Learning 2.0: Time to Move Education Politics from Regulation to Capacity Building (Part II)

Mar 9th, 2011

Learning 2.0: Time to Move Education Politics from Regulation to Capacity Building (Part II)

By: Charles Taylor Kerchner | 01:03 PM | Categories: School & District Reform

The essence of Learning 2.0
                                           This blog post is part 2 of 3.  For the first part of Learning 2.0, click here.
Over the last year, I have visited schools where people think outside the conventions of the acquisition and storage model, and where learning is organized in unconventional ways.  I have visited High Tech High in San Diego, New Tech at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, and the Avalon School in St. Paul, where students learn by designing and completing projects.  I’ve watched parents tutor their kids who are enrolled in the California Virtual Academy, and seen how they integrate a highly structured curriculum with family life and experiences.  I’ve visited the Los Angeles Unified School District’s technology fair and seen students who had been “ganged up” and lost to any form of schooling recreate themselves as designers and graphic artists.  I’ve looked at blended learning—“clicks and bricks”—that bring together technology and face-to-face experiences using Moodle and other software.  I’ve looked at games, simulations, apps, and the burgeoning world of open lectures and courses.  (MIT now has over 2,000 free courses on line, and Carnegie Mellon has invested hugely in smart teaching software.)  I’ve visited Scotland, and talked with the people who developed the world’s first national education intranet, Glow, with the capacity of linking every student, classroom, teacher, and family in the country.
Synthesizing these experiences and the rapidly growing research literature on learning, technology, and open education, it is possible to sketch the design of Learning 2.0:
1. A remix of acquisition and practice in project-based learning; or as the founders of High Tech High in San Diego call it, the integration of head and hands. Integrating experience and academic standards creates multiple pathways through school without old-fashioned tracking, and it often changes students’ aspirations.  Larry Rosenstock, who founded High Tech High, realized that more of the students in his carpentry class were going to college than those in the school’s “academic” track.  Learning and doing motivates students, and changes the flows of information.
2. An individual education plan for everyone.  The official curriculum of most schools leaves large numbers of students either bored or bewildered.  Both in the speed at which knowledge is presented and the style of learning experiences, the system needs more variety in type and style of education, not less. Individualization and specialization of learning will allow different mixtures of technical, artistic, and conventionally academic education to co-exist and prosper.  New technologies help.  The software for handheld devices, such as that developed by Wireless Generation, allows teachers to individualize and regroup students while constantly monitoring their progress.
3. A redefinition of who is the worker in the education system.  Historically, education reform has been built on getting adults to work harder hoping that this would make kids smarter.  Instead, we need to design and build learning experiences that are accessible directly by students and which better motivate them.  Given data about standards and expectations and the expanding universe of educational experiences, students are capable of much more self-monitoring and direction than the current system expects or allows.
4. Unbundle the time spent learning, teaching lessons, and the assessment of competence.  While the current practice of semester-long classes may endure for some time, the system needs to open the capacity for students to learn and be tested in different blocks of time, and to be certified as having learned.  If there are productivity gains to be made in education, they will be made largely in shrinking the number of years and months it takes a student to move through high school and higher education and by reducing the necessity for remediation for students who simply needed longer to master a topic.
5. A redefinition of Basic Skills.  The United States has been obsessed with higher standards in reading, math, and science.  But standards and testing are dangerously narrowing learning.  Learning to collaborate and to solve ill-defined problems are to the 21st Century what industrial discipline was to the last hundred years, according to those who have studied what employers and society need.  Adoption of a common core of standards, to which the California State Board of Education has subscribed, is supposed to address these issues, but the danger remains that these standards—like the existing ones—will produce a longer list of atomized, and thus trivialized, skills.
In future posts, I will elaborate on each of the elements of Learning 2.0.  Here, let’s consider briefly the political and policy question of how best to move beyond Learning 1.0.



Thanks, Jennifer, for your thoughtful comments. Teachers all over the country tell similar stories, and I think that these are beginning to be understood in the halls of power...but don't hold your breath.

The batch process mode of teaching has persisted largely because it is practical for bureaucracies to organize this way. Having everyone cover the same material at the same time looks neat and having them tested at the same time seems vaguely fair. Individualization is hard, and many teachers lack the skills to pull it off. But technology may be a help in allowing greater individualization, and decoupling testing and instruction could allow teachers to center their work on working directly with students. If you (and others) haven't seen it, I recommend looking at Sal Kahn's little speech at TED. It's posted on my web site: www.mindworkers.com. He tells how allowing students to move at their own pace allows many of them who were thought "behind" to zoom ahead once they gained mastery.

I highly support the ideas in this article, especially 1 through 4. For #5, I strongly agree that the way standards are currently used, they are 'dangerously narrowing learning', however, the redefinition was a bit unclear. This autumn during a PLC meeting, I requested for a few extra days to teach a topic, but the principal of our school said that we were too far behind the curriculum guide and all teachers in our group must test at the same time and then reteach. All teachers in our PLC group ended with low scores. I believe the ideas in the article would bring us to so much more successul learning.

Based on my studies and experiences teaching a broad range of students, K-14, socioeconomically and general ed/special ed/ELL, I have emphasized for years that each student shoud have an individual education plan. The current policies pressure that all students learn the same things at the same pace at the same age. But different students have different learning styles, learn at different paces, have different interests, and so many other differences. Rather than pressuring for education to be the same for all students, schools as a whole and teachers especially, should focus on designing education for each individual student so as to support students to master common standards and reach individual goals. Of course the student and parents should be involved in planning their individual education plan. I believe if education was designed for each individual student, students would be much more motivated. I also think we should eliminate the K-12 grade system and measure students' level of progress by mastery of common standards.

And yes, students should be able to learn and be tested in different time blocks to meet their different learning paces. Based on current standard policies, all students are introduced to concepts with little practice and than tested. There is very little time for deep learning in which the students get a true understanding of the concept. Currently, in many classrooms, students are being tested when it is fairly clear that the majority of the students have not mastered the skills. Instead, teachers should be given more time so students can learn concepts and skills better, such as through project-based learning as mentioned in idea #1; and students should not be formally tested until that there are signs through informal assessments that the student(s) have learning the concept(s), or even better when the student thinks they are ready to be tested, whch goes with idea #3 above. Students who do not meet the standards when tested, rather than pushed to the next level/concept, should be given another opportunity to learn it in a different style. However, if there was more time to learn in the first case and students were not tested until signs of mastery was evident, there would be musch less reteaching required.