Sunday, May 08, 2011

The New Education

We all know something is broken with our Education System.

Do you want proof?
“In any field but education, if you fell asleep 50 years ago and woke up today, you’d have no clue what was going on. Things have changed, but in education we seem stuck.”
Joel Klein, Former Chancellor, NYC Dept. of Education
From Waiting for Superman.

Victor Hugo said: "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

I'm starting to think this is the case with "The New Education". Even if yet controversial the subject is out there, people are talking about it, and some visionaries can imagine how it might look.

Mark Randall is clearly such a visionary, as proved by his "humble suggestion" as he called it, or more truthfully a call to action to the Web Entrepreneur Community on his keynote at the Next Web Conference, Amsterdam 2011.

(if interested specifically on The New Education portion of this talk tune into minute 19:00)

Some thoughts in relation to "The New Education":

We desperately need a technology that allows "The New Education" to revolutionize the way we teach our kids: an education about ideas and thinkers, artists and creators.

When kids are following their curiosity and they have a question is when they're ready to be matched with a teacher and learn. The matching could be based on a Pandora Style DNA of both teachers and lessons. If a kid has certain interest and likes certain teacher or lesson, that will mean they're likely to learn from these other teachers and lessons. Also, a system such as Netflix "because you enjoyed ... we suggest you'd like ..." would be very beneficial in this kind of environment.

When kids play freely they have the concentration, focus, passion, perseverance that makes learning and creativity flourish. There's no replacement for motivation and there's no way that a kid can link to information if they don't have the questions already in place on their own minds or the open links waiting for a connection.

I imagined the education system of the future to be like a game, where kids get points/badges/stickers/privileges according to the activities they perform (foursquare or getglue style).
Students teaching other students with a system of rating and rewards should be a key part as when we teach, we learn and there's great satisfaction when you can help your peers.
It's be hard to imagine the education system of the future not being embedded in a social networking environment, with friends, follows, walls, status shares, and the whole enchilada.

There's the Khan Academy project, by Salman Khan and Bill Gates, that could interlock or be an antecedent in many different ways to a project like this.

Recently, I've been looking at the Sudbury Model also called Democratic Schooling and the Unschooling movements, and I think there's great lessons that can be included in this mix coming from their decades of experience with an alternative education. They also have succumbed to the pace of time and technology seems to be the glue that they're missing, which would tie everything together.

I'm sure there's a long but exciting road ahead!

A Summary on Mark's talk:

In the name of Education, a battle we're losing according to Mark Randall, in the next month Earth will spend $2 Trillion on Education and it's still a battle we're currently failing.

He does a little history:
. 18th Century, we prepared students for an agrarian/rural society.
. 19th Century, we prepared students for an industrial economy, a model we're still using today.
. 20th Century, education to produce good citizens, outstanding, productive contributors to society.
. 21st Century? the rate of change is accelerated, reaching the knee of an exponential growth curve, we need to prepare generations for an unknown future. This is scary!

Questions he asks himself and to the entrepreneur crowd:
How can we teach kids when the important questions are changing?
How can we teach kids when you can reach all of man-kind assembled knowledge on the palm of your hand?
Thinking becomes far more important than knowing. It's not about pouring facts into kids' heads.
It's about teaching:
. Reasoning (Logic)
. Creativity (Flow, play, free time)
. Curiosity (Innate)

And then, the humble invitation:
"There's a million dollar opportunity!" A hundred million reasons! And, by the way, a hundred million Euros!

Regarding the specific mechanics that Mark imagines for "The New Education" he proposes we match levels and learning styles/speed. We need to match students trajectories, in the same way we match dates and relationships on the web today.

This is not a hard problem when you look at it from a web technology perspective. We already know how to take millions of gamers and match their levels on real time from around the world.
Why can't we use students and their learning styles and match them together? We don't necessarily need more teachers but we need better ways of matching them together.

An implementation question: "How could we deliver video of the best teachers on Earth, giving their finest performances of their lives, at the right moment, at the right time, when that student is exactly ready for this lesson?"

Of course, video technology will not replace the need for caring teachers. Mark proposes we use voice over IP, and we make scarse teachers resources accesible as Live Help using the same model as Online Customer Support.

I couldn't agree more with the fact that, leaving the controversy aside, games are basically simulations. Your mind does not differentiate between you doing something on a game or in real life. Mark says "Simulations are experience in a bottle." So, games/simulations would be a big part of the plan.

On the prominent role of games in "The New Education":
"We've become very good in building addicting games, users are playing 3 billions hours a week of collective game playing online.
Imagine if we were to turn those coordinated multi-player experiences into something a little more productive. Imagine users being able to now shape their educational experience and staying with them in that constant state of flow as they get better and better, it gets harder and harder.
We can take the same technology and apply it to get meaning!"

Mark goes as far as providing a business model that would sustain profitability by catering the North American, European and Australian markets while contributing for free to the rest of the world.
He suggests we go straight to the end-user and cut out the middle man, a clear tendency of the whole market: newspapers, music, services, products, used goods.

He points to her daughter and says: "This is your end user." Then, he points to his wife and says: "However, this is your customer. And this customer is obviously one of the highest motivated customers that there are."

More on the implementation, he boldly states: "I believe there are 10 million potential customers that will gladly pay 10 Euros a month for a solution that is radically better and shows proven results, gives constant feedback, where's the child, how are they growing, what skills do they need. A text message: a kid plays a game, encounters new challenges, conquers them and has new skills they need to learn. Diiiing! parent gets a text message. You really should talk to Johnny today about judgement, he did some poor judgement calls."


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