The Education system as we know it today has been shaped by the forces of the last 150 years – it is very much a product of the industrial revolution and the industrial age. Education, like industrialisation, has become driven by quantitative metrics of production and consumption predicated on specialisation, division of labour, standardisation, consistency and quality control. While the production of test grades has been dramatically successful the economics of their production are changing significantly.
Information is the natural resource of the education system – during the industrial era access to information was relatively controlled and scarce. The Web has upset the “economy” of information – with the web information has become abundant and uncontrolled.
Production methods in education have remained largely unchanged over 150 years (institutions and teachers) while the costs of these operation have increased. The application of technology, while not altering operational methods, has added massively to production costs.
If test results are the “currency” of education then the very success of education in producing test results has led to a type of test result inflation.
Education systems are complicated and the effects of “economic” pressures are difficult to predict – there are many scenarios.
The future of education described here is predicated on the strength of institutional-power – the Machiavellian like “Shirky Principle” that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.
Production cost: Solution
While technology has been a key factor in reducing production costs in industry through automation efficiencies this hasn’t happened in education. The resource of education is information but the types and uses of information technology used so far have only added to production costs.
Educational technologists may get excited about the prospect of increasing use of information technology in educated learning but it may not be the future they are expecting.
A Machiavellian education system will seek ways to reduce labour and production costs through particular uses of information technology.
The future of education will be automated through information technology
The future of education will be increasingly measured, specialised, standardised, consistent and quality controlled through information technology.
Education will be produced and available through Managed Learning Environments with automated testing and resource delivery. Help with the education product (MLE) will be available through support operatives (teachers) able to coach users through the system, get test scores and progress to the next level. Ultimately this user support will be provided through automated guidance or globalised “call centre” operators.
Resource costs: Solution
A Machiavellian education system will seek ways to define and control the value of and access to its own resources. The education system will create increasingly self referencing resources, processes, tests and measures to maintain control of its own “currency” and resources. While it may be possible to take an automated test without an associated course it is unlikely that you will be able to achieve as well as those who have had access to the specialised resources and teaching that support the test. Ultimately it will not be possible to take a test without first enrolling on a course where you can be properly processed for the test and it will not be possible to enrol without first having been processed through lower level courses.
Currency Inflation: Solution
If test grades are the “currency” and purpose of education then a Machiavellian education system will seek “monetary” policies to maintain control. “Exchange rates” and “denominations” willbe defined as required to alter the value of the currency rather than the value of the system – for example, if too many people achieve grade A then the system can define additional sub units such as A* Ultimately testing will feedback and through the entire system so that all experiences are properly aligned for maximum production. Exam boards will produce automated managed learning environments to align and process learners through to final testing.
The education system is like a self contained bubble from the the past industrial era. If institutional-power factors shape the response of the education system to future pressures then the future may be an expanding education bubble – self contained and reinforced by technology
Uneducated learning can take place almost anywhere the learner is able to learn according to circumstance – often at a location of the learners choice or best suited to the learning depending on circumstances. For example, uneducated learning can take place at home; while travelling; in the workplace or even at an institution of educated learning.
Uneducated learning can combine any area of learning in any way the learner is able to – uneducated learning is undetermined and can lead anywhere.
Uneducated learners are able to both “consume” and produce learning resources and opportunities – they are able to be both “learners” and “teachers”.
Undeducated learning can take place at any time the learner is able to learn and be of any duration the learner chooses according to circumstances.
Undeducated learning can occur in any sequence the learner is able to learn and at any age they are able to according to circumstances.
Uneducated learning has no formal or central authority to control learning content and opportunity – the uneducated learner can choose to learn anything from anywhere they are able to according to circumstance.
Uneducated learning generally starts with the learner seeking answers to questions and continues with more questions – there are no limits as to where the questions might lead and the learners questions determine the learning experience.
Uneducated learning is intimately connected and situated in the learner’s world – the learners work, play, family, interests, friends relationships, culture etc at aparticlualt times and circumstances.
Uneducated learning uses any available resources from anyone and any uneducated learner can contribute to uneducated learning resources – learners decide which to use and how.
Educated learning is
Educated learning generally takes place through necessity. The state requires educated learning to the age of 16 and most work and further education requires tested grades from the education system
Educated learning generally takes place within the structure institutions called schools, colleges or universities.
Educated learning follows prescribed standardised schemes called syllabi, schemes of work and lesson plans.
Educated learning is quality controlled. Learner tests before and during courses help match courses and learners and ensure that course quality and achievements are as high as possible.
Educated learning takes place within the standardised quality controlled bounds that institution subject and timetable combinations of a curriculum makes possible.
Educational learning takes place with the environment and resources of the institution external connections are not necessary and learners are deliberately disconnected during periods of testing.
Closed and Private
Educated learning is closed and private. Many resources are kept closed by educators and accessed provided to learners as needed. Learners generally work alone on assignments and submit them for marking in private for grading by a subject expert.
Educated learning is organised around subjects and subject cluster/combinations. Subjects have names like chemistry or history and define what can be learned.
Educated learning is based upon expertise and expert knowledge. Learning is judged and graded by experts against expert criteria. Experts have names like teacher, lecturer and professor.
In Educated learning those who do the learning are called pupils, students or learners. Those who teach are called teachers, lecturers or professors.
Educated learning is based around finding the right answers to the questions set by teachers.. Learners are tested and graded on the answers to questions.
Hierarchical and Elitist
Educated learning is organised and accessed in a hierarchy. Learners progress through levels – higher levels are less available and accessible than lower levels. Higher levels are more respected than lower levels.
Educated learning is organised sequential through a course. A course is usually delivered to the learning through period of time known a a term and associated with the calendar. Access to educated learning is often associated with the learners age.
Educated learning generally involves the learning of specific content, skills and techniques upon which the learner is assessed.
Educated learning generally takes place at specific times in specific locations – usually in meetings called lessons or lectures. Learning is usually tested by answering questions on specific content or performance of specific skills within a specific time and at a specific place.
Educated learners must attend. Learners are marked on their attendance and may not be able entered for final testing unless a minimum standard for attendance has been achieved.
Education has been very successful in meeting the supply side of the demand for test grades – through considerable focus on quality, control, targets and achievement outcomes overall test grades get better every year.
Maximising test grades has become the purpose of education – we can’t fault the system for effectively meeting demand. Learners demand test grades – to get a job; to get on a course, or as consumers as a return on investment for tuition fees. Education itself demands test grades – as input quality controls to maintain course achievement levels for competition and to secure funding.
So, what’s wrong with teaching to the test – the system is effectively meeting demand for test results.
The purpose of education is to supply demand.
In the spirit of “I never make predictions and I never will” here goes.
I feel like I’ve seen it all before – the repetitive cycles as the human condition plays itself out through history and technology. Boom-bust, expansion-contraction, freedom-control – Cambrian like periods of expansion and diversity followed by Darwinian like selection and contraction to new norms. It seems as if the last 5 years have been an amazing Cambrian technology expansion cycle of new technologies such as Web 2.0, cloud, mobile and social and that we are now entering a period of selection and consolidation towards new norms.
Thomas J. Watson Sr., then-president of IBM allegedly said in 1943 that
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – he may have been wrong – there may be a market for even less.
The IT paradigm is shifting to Cloud computing but like mainframes in 1943 only a few organisations have the ability and resources to build these new “computers” – gravitational forces are creating a small number of planet like surface to air super-clouds each with their own ecosystem. Life is good within the chosen ecosystem but inter-planetary communication and travel could be a problem.
The major players are attempting to build complete stacks from surface to air to host their ecosystems – from hardware through a vertical stack to cloud based resources. At least three super-stacks are forming – initially with unique features – it will be interesting if they maintain these features or all become similar.
Google have a powerful cloud base and are are building a mobileground base with mobile technologies – they already have a successful, thriving smartphone ecosystem – we all wait to see if they can repeat this with tablets and laptops (ChromeOS). Google’s ecosystem is relatively loosely coupled and diverse but with an emphasis on pure cloud.
Apple have a tightly integrated stack from ground based iPods, iPhones and iPads through to the iTunes app market. Apple’s ecosystem is relatively controlled and tightly coupled with an emphasis on “ground based” apps. However, Apple have been building large data centres – will their ecosystem offer any pure cloud resources in 2011?
Microsoft have all the pieces yet are struggling to put them together without sacrificing their cash cows – Microsoft’s huge installed base has slowed it down – will it help it float or sink in the new paradigm? Microsoft are having trouble building their stack and haven’t yet developed a viable ecosystem that I can see. Can Microsoft recreate the Windows ecosystem in their stack – the departure of Ray Ozzie in October 2010 suggests they may not be able to and that this could be a long term extinction event for Microsoft – relegating it to a has been legacy supplier – Microsoft Windows and Office forever? ..
Cross stack developments (e.g. using HTML 5.0) will help build bridges and actually help reinforce the stacks but if these super stacks get built there will of course be forces building outside their control that will eventually bring them down or just render them obsolete – this is human nature played out through technology. The interesting “off-stack” ecosystem is of course open source, Peer to Peer and the creative commons. My longer term prediction is that future zeitgeist will shift off-stack back to personal and peer to peer through a natural cycle helped along by some stack based event and amazing technology development.
Beyond the WIMP
The seeds were sown in 2008 when Bill Gates left Microsoft and harvested in October 2010 when Ray Ozzie also left Microsoft and bloged “Dawn of a New Day” where he imagined a Post PC World.
Over a 25 year period the PC and the WIMP interface could be said to have realised Bill Gates’s dream of “a computer on every desk and in every home” but now we are talking about a computer with every person and the technology to do this is different to that used to put a computer on your desk. Microsoft could see the changes coming (they have had pocket PCs and Tablets for a decade) and made new mobile devices within the existing mainstream PC WIMP paradigm. Apple design genius helped show what was possible – the iPod, iPhone and iPad were not radical functional departures from what already existed – the innovation was in connecting together new technologies with superb human centric design. Again Microsoft are under pressure to adapt to the new era – they have the technology but can they implement when the weight of installed base weighs them down rather than advantages them.
The new wave of computing is very personal and built from a combination of ultra mobile, highly connected, real-time, any-time, any-where, green, social, knowledgeable, sensory, cloud, augmented reality, easy to use and pervasive. It certainly gives Gates’ Information at your fingertips” a new spin.
This new era starts with smartphones, tablets, social, real-time and rich sensory interfaces such as multi-touch and context awareness through vision, sound, location, orientation and other sensors. New era devices will become cheaper, smaller, more functional and pervasive – they will augment our reality and become the norm through the advantages they give to the user.
As we move beyond the WIMP we should expect new era devices to become ever more integrated with our context and our senses. Some of the things we should expect in the next decade are voice and gesture interfaces; context interfaces that anticipate and wearable computers and interfaces such as Data Glasses and Data Lenses.
Naturally there will be developments outside this new wave of technology. Change could arise from Ambient/ Internet of Things/ Ubiquitous computing developments so that rather than carry computing around with us our environment and objects within it provide the computing and access – a sort of retro shift (as often happens). Change could arise from the logical progression of personalisation so that eventually implantable computers and interfaces supercede those we wear or carry.
Equality of access has in the past been adjusted by public resources such as libraries and schools but how can public resources adjust for the new wave of pervasive personal technology. The web has revolutionised and democratised information and just when equality of access gets within reach new technologies may snatch it away again – those with the new “information at your fingertips” to augment their realities have a distinct advantage compared to those without the resources.. How can we help equality in the new era? Will there be a technology adjustment to close the equality gap again?
As our technology gets increasingly personal, social and pervasive then issues of privacy will increase – we’ve seen plenty of privacy issues in 2010 starting with Facebook’s Zuckerberg Saying “The Age of Privacy is Over” and ending with Wikileaks and the activities surrounding it. The issues of state-state/state; state-citizen and citizen-citizen privacy-transparency will play out in the new communications space. What responses will there be to these privacy issues? Will society become more secretive and transparent? Will cultures of multiple identities, walled environments and off-web P2P type activities develop? Will these issues simply play out in the new medium in the same way they have done in the past?
William Gibson’s quote “The Future is Already Here – It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed” is a powerful and practical idea for working out what is going to happen in the short term – extrapolate from current edge and current trends. These days new technology is announced & piloted very early – there are few surprises in the short term in terms of technology developments. The problem with short term predictions is that we often exaggerate the scale and impacts of predicted developments.
Bill Gates summed it up when he said “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. Like compound interest an exponential function is just a fixed percentage of growth that compounds – change is occurring around us all the time and like a slow boiling frog we only jump when we become aware of it. Another factor in ICT change in particular is the Network effect (the value and effectiveness of a communication technology increases with the number of users) – this acts a sort of natural selection – operating both negative and positive feedback on exponential growth.
The problem with long term developments are that they are subject to exponential and combinatorial factors – chaotic things that we are not good at understanding at the best of times. To compound things change cycles themselves are becoming faster.
In the short term nothing much appears to happen while longer term changes appear are often beyond our understanding.
Information technology wants to be personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected – “resistance is futile”.
The balance of technology in education is weighted to the institution – we depend upon institutionally provisioned hardware and software from data centres and servers to “end user” computers – this is an expensive, resource intensive, centralised and locked down model struggling to meet the demands of what people want from technology.
Continuing on the current trajectory every room will be eventually be an IT suite or every student will have a college computer – how could I provision, support, maintain and secure up to 20,000 computers – we need a new approach. Educational technology must seek a lighter, simpler less resource intensive approach to technology – it must learn to let go of technology, step away from the diminishing returns on the technology treadmill. Instead, education should provide a platform for technology use – a feasible and sustainable model for the next era – the “fifth wave of computing” – personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected.
The traditional response is for education to provide resources but better choices can usually be readily selected by people from the web. Education needs to de-institutionalise and reduce its own technology – allow the balance to shift to personal technology by exploring DIY and self service approaches.
All our learners have on-line presence and identities – why provide institutional versions – allow learners to use their own resources and on-line identity. Allow learners to select their own email and their own applications – some will use Google apps, some will use Microsoft Live apps while others might prefer Zoho, Facebook office or local apps such as Openoffice or even Microsoft office. If learners don’t have on-line resources then this is an area for education, for education should be about learning for life.
Shift investment from computers and servers to the network. Shake off the ghost of internal client-server thinking – think global – think open – think web only. Create pervasive wireless guest access and increase both internal and Internet bandwidth. Encourage learners and staff to use their own IT on your guest network – let the network be our computer – let the network be the technology platform for learning
Education teaching and Education IT could both share a common new approach – facilitation. Facilitate the use of resources rather than the resources themselves. In the same way that teaching is considering facilitation, coaching, guidance styles so too could education IT.
Technologists often have an almost obsessive addiction about “the next big thing” and a technology fetishism and determination about the power of technology to transform education.
Education is stressed by the need to balance a great many competing factors including finance, legal regulations, government requirements, market competition as well as learning needs – a stress that often results in organisational anxiety a conservative approach to new technology.
The conflux of educational anxiety and technology addiction has in many cases created an addicted, anxiety ridden institutionalised educational technology monster.
The monster mash is depressive, agoraphobic, addictive, obsessive compulsive ritual dance.
Dead and decaying technology is toxic and harmful but the monster is addicted and craves increasing doses to sustain itself in an all consuming self destructive habit.
Technology pushers fool the monster to try ever toxic technologies to keep it and its “users” dependent.
Education has become dependent on technology and has to purchase, power, support and maintain more and more equipment, computers, servers, storage and software each year to satisfy an expanding desire for technology in education.
Education has to deploy ever more complex and expensive technology in order to cope – increasingly needing expensive external specialists.
Education’s dependency on technology is almost 24/7/365 – how long could a typical institution last without a technology fix.
The monster seeks comfort from the familiar, private and closed places – it fears and avoids large, open, public and/or unfamiliar places where there are few places to hide.
Education perpetuates familiar first phase technologies and applications such as locally installed, local area network client and server products.
The monster comforts itself with repetitive self-reinforcing ritualistic behaviours.
Education seeks comfort in conforming to self-constructed norms of technology use – learner:computer ratios; e-boards installations, VLE/MLE and the use of technology in lessons. Ritualised technology becomes repetitive, rigid, self-reinforcing and difficult to change. Education becomes focused on preserving the rituals f technology rather than the function.
Despite all its hard work the monster cannot find love.
For technologists education doesn’t go far enough and for eduction the technology is too wild and risky.
The Monster Mash
The monster mash is a complex, expensive, rigid, and slow moving dance – increasingly ridiculous yet scary and increasingly damaging to education and learning.
New technologies allow Education to provide increasing amounts of IT provisioned faster and more flexibly while also exerting traditional practices for availability, security, control and standardisation. However, there is a price – these new technologies are far more complex than before. Consider the complexity of load balanced server clustering, Storage area networking or a typical institutional email system.
The complexity of our systems is expensive – not only in terms of capital but also in terms of time, skills and increasingly in terms of external support and maintenance.
The scale of educational IT is expensive – the rise in quantity outweighs the fall in unit costs – while the cost of computer hardware has fallen we use many more and while the cost of software has fallen over the years we use more.
The scale of educational IT is expensive to support and maintain – we need increasing numbers of technical people to keep all this ticking over.
There is also a cost in terms of preparing and delivering education doing the monster mash – consider the amount of time spent preparing attractive powerpoint presentations or populating a VLE for classroom use. This is the old e-board and VLE debate where for me the “E” stands for expensive – consider the opportunity costs of these technologies alone.
To deploy, support and maintain on scale institutional IT is pretty standardised – new technologies such as virtualised clients may allow some variety around a standard theme but they are all generally predefined menu selections.
To protect and secure on scale institutional IT is pretty locked down – people often can’t install programs of their choice on educational computers.
Consider the effect of this standardised lock down on learning. A learner may not be familiar with tools you provide so must first learn your tools before they can apply them to their learning – the tools become a stumbling block and get in the way of learning.
Traditional institutional IT is designed for providing a fixed standardised and controlled provision on scale – it is not well suited to providing a personalised flexible provision on scope. New features appear in free public consumer IT regularly and often yet consider the process of upgrading an institutional application or email system for all your people.
Free the Monster
However comforting the monster mash may be it now has an existential problem and risks harming everyone around it. The Monster mash is a big turn off for many people these days.
While slow moving, rigid, complex and expensive its addictive, depressed, agoraphobic obsessive compulsive nature make the monster parasitic and difficult to escape
Shock tactics and cold turkey could be fatal for both the monster and the host – we must treat the underlying problems of addiction and anxiety appropriately with exposure and response prevention. With support the monster must confront its fears and discontinue its escape and avoidance responses. The Monster must learn that it can be safe in open, public spaces and that it can reduce and maybe one day eliminate its dependence on tradition and ritual. Over time educational technology may once again lead a less complex, expensive, rigid and slow moving life – one day the monster may lead a happy and fulfilling life.
I hope to explore some technology and education for the monster in future blogs.
Initially, computers were rare and education provided a handful of computer terminals in specialist suites for relatively specialist access to mainframes. Over time, Mainframe terminals were replaced with desktop “personal” computers and the same model expanded and applied mainstream such that a typical school or college may have thousands of “terminals” and a great many IT suites. Such desktop models are supported and maintained on an institutional model – they are generally standardised and locked down – they really are more like mainframe terminals than personal computers.
Initially, education assimilated computers were a rare resource and teachers could book time in the IT suite for specialist sessions. Over time large machines (desktop computer “terminals”) have been placed on the desks in front of learners. Classrooms have attempted to accommodate these machines by providing benching and computer chairs and often arranging conveniently along and facing walls – in many cases, learners all have their backs to the teacher.
Education’s very long and expansive initial assimilation of IT while already problematic is now under real pressure from radical technology and cultural changes. Where computers were once big, rare, expensive and institutional they are now small, common, relatively cheap and personal. Where information was once relatively rare, expensive and institutional it is now abundant, free and personal. Learners are increasingly carrying around in their pockets or bags real personal computers with access to as much information as they need – the typical educational technology provision is an anachronistic steampunk concoction of IT rarity in an age of IT abundance.
The future of technology in education will be mobile and personal but is less about technology and more about education – Education must learn to accommodate new technology and culture with new practice – I hope to explore some of these issues in future blogs.