When The Teaching Finishes, Let The Learning Begin: From Bloom’s To Psychomotor

In the tech industry, if you do not continue to learn, you will quickly fossilise your knowledge. And if you do not take on new ideas, your knowledge will quickly become out-of-date, and may never catch-up. So are we better to stick our heads in some books — which are probably out-of-date anyway — or should we just jump and and learn through challenges? Computer science is at it’s most boring when it is reading from a book, and is at its most interesting when it is building something that actually does something.

Our new world is one where your knowledge will fade quickly, but where your skills will build. At one time you could have a job for life doing one thing. These days new things arrive by the day, and if you don’t adopt to it, you can quickly become out-of-date.

We have a natural ability to solve puzzles, but we tend to lose this ability over the years, as someone comes along and teaches us a method. In the future, these methods will become an online machine (“The Cloud”), and it will be up to us to make sense of the problems we are faced with, so that we can best use the machine.

Learning is doing

So when the teaching finishes, the learning begins. Should a teacher drum a whole lot of theory into their pupils, or should they just get them to build things, and as they build them they learn.

In this modern day, doing is learning and learning is doing. This is especially the case for Cybersecurity. The days of studying books of theory are quickly passing. We now often to learn new things is just to do them, and in the process of doing them, you learn. But, once you have learnt a bit, you go back and read the books … it’s re-enforcement learning. Problem solving will be one of the key attributes of the jobs of the future, and it is good to exercise your brain in learning new things, even though you might not know some of the core fundamentals.

I appreciate this can be seen as putting the cart before the horse, but the feedback you receive by following steps and getting a solution is worth a great deal in the learning process, and can — hopefully — trigger an interest that just book learning might not be able to achieve. For me CTFs (Capture The Flags) are great places to learn about new things, and should be integrated into the computer science curriculum as formal teaching methods.

Computer Science … is a doing thing, and it is most fun when you strive to get a solution, and it magically appears. Unfortunately our school syllabus often still puts the horse in front of the cart, and which switches many kids off. Why learn how to use PowerPoint, when you can actually send secret messages by creating ciphers for them? Our dull curriculum is often still focused on boring old book work, that ages as quickly as it can be taught.

Doing is the new black

These days, in areas such as Cyber Security, the application of Bloom’s Taxonomy in higher education are rapidly fading, and where we are moving away from a cognitive model (knowledge, comprehension, and up to evaluation) towards a psychomotor approach:

Companies often now want graduates who can originate new ideas and solve puzzles, rather than those who can critically evaluate. Along with this, in an area such as Cyber Security, the scope of the things that students must understand increases by the day:

Students will thus end up moving towards the red area, or the blue area, and pick-up skills as they go.

Capture The Flag

If you want to do some puzzles, there are over 100 here.

But how can we best support the development of the brightest students? Well, one way is for them to self organise themselves, and let them learn from each other. Also let them work together, while competing, and have fun along the way. So, over the past year or so we’ve helped support a range of Capture The Flag (CTF) activities:


and have now developed our own. It is, though, our Edinburgh Napier Security Society (ENUSEC>) who are leading the way in organising themselves, and including students from every level. Their are a supportive group, and who also integrate with recent graduates, and who feed back their experience and help.

Over the past few years, almost every place I’ve turned I see the support of ENSEC>. They helped in our open day showing our many applicants the career opportunities in their area:

and at conference events …

And so I saw their supportive nature yesterday, with their own CTF:


So when the teaching ends, let the learning begin … and let it be fun.

Computer Science needs to shrug off its pretentions to be a top academic subject. It’s much more important than that. It doesn’t just project theory, it actually builds things that are useful. At school, we need to just get our kids doing things, and then, perhaps, learning as part of it. Computer Science shouldn’t be taught in labs of networked PCs, but in places that can create things which flash lights and whirr motors. We need our kids to learn through ciphers and see a new world. And it’s one where your knowledge will fade quickly, but where your skills will build.