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12 Ideas That Will Probably Break Education

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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.

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

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

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.

the education

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

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Justin Mann

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.


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


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.

FC White

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… Read more »

Debra Miller

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.

Garreth Heidt

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… Read more »

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.


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… Read more »


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… Read more »

April B

#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.… Read more »

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E Van Ark

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!)

Adam Fachler

#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?


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.