The industrialisation of learning

Photo by Steve Wheeler
The industrial model of education that has such a strong grip on schools has been critiqued by a number of high profile commentators, from Ivan Illich (1970) and Paulo Freire (1970) through to contemporary commentators such as Stephen Heppell and Sir Ken Robinson.

Indeed, Robinson's 2006 TED talk video goes as far as to say that current schooling is stifling innovation and creativity, and squandering talent. The video has been viewed over 11 million times, which shows that the message clearly resonates.

Robinson argues that children are educated out of creativity. He warns that if we are not prepared to take risks and get it wrong occasionally, we will never come up with anything original. The education system, he complains, is predicated on academic ability to the detriment of art and creativity. Watch this entertaining and challenging video to grasp the full value and impact of Sir Ken's message.

Alvin Toffler (1980) describes a number of features that maintain the status quo in society, including synchronisation of behaviour, standardisation of content and maximisation of resources. Robinson talks of 'batch processing by age', another erroneous strategy schools still employ for convenience rather than for the wellbeing of individual children. It is a mass production of education, or as Noah Kennedy once put it 'The industrialisation of intelligence.' A closer look at school systems reveals that these features remain central to the management of education. These were ideal features to prepare children for a future of work in industrial settings. But time has moved on and schools have not. We now work in fluid situations were more often than not, there is no 'job for life' and portfolio careers are dominant.  

The future of work is more uncertain now than it has ever been. We are preparing children for a world that we cannot yet clearly describe. It makes sense for schools to reappraise their mode of operation and decide what to change to engage children with learning in new ways, to develop them into independent learners, agile thinkers, creative and innovative in all they do. Only then can we be assured that we have done our very best for them.

NB: In my next few posts, I'm going to critically explore several of the school strategies Toffler and Robinson have identified, and offer some alternative approaches to promote independent learning and creativity.

Image by Steve Wheeler


Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
Illich, I. (1970) Deschooling Society. London: Marion Boyars Publishers.
Kennedy, N. (1989) The Industrialisation of Intelligence. London: Unwin.
Robinson, K. (2006) Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. TED Talk Video available online at (Accessed 29 June 2012).
Toffler, A. (1980) The Third Wave. London: Pan Books.

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The industrialisation of learning by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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John Traxler said…
hi Steve, could i also modestly add, Traxler, J. (2010), e-Learning - The Next Wave in the ALT-C proceedings of 2010, available as paper 122,
Steve Wheeler said…
You certainly can John - many thanks for the link.
johncurran said…
I read the 'Industrialisation of Intelligence' back in the 90's and it made a big impact on me. Can't remember quite why now but I'm going to dig it out and read again. Looking forward to the 'series'.
ArtTric said…
I guess the answer is a lot of things. Colleges, testing, administration, institutionalized thinking, etc. The list goes on. There are no "just rip the bandaid off" solutions. Takes leadership, patience, time, energy, money, smarts and collective will. Otherwise we'll keep spinning our wheels.

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