Friday, December 5, 2014

Whatever happened to the education revolution?

Every new device or tool it seems is going to revolutionize education. Smartboards, iPads, Chromebooks, Google Apps for Education, Prezi, Minecraft, Khan Academy, flipped classroom - the list goes on. Somehow that revolution doesn't happen despite the appealing arguments of the enthusiasts. In the past such revolutionary technologies came along every second decade or so but today they turn up several times a year. The hype is wearing a bit thin. Here's a new video by Pierce Cook who argues convincingly against the exaggerated claims made about new technologies in education since the days of radio.

The message here is not that we should dismiss all innovations as gimmicks but we need to look at all methods in terms of how they enhance learning. Cook stresses that learning takes place in the head and is not dependent on any devices or tools. If you have the internal motivation, a supportive community around you and a teacher who can inspire, explain and guide then you can learn, even with extremely limited learning resources. Technology enables social learning in groups that cannot meet face-to-face and can extend and enhance face-to-face meetings but it's the "soft" factors (community, motivation, support, empowerment) that are the crucial elements.

The fact that the promised revolution hasn't happened does not mean that technology has no role to play. It simply means that new technology is not a quick fix and will not result in sweeping revolutionary change. I wrote a while back that the changes in education today are glacial rather than the tsunami of many press reports at the height of the MOOC boom. Education is changing at a relatively slow pace though in places there are significant leaps. Change is rippling through education rather than sweeping forward in a torrent. Sometimes it may seem like one step forward and two steps back but under the glacier the landscape is being reformed. When the glacier moves away we will not recognize the newly revealed environment. Those who have followed the changes and have reacted will adapt to the new conditions whereas those who thought they were on solid ground will struggle to cope.

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