Education, schooling and the digital age

Education and schooling are not the same thing. Schooling is where structures are imposed upon learners to make the process more manageable. Behaviour is synchronised, curricula are standardised, and criterion referenced assessment is imposed to quantify achievement. Education is where learning is personalised and unique to the individual. Learning doesn't require the impositions of schooling. Learning can survive without curriculum, synchronisation, assessment and all the other strictures imposed upon school students. All it needs is enthusiasm and opportunity.

Learning that is personalised and lifelong is almost always self-organised, self regulated and naturally has no course termination date. There is a particular joy in this kind of learning, because it relies on personal enthusiasm rather than the achievement of some particular standardised benchmark.

If teachers are to be present, then they should be pedagogues not directors and managers. Pedagogy in the best sense of the word is where knowledgeable others such as teachers and experts provide the guidance and support for good learning to be optimised. This is what schools in the idealistic sense should be modelled upon.

Teaching to the test must be replaced by learning as a quest. 

A paradigm shift is happening in the world of education, and it is tearing away at the fabric of traditional schooling. The rigid structures of the past are increasingly anachronistic in the fast paced world of mobile phones, the Web and pervasive computing. Students no longer passively absorb content, because they own personal digital devices, and they can use these to produce, organise, repurpose and share their own content.

Co-production of knowledge is emerging as a new model for learning in the digital age. Students become teachers and teachers become students. This kind of power sharing will need to become increasingly common if schools are going to remain relevant. The blurring of these boundaries epitomises digital age learning, as does the growing autonomy students are attaining as they learn for themselves. It is not the end of the school system, but it is a wake-up call for schools to begin adapting to the needs of this generation as we emerge into a technologically rich society where personalised devices are common place. Students are not longer satisfied with schooling - one size does not fit all. It does not even fit individuals.

All of these themes and more were discussed in this video interview I did for Northland Polytechnic in Whangarei, New Zealand recently. The interviewer was Vasi Doncheva, who until recently was Flexible Learning Manager at NorthTec.


Photo by Steve Wheeler

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Unknown said…
Hi Steve,

Interesting post! I reacted on Twitter based on the sentence 'Learning can survive without curriculum.....' I said that learning could, but education couldn't, and that I would like my doctor having been educated with a curriculum. You invited me to react on the blog, so here I am.
I certainly agree that 'how we do school' is no longer (was is ever?) the right way. The teaching to the middle for instance, the lack of differentitation, and age-based grouping results in 'interrupted learning'. Our system should provided uninterrupted learning. This isn't a result of technology, but technology can surely help us create a system where students can learn in their own pace, self-regulated and were not age is the grouping variable, but level is.
So, I agree that behaviour shouldn't be synchronised and it should be more self-regulated. However, I disgree on the curriculum and assessment part. In my opinion (also based on the researchproject I am currently leading), there should be a basic curriculum for everyone (to be able to function in society), and everyone should have the opportunity the go through the curriculum in their own pace, and in their 'own way'. Having a basic curriculum doesn't mean everyone reaches goals in the same way. However, it does mean a difference in assessment and teacher roles. So, my second disagreement deals with assessment. You write assessment is now criterion referenced. I think it is too often norm based. We often assess whether you are in line with you peers, (comparing outcomes with age peers) in stead of comparing outcomes with curriculum goals. In order to be able to provide uninterrupted learning, with students self-regulting their learning, and still being prepared for life, learning, society and so on, we need a combination of both types of assessment. Teachers need to know about pupils’ individual cognitive and social levels and needs. monitoring pupils is necessary in order to modify instruction and vary grouping patterns for meeting pupils’ changing needs. While usually only norm-based testing is used ( putting a disadvantage for those pupils scoring at the lower and higher end of the spectrum), criterion-based testing using observation or assessment instruments is required as well. I feel that with skilled teachers, and a different school organisation,we can have your idea of education, including my basic curricum and much more.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Amber. I would like to put the record straight here so that there is no confusion. What I am referring to here is learning as a process - lifelong learning, as I mentioned in the interview, is largely informal. I'm not specifically referring to professional education here. I agree that for medicine, and other professional learning, such as engineering, law, airline piloting, teaching, etc., there does need to be a defined curriculum, and learning of this kind does need to be assessed effectively so that competence is assured. However, even here, there is latitude for change. Who defines this curriculum? We know that curricula change constantly, according the needs of society and community. Yet this change is not always as responsive as it should be. What would happen if community defined, or even became the curriculum?

You also raise interesting questions about assessment, and I agree that in some areas of formal education, norm referencing is the outcome, even if criterion referencing is applied. Both are unfair in my estimation. I would rather promote student centred assessment - ipsative approaches, that measure student attainment against previous personal attainment. This approach clearly celebrates and rewards individual learning and privileges the learner centric perspective over the group.

I am however, opposed to homogenisation of learning in compulsory education, because students do not discover enough of their own self and their creativity can become constrained. A uniformity, synchronisation of behaviour and one size fitting all is largely a management principle, and is imposed for the benefit of the school administration rather than for the individual learners.
Unknown said…
I totally agree, and hope I didn't say otherwise :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
Not at all! Keep the comments coming Amber ;)
I wonder what curriculum would look like if it was process and context focused rather than content?
There may be aspects of homogenised content that would be appropriate at particular developmental stages. One of the things I keep coming back to is skill and knowledge outcomes as one focus and then the application of the skill and knowledge as a strategy based outcome.
The work Declara have been doing in the area of learner analytics is something that we need to assist educators to make informed decisions about learner differentiation. The lag in the development and application of this technology will be one of the things we will look back on and wonder why it was not obvious and made a political priority.

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