things they love.

  2. jps225 says

    I cannot put my finger on why this list is creepy. It just is…

    1. terryheick says

      Interesting. Creepy how? Technology is kind of creepy in and of itself.

      1. FC White says

        Technology is only “creepy” in the hands of people with your disturbed mentality.

    2. tamarix says

      It is creepy to me as well. It seems to eliminate the humanity from education.

      1. FC White says

        It is creepy because its author is creepy. He reminds me of the sick bully almost everyone had to deal with in 6th to 8th grade; the smug, sickening, know-it-all who is more like “The Intimidator” than any sort of decent human being.

        He talks about parents being the ones who will soon see things his way. I don’t think so. I’m one of those parents. (I’m not an educator, nor have I ever been, nor is anyone in my immediate or extended family.

        I’m disgusted by twisted, greedy, overgrown frat boys like this Heick character having ANYTHING to do with our schools and our children.

        This pipsqueak came the closest to actually making me fantasize about wanting to do serious violence to another human being—I NEVER would, folks, just for the record. But it gives you some idea of how truly putrid this person and his piece are that they could provoke such reactions.

        And the other parents who I intend to show this to: they’ll make MY reaction look mild.

        In case you haven’t notice “Terry”, since you left your frat house: We parents are catching on to so-called “Ed Reform” and “Tech Innovations in Education” and, contrary to how you’re hoping things will go…let’s just say that the torches and pitchforks will be coming to hunt down the Privatizer Mafia if you keep on insisting on taking control of OUR schools; you know, the ones WE pay for with OUR tax dollars?!?!?!

        Go back to finance or whatever field you’re more suited for you overgrown jock strap whiffer.

      2. metalious says

        It’s not creepy to me. It’s comical. It’s presented as “8 Ideas that Will Break Education.” Very dramatic. But it’s really just some silly bloke on the internet sharing his techno fetish dreams of the Jetson’s classroom..

        1. Mark Barnes says

          Terry Heick is one of the most respected educators in America. TeachThought attracts hundreds of thousands of readers–maybe more. You might consider doing your homework, before you trash someone on his own site, especially when you hide behind a pseudonym. Are you even an educator?

  3. Krredcar says

    This is completely ridiculous. Knowledge is power. Those who believe finding information on the internet is the same as knowing it are ignorant fools in search of an easy way out. The ability to think is not something one can purchase or just declare unnecessary simply because it’s not always easy or fun.

    1. Randy Rodgers says

      I don’t agree with your assessment of knowledge at all. That “knowledge is power” quote is a statement of a past reality. Knowledge used to be power, largely because it was the domain of the privileged elite. Anyone can now access virtually unlimited information (knowledge). What you can DO with information is where the power is now and in the future. You’re equating thinking with knowledge, and those are not the same thing, either. Actually, I think your “thinking” actually aligns well with my point. We should be focusing on teaching our kids how to think critically, manipulate, combine, apply, and re-imagine with the information at their disposal, not insist on filling their heads with facts that are often useless and archaic.

      1. Dr_Doctorstein says

        Kinda dumb to equate information and knowledge. Not the same thing at all. The OP is just the latest iteration of the same old shallow technohype.

        1. Randy Rodgers says

          Not “kinda dumb” at all. There are 2 sources of knowledge: experience and information. School has primarily been about stuffing information into kids’ heads for over a century, with the odd “learning experience” thrown in now and then to keep them awake. As for the statement that the OP is “shallow technohype”, what decade do you reside in, exactly? There may be a dubious concept or 2 there, but technology permeates every minute of our kids’ waking lives (with the unfortunate exception of many schools). Burying one’s head in the sand and denying it’s significance doesn’t mean a darned thing. The fact is that how we communicate, entertain, learn, connect, shop, share, etc. is nothing like we did it a decade ago, unless a person are living as a hermit in a remote wilderness somewhere.

  4. FC White says

    Terry Heick: I’d like to break you. Literally.

    But unlike you and your “reformer” ilk, I’m not a sociopath, so I have the ability to reason internally and not follow my most base and crude human instincts. But if there was ever a time I wanted to emulate the John Wayne characters of my youth—who would knock the living hell out of some greedy, nasty, little twerp and errand boy like yourself, that time is now.

    You truly are disgusting. And sick. Talking of “breaking education permanently”. Your words reflect the mentality of a hit man, a mafioso, a thug—like the John Travolta character in Pulp Fiction, or “Tommy”, played by Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas”.

    I can’t believe you work in “education”. You’re someone who I would NEVER leave alone with a child.

  5. Debra Miller says

    Social writing is fine, but students still need to know how to do research and write intelligently. I do like your comments about parents – if they and teachers could work together to change policy, we might develop a public education system that makes sense.

  6. Garreth Heidt says

    I take issue with the fact that access to information (connectivity) is replacing knowledge. One of the key markers of creativity (which is one of the 4Cs of 21st century learning and certainly, if you read Dan Pink, Tony Wagner, and any number of other people critiquing the link between education and employment (sure…that’s not the only purpose of education, but it’s a key purpose), is the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected.

    Such flexible and agile mind isn’t the result of googling and then connecting, or even of following hyperlinks to see how others (or programmed algorithms) have connected things. Instead, it is the result of knowing things, numerous things, and allowing the chaotic, dynamic system that is the human mind have play with those ideas.

    Chance (creativity) favors the prepared (knowledgable) mind. It does not wait for someone to google the information. If I’m in a board meeting and the solution to a problem I’ve been chewing on for a while suddenly jumps up because a new insight was made, or a word spoken just at the right time allowed me to find a connection between what I know and what the problem was, my value to the company is invaluable…almost immeasurable, and not solely in my generic ability to google information. It is inherent in me and it is the result of a mind my teachers helped me to construct.

    Sure, I need to know how to search for and access information efficiently and deeply. That’s a new skill set. But it will not replace a mind that is prepared and curious and hungry all on its own.

    I do not think that the first point in this posting claims that knowledge and connectivity/access to knowledge are mutually exclusive, but I’ve heard far to many teachers and administrators make the claim that content and knowledge are less important now because you can just “google” them.

    As far as “How can I use ‘my education’ to live the kind of life I want to live?” I should hope we’re not claiming that’s a new or novel question. Hasn’t that always been the central question of education, a liberal education, one that frees us, allows us to grow and climb? Perhaps it is one of them, but I should also hope that there is an equally important question, one less egocentric or solipsistic, one that William Cronon points to so eloquently in his essay, “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education”:

    ” In the act of making us free, it [a liberal education] also binds us to the communities that gave us our freedom in the first place; it makes us responsible to those communities in ways that limit our freedom. In the end, it turns out that liberty is not about thinking or saying or doing whatever we want. It is about exercising our freedom in such a way as to make a difference in the world and make a difference for more than just ourselves.”

    I suppose that points us back to “connection,” but the virtual communities that we had so fervently hoped were going to usher in a new form of democracy have, so far, failed to do so and seem to confine us to silos of those who feel and think just like us. Somewhere, there must be a balance.

    1. terryheick says

      Great comment. I agree that knowledge isn’t dead. I guess the point here is that connectivity reframes knowledge–provides different ways to access it, gain it, use it, etc.

    2. dpbrick says

      I so agree with you. And I think what you’re getting at is the answer to those who previously said the article is creepy. I think the more “connected” we have become through technology, the more isolated we have become socially — on a personal level.

      We have never in human history had so many tools for facilitating communication. Yet we still find communication to be one of the major challenges in any organization.

      But as far as connectivity replacing knowledge? The degree to which we come to depend upon technology will be the degree to which we are lost when someone pulls the plug on it all. Think it can’t happen here and now? Think again.

  7. Mark Barnes says

    Terry, the key to item 3 is your final point about, “strategic adjustments” being made. This is key. As you well know, this is often the problem with progress. Technology requires new strategies. Of course, you and I have had this discussion before. Great post. Thanks.

  8. dothgrin says

    Disagree with the social writing situation. It is nice, but an easy out. Students (and adults) find it to easy to be distracted by the social, and sorry, but only a small percentage are engaging socially with quality knowledge, such as this. Also, as I am heavily involved in education technology and find that half of this is a pipe dream. As long as we insist on standardized testing, as long as we refuse to give teachers TIME to be engaging, or pay them adequately, or give them smaller numbers to work with, then do not even insist on comparing them with corporate structures. Terry, I know you do not mean to be insulting, but this might feel like it to teachers who see these things all around but know that really implementing them, especially to the poor and even middle class, is an exhausting proposition. I am watching my peers in some parts of the country bailing out of the field long before retirement because not only can they not get to innovation they can’t even put up with the minutiae thrust upon them. Disrupting education is not happening except in pockets. It may well take an entire system meltdown before any widespread innovation takes place. When I see some of the best teachers in the field just saying, “I’ve had it”, and they are still “young”, where then you have THE one thing education has had trouble responding to in recent years.

  9. Ellen says

    The nine ideas that teaching is having trouble responding to is kind of a disconnected list to me.Just to single out a few: Number one, Connectivity is replacing knowledge, Connectivity is providing access to knowledge and experiential learning. In addition, it is engaging students in the digital age with visuals and technology. It is providing a faster mode of education in keeping with the pace of the world outside. Students are now expected to be career ready as well as college ready. I think that this statement is accurate. Therefore, connectivity provides the skills they will need and the pace they will be required to perform tasks in the future workforce. Another idea, Adaptive software can replace 75% of what a teacher does. I am unaware at how they arrived at this percentage, but hopefully it is the portion of their day spent ensuring that everyone is engaged and other classroom management disruptions that so easily distract students. So much of the premises of teaching in the 21st century rely on a child’s willingness to learn and intrinsic motivation. A human being must absolutely supervise and facilitate and teach students. Left to their own devices, students will most certainly choose what is social or easy. Students can also be short-sighted. Therefore, without teacher guidance, they will not always choose the most prudent pathways. Teachers are necessary as parents are in the home. So I hope that this 75% encompasses all of the non-educational factors and the management of unexpected occurrences that teachers must manage each day. The smallest support in managing engagement would be tremendous. And finally, Reading and Writing should be social. This is true. You need to read and write to be a part of society. Communication skills are becoming prevalent on every job requirement description because so many people lack communication skills. So while, reading together and sharing our ideas is the ideal, one on one teaching is necessary in order to prepare students to face groups of people and articulate their ideas. Quiet reading time, where students can reflect on meaning and utilize critical thinking skills is a major part of the equation. Each item can be picked apart for debate. Teaching has come a long way in the acceptance of technology as inherent in 21st century education. The institution has recognized that learning is social, requires technology and must reflect the outside world in relativity. Students have to be career ready and college ready. Universities have to change as well. I think that they are as a major part of recruiting is job placement statistics, there is major competition from online universities and community colleges that provide skills that are in immediate demand.

  10. April B says

    #4 Digital media is more engaging than non-digital media– Yes! What if digital media combined with teacher lead resources and instructions could be combined and delivered to students in a way that they communicate with their peers? Isn’t that the best of both worlds? There are a lot of new tech tools that are being used in the classroom to allow this to happen. For example Ving! (http://vingapp.com/for-your-classroom/) which is free and allows you to bundle multi- media (video, audio, docs, assessments, images) into ONE communication package and send via email, link to text, or link for a website/teacher page. Yes- I do work for Ving and am trying to spread the word to my teacher friends about how Ving is and can be used in the classroom with students and parents too! Let me know what you think!

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  12. E Van Ark says

    So, I find myself disagreeing with many of your points based on my experience as a teacher. But being wiling to learn more, I start looking for the evidence to back up such striking assertions as “Most academic standards have limited value” and “Adaptive Software can replace 75% of what a teacher does”. I don’t see any citations. Do you have any reason I should believe these claims? (I would never let my ninth graders get by without showing some experimental evidence to support their claims — you can surely do better than them!)

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  14. Edtech | Pearltrees

    […] comment #uted #utedchat #tlchat. Fareed Zakaria on Staying Competitive in the Knowledge Economy. 9 Ideas Education Is Having Trouble Responding To. What Students Think About Using iPads in School | MindShift | KQED News. These students are Word […]

  15. Adam Fachler says

    #8, #10, #11 got me the most.
    #8: Can you imagine a more intensely social activity than reading and making meaning? You wouldn’t know that from the typical classroom.
    #10: Like you said. Sleeping giants.
    #11: And how can we make the experience of those who are there (i.e. future teachers) more meaningful?

  16. fahrender says

    Two points:

    1.There are a variety of teacher profiles that can be useful in a healthy educational system. Some of these are not particularly adept at IT. This goes as well for certain student profiles.

    2. The focus of this article seems to be set within the parameters of that part of society which is not socially or economically disadvantaged. In the U.S. as well as many other parts of the world this means a significant proportion of communities or parts of communities.

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