Education is on the verge of a paradigm shift. It is changing from a non-engineered product to an engineered one, in which the existing single-source-one-size-fits-all model, is being replaced with a multi-resource-tailor-based system.
Education is changing from a dictatorship to a client based, service industry business model in which students choose from an abundance of products that are right for them, and the students grade the provider on the effectiveness of the program.
One of the problems with traditional education is that it focuses more on what is being taught than on what is being learned, and it punishes the students for what is really a failure of the system. New education models put the onus on the educator to deliver “learning” as a business product.
Traditional education says “if you cannot make sense of what we have provided, then too bad, you fail”, and then they wash their hands of the grades they give the students. In the new system, an F for the client is an F for the system.
The role of the traditional teacher is changing from instructor to guide, from author to librarian, and from gatekeeper to facilitator and sage. A single teacher will no longer be a restriction or bottleneck to learning, and will instead become a program coordinator for their students, to help them gain access to a multitude of well established learning programs from around the world, that can be delivered in any language, mode or time of day. Classroom teachers will not be a single-source for material or testing.
The new education system will not have a single class-schedule but will behave more like workshops and project centres than lecture halls. Professionals, both on-line and in person, will help students work through their programs. Students will also teach each other and be encouraged to mentor and share what they have learned. They will review test material and create their own tests as needed. The success of the whole will be a reflection upon the success of the individual.
One of the hallmarks of the new education system will be the transparent, automated tracking of student progress. Most tests will be automated from within the instruction material and a significant number of tests will be generated by the students themselves during the workshops. Daily assessments will track bite sized learning and trigger remedial material that students can review and be retested on as many times as they need. In the new system, learning is the end goal, and a lack of understanding is not punished, therefore there will be no limit on the number of times a student can repeat, review or be re-tested on the material.
Traditional systems test students a limited number of times up to a cut off point, and then give a grade and push them out the door, whether they understand the material or not, and whether it affects them for life or not. In the new system, students are tested continuously in order to redirect them to additional learning tools, so that no client leaves the system as a failure. No one will be cut off from the learning process or be forced to leave before they have successfully completed what they started.
The traditional system penalizes all rates of learning including quick learners because it does not help them achieve their best. In new education models, students who move quickly through the system will be able to move as fast as they want and will be able to challenge themselves with near limitless learning opportunities.
The new education system will acknowledge non-traditional sources as a part of a formal education. Students will be able to take micro and macro classes from masters all over the world. Students will study whatever music genre they like, art, woodworking, travel, math, science, programming, gaming, and media production from courses that are generated by industry leaders. For example, students can study guitar with their favourite artist, learn about engine design from a manufacturer, build bridges with engineers, design fashion with known brands, and help evaluate medical problems from hospitals all over the world. The old system was satisfied to limit educational content and to produce a sense of boredom and failure, whereas the new education system is not. Students will be directly involved in the world they live in.
For many students, a traditional education is the “weird gift” they receive from a distant relative who knows nothing about them, but instead of being able to put the gift on a shelf and walk away, traditional education has become a burden that students have to wear around their necks for the rest of their lives.
The following essay examines some of the problems with traditional education and discusses the issues that students, parents, and educators have known about for a very long time.
1. KNOW YOUR CLIENT
Every engineered system is designed for the environment in which it will be used, and the first premise of a successful product is to “know your client”.
1.1 INFORMATION PROCESSING
Creating a “learning” environment is about getting information into a person’s brain, AND also about helping them access the information and retrieve it in a positive way. Training people how to access the best parts of their brain is an important part of the learning process.
No two human brains are exactly alike and in many cases they are drastically different in how they process and disseminate information. Data that is designed for “auditory” learning will be lost on students who learn “visually”, and visa versa. Some students learn best by action and doing, but others learn more from a lecture. Some require white noise or patterned music in the background, while others find it disturbing and need a quiet space. Some can express themselves in writing and do well on written exams, but others access neural networks by speaking off the cuff or rhythmically, and they are penalized if they have to write out their answers, because for them, data is literally lost if it has to travel through a part of the brain that controls motor skills.
Students have hardwired neural patterns and they should not be penalized or forced to learn in a way that makes it more difficult. Scientists have known this for a long time and they can predict the outcome of a persons behaviour, not based on what is traditionally considered “hard” or “easy” subject matter, but based on the physical setting that the student is in. It is possible to predict which student will do well and which student will fail, simply based on the environment in which the information is presented.
Test scores from traditional methods favour students who have well rounded and highly interconnected neural pathways, and lots of on board memory, but that does not mean that the other students do not have the ability to comprehend the material or to make the most of it in real life practice. A significant number of very bright students are simply not given the information in a way that they can easily process and therefore they get very little out of a traditional education.
A one-size-fits-all education is negligent in the fact that it disregards the diversity of the students. Traditional teaching methods are similar to having a doctor write one prescription for all patients, without having done interviews, testing, or follow up. The failure to acknowledge that humans have individual learning requirements is just one of the significant flaws with traditional ways of teaching.
1.2 LIVING CONDITIONS
Many students have living conditions that make learning difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. Divorce, abuse, violence, fear, abduction, abandonment, relocation, travel, transportation, absenteeism, instability, fighting, bullying, fear, identity, shame, embarrassment, rejection, hunger, obesity, boredom, fatigue, disease, sickness, pain, impairment, cold, heat, loneliness, anger, death, sorrow, crime, addiction, work, chores, and poverty are just a few of the issues that rob students of their ability to concentrate on school work.
When the living conditions of a student causes them to do poorly or fail on tests then their confidence is broken, and instead of education becoming their life line, it becomes a burden that makes life even more unbearable.
An education system that fails to address these issues or fails to roll out a product that is based on them, is one that is not designed with the client in mind and therefore it cannot be successful. An effective education system must provide a safe place for students to land and to seamlessly access as many ways to get help, review, relearn and catch up with missed material as possible.
An education should not compete with a student’ life, but rather teach them how to learn from it. This does not advocate a “tell all” or “confession” based environment that is predatory or infringes upon a student’s privacy. Rather, it recommends an education system that provides students with enough options in their learning environment that they are not impeded from progress if they have to slow down or take time off.
Life experiences should be a part of the curriculum, and students should be taught about their rights and how to find help. Courses in psychology, perception, point of view, respect, and social interaction should be an integral part of the education process. Knowing how to live well amongst others should be a crucial part of the educational experience.
2. THE TEACHERS MANUAL
If there is ever an icon of a failed system it is the concept of the teachers manual, because it represents a bygone era in which information is controlled and withheld from the very people who depend on it. Most teacher’s manuals are only available to the teachers, and they contain an exclusive and valuable set of questions and answers that are compiled by the publishers of the text books. In contrast, the material that is produced for the students, only contains a fraction of that information.
Educators hold teacher’s manuals and similar materials close to their chests like cards in a poker game. Then the instructors challenge them to “take a guess” as to what’s inside. It is a part of a "you figure it out" teaching method that leaves most students in the dark.
It would be fun if it were a game and that’s all it was, and students understood that they could easily find the answers when the game was over, however, the exact opposite is far more common. Weeks and months come and go and the precious secrets in the manual “stay” locked in the manual, and a shocking percentage of students finish the course without ever having seen a full set of correct information. This is repeated and compounded over the years so that upon graduation there is a massive vacuum of knowledge that should have been passed on but wasn’t, and the information in the teacher’s manual and similar materials, primarily remains between its covers instead of in the hearts and minds of the students.
Teacher’s manuals should become “student manuals” and they should be posted online and given out to all of the students and their parents at the beginning of each term. No information that is germane to the course should ever be kept under lock and key for fear that a child would gain too much of an advantage over the system.
The entire concept of the teacher’s manual is based upon the failed notion that students should not have access to the material that they are tested on. This is the exact opposite of a client based system, in which nothing less than 100% of the deliverables is acceptable. The current academic model is akin to training a person to operate one set of equipment but then testing them on a different set altogether. It represents a failed model of education in which teachers become controllers of power rather than facilitators of learning.
When students fail to succeed month after month, and year after year, the cumulative effect is oppressive and catastrophic. Children who do not comprehend key concepts within the narrow time frame that they are presented, sink deeper and deeper into academic quicksand, in which there is little hope of moving on to more complex material. Missing key information can happen as easily as not listening during a class or being absent, and it is almost always interpreted as being the fault of the child and not the system. These children are more than capable of learning the material but if they miss the fleeting opportunity and it is not addressed, then the rungs on the ladder are removed and they become stuck at a basic level of understanding.
Children who become “stuck” are mis-labelled as “stupid” and it has a detrimental effect on them for the rest of their lives.
The traditional education system is so broken that it thinks that giving a child an F on the last day of school is acceptable. It is a “no return”, “final sale”, education policy in which students are booted out when the clock runs out. An education system that is not remedial within the school year is broken, culpable and guilty of causing harm.
Most people agree that if a contractor abandons a job site, or if a faulty product is knowingly sold, then it is an act of fraud. However, many educators have no problem instituting an education system that places the burden of proof on the consumer which is a child.
Students should NOT have to prove that they are “smart”, rather the education system should have to prove that they can deliver the product effectively. Educators should be ashamed to hand out poor grades, which are more a reflection on them than it is of the students. Hypocritically, educators who insist that they receive 100% attention from the students, have no problem handing out grades at the end of the term or year, and then walking away from the accountability, fall out and consequences, that range from satisfaction to extreme depression.
Education is not a “take-it-or-leave-it” entity. It is mandatory, essential and unequivocally the foundation of society, and yet traditional education continues to provide a product that favours a limited number of people, and abandons the rest.
4. HARM DONE
Where is the accountability?
Has anyone calculated the harm done by traditional education methods? Has anyone counted the enormous volume of lost, broken, depressed, disillusioned, fearful, and wounded students that have been generated by traditional education systems?
For most consumer products, the onus is on the supplier to create and provide a product that is safe. If an education system fails to educate their clients, and causes a significant amount of harm, and cripples many people from continuing on with productive lives, then as a product, it should be taken off the shelves.
The fact that traditional education proudly publishes a grading system, is one of the best indicators that the system is flawed. They openly admit that their product is not safe or effective for everyone, and that only a few students will succeed or survive the process.
The grading system that is used by traditional education, boasts that it will fail students who enter their care. Imagine if other businesses treated their clients this way. What if an engineer built a bridge and then posted a grading system that said that only a few people who used the bridge would make it across, and that the rest would make it halfway or be blocked altogether? What if the bridge was the only one in town and the only access to provision and wealth?
There are concepts within society that we cannot be complaisant about or partially committed to, and bridges and education are included in that list.
The traditional education system is completely backwards. It is the students and parents who should grade the system, not the vendor who grades the buyer. Testing should be a part of an improvement process, not a part of a failure process. The traditional education system places a variety of significant limits on their product and then blames the students for not being able to use it properly. It is a perfect example of a “conflict of interest”.
In a civilized society, the onus is on the supplier, not the consumer, to ensure the safety and effectiveness of a product. What madness allows a system to exist in which students are schooled for an entire term or year, and then be given a piece of paper that tells them they are failures? It would be as if a patient was told that they failed a medicine, instead of being told that the medicine failed to work for them.
Grades themselves do not give a complete picture of individual progress. Students can achieve an A or an F through a wide variety of means. Many students have access to support and resources that others do not. I have seen some students struggle with labs, while others don't even attend because they already have the answers. Some students have access to teacher's manuals, pervious tests and assignments, and others do not. Some students have sophisticated software and unlimited internet access, and others do not.
Similarly, the letter of a grade does not necessarily indicate a student’s ability to learn or how well they can use what they have learned. A grade does not indicate if a student has an eidetic memory, a pattern memory, memory for images, memory for data, memory for text, event specific memory, linear-only or multiplexing abilities, the ability to apply what they have learned, or the ability to learn in other settings, which are all important factors with respect to how well a person performs outside of a school setting.
People who are great studiers may or may not be great workers. What is important is not just that students acquire information, but that they learn a life long process of knowing how to self-assess, how to access learning opportunities, how to problem solve, and how to appreciate and work well with others.
The traditional education system rewards quick learners by giving them A’s, but it also holds them back by keeping them bound within a single institution, a single grade level, a single language and a singular curriculum. In contrast, a new and improved grading system will allow quick learners to be rewarded with the ability to move ahead and take on new challenges at whatever pace they want, and those remarkable achievements will be documented on their records.
The traditional education system punishes slower readers, slower learners, laid back personalities, people who have challenging life-styles, and people with limited or task specific memory, and it prevents them from achieving what they are fully capable of doing, because they are cut off from learning when time and resources run out.
The main difference between a traditional education and the education system of the future, is that all learners, including challenged learners, will be able to achieve similar records, at different paces and in a variety of formats.
The education system of the future will create “learners” and “decision makers”, and not just holders of memory.
Presently we have the resources to engage every single student at their maximum attention. Instead of telling students to put their phones and tablets away, they should be shown how to educate themselves using video, apps, games, and virtual reality.
The use of gaming, apps and virtual reality will open a limitless education experience. Students will go on class trips, or by themselves, to a virtual moon or mars or to any museum that they want to visit. They will “drop in” to work sites, labs, undersea environments and mountaintops around the world.
Classroom teachers MUST transition themselves from the primary educator to that of “facilitator”, resource specialist, linkers, connectors, and the doctors of the education field, people who connect and guide students to a healthy final outcome.
Publishers of educational material MUST transition from the sidelines to accredited status, so that learning in all of its forms is recognized. It should not matter if a student learns calculus while at school, or if they learn it from a game while they are driving to a sports event. “Learning” is the key, not location, and not attendance. In many cases, a student may be able to learn information better and faster from a friend than from a formal instructor.
If traditional educators are worried that in the future their schools will be empty, then first of all, they are more concerned about themselves than the students, and second, they have nothing to worry about because attendance will likely be higher than ever, due to the fact that positive socialization during learning will become more exciting and more rewarding. Educators will be leaders of the learning experience, and more adept at guiding the individual needs of the students. Schools will become multifaceted centres of learning where the students are an integral part of the entire process.
We have the ability to record and promote the best of everything and put it on video, in games, in music, and in virtual reality. Industry tech leaders and movie makers will completely change the education landscape, in which students can participate in and be interactive with all parts of society. For example, Disney and Pixar could become a significant source of main stream educational material. One of the best parts of the new education system, is that students can repeat learning events over and over, and pause, stop, highlight and request additional information, as often as they need. The bottom line is that they learn what they set out to learn and that they “learn how to learn” and how to interact with others in mutually respectful ways.
Has anyone at work ever told you that if you have a problem, you should go home and ask your parents? Not likely. It would be preposterous to think that parents are supposed to fill the gap that is left by a failed business, but that is exactly what a failed education system does. They know that only a small subset of parents have the time or ability to be of any help and yet they design a system that heavily depends on parents. The traditional education system fails to account for the fact that students have extremely different support groups and that it is unfair to grade students based on the help that they can get from home.
8. BELL CURVE
When “guessing the right answer” is the teaching method, it also becomes the testing method. Lesser taught and lesser understood information is purposely added to exams so that educators can better control the class average. This means that 20-40% of exams are guessing games for most students who are left out the “information loop”.
Many traditional teachers and professors distribute grades based on the number of students in a class. They pre-determine how many A’s and B’s, etc they will hand out, regardless of how brilliant the students may be. The reason they do this is because of a long standing archaic idea, that a “hard” teacher is a more demanding teacher and therefore offers more to the students.
The bell curve has become a fabricated and orchestrated standard that rewards poor teaching and punishes good students. Classes are often told that an exam will cover chapters 1-10, but it really covers chapters 1-13, with emphasis on the material in chapters 11-13. Similarly, students are excluded from A’s because there are too many people ahead of them. Students are purposely handicapped so that teachers and professors can appear to be “smarter than the students”.
Questions that expand on what has been taught, or are considered “tricky” questions, should already have been covered within the class material, so that students understand the full range of what has been taught, and what is expected of them. Tests and exams should NOT be the place where teachers play with the extent of or permutations of what has been taught. Teachers should already know how well their students are doing, and know which students have taken on advanced material. It should be the job of instructors to fully prepare students, not to partially prepare them and then penalize them for not "reading the teacher's mind" as to what will be on an exam. If students are going to be graded on advanced material then they should be made fully aware of those expectations.
Can you imagine if this madness was used in other industries? What if an engineer delivered a system to a client and the client said that they did not understand how it worked, and the engineer said “too bad, that makes me smart and you dumb, tough luck, you should have read the 'other' manual, too bad you fail”? That type of mentality would cripple the engineering industry.
What if a toy was given to a child and they could not figure out how to use it? Would that make the manufacturer smart and the child stupid? No, but it would leave the toy unused, and in the same way, teachers and professors who cannot provide “learning” for their students, should be removed and replaced with a system that can guarantee a better outcome.
In traditional academic circles, teachers and professors are know as “easy” if their whole class achieves high marks, however, it is well known that they are also at risk of losing their jobs. Keeping student averages in check is a glaring sign of a broken education system.
Is this how we want to train people? Is this how we train pilots and surgeons? How far does the problem extend? Are the most trusted people in our society lacking essential information and skills because their instructors want to preserve the bell curve?
The curated bell curve will not exist in modern education systems, because “learning” will be the delivered product, and a competition for grades inside the classroom will become a thing of the past. Educators will not be able to throw information into the air like confetti, but will instead have to insure that those who want “confetti” get it, understand it, and have a library of resources for it, because that is what they paid for. In the new system, the geniuses and really hard workers will finish the course early and move on, but the rest will not be given F's, kicked out and told that their dreams are broken. Instead, everyone will have a chance to learn what they set out to learn, because in the future, learning belongs to everyone.
I have a deep respect for educators and believe that they are some of the hardest working people on the planet. I have met many compassionate, intelligent, and miracle working teachers who have transformed the lives of the students in their care. However, for the most part, education as a whole still follows the meme of a system that “rings the door bell and runs away”; it is a system that wants to get your attention but doesn’t want to have any meaningful dialogue.
If traditional educators do not wake up soon then education as they know it is going to go the way of celluloid film, and it is going to be replaced with an off the grid system. People are waking up and they will not pay for or participate in a system that fails to provide “learning”. Students know if all they have done is attend class and kept a seat warm. They know if they have not received anything meaningful from their education. They know if they are in a learning environment or if they are simply in a competition for a certificate and marks.
Personally I think that society can benefit from an organized, standardized, professionally monitored education platform, but educators have to step up and acknowledge that story tellers, movie makers, and gamers are capable of putting together comprehensive educational packages. My best advice to the education profession is to be inclusive of all forms of learning, or be at risk of losing the student client base altogether.
In the not too distant future, the levels of achievement in video games and on-line courses will meet industry standards, and will translate into certificates that will become far more significant than the grades that traditional educators hand out. When that happens, in-person education will have lost its relevance, and employers will no longer ask for a high school or university certificate, but for a score from a software company, which is not a negative thing. However, in order to safeguard the public, all the stakeholders should contribute to and help develop standards. Also, both on line and in-person education tools do not have to compete with one another or be mutually exclusive.
It is important to know that an "on-line" education does not mean that the product is a good one. If a course is inflexible, punitive and grades on a bell curve, then it is not a good course. An on-line system can be as bad as a traditional education system if it does not provide “learning".
incorporate as many forms of learning as possible into the curriculum,
incorporate industry leaders and masters into the curriculum,
make sure that students “learn”,
boredom is not acceptable for an educational product - humour creates lasting impressions,
failure is not acceptable for an educational product,
provide opportunities for students to teach each other, collaborate, and mentor one another,
don't wait for students to ask for help … incorporate a continuous testing system, through “bite sized” learning modules,
allow students to review and retest as many times as they want to without penalty,
teach life skills, respect, psychology, ethos, and communication skills, as a part of the curriculum,
provide for student feedback on “learning”. Professional educators often skip over important concepts because they are too familiar with the material,
allow students to generate exam questions,
publish all available questions and answers for all the students to review, including teacher's manuals, old tests, old exams, previous labs, previous assignments, and anything else that will increase learning,
do not pit students against one another and do not take them for granted,
make education accountable.
Education must become an accountable profession. Are educators willing to tie their wages to the success of their students and to the number of students who "learn", as opposed to the number of students who are taught?