Starting Over: How Reinventing Education Will Benefit You
Schools have a different role to play in a digital age.
Education is necessary. It helps shape everyone’s future. What you learn in school forms the basis of the answers to many of your future questions. It is the necessary start for your career.
Sounds straightforward, right? Well, many of you will have doubts or may even disagree. I hear more and more that education is failing us. It kills creativity. It will not prepare you for the fast-changing digital future. Some students even believe that traditional, formal, and structured learning are a waste of time.
These two views often confuse me. As a teacher, I am convinced that education is necessary. I believe it’s particularly crucial in times of rapid transformation. But I also see that our approach to education needs to change. We must be much more critical.
If we don’t start thinking about why, how, and what we teach today, schools and other educational institutions will run the risk of becoming irrelevant very soon.
Education is in crisis — Is automation the solution?
Emerging digital technology may help us. After all, it is already disrupting education. Think about it. Most of what’s being educated today can certainly be “automated.”
There are many online learning opportunities. YouTube and Skillshare enable you to learn from your peers. Artificial intelligence will personalize the teaching experience for students. AI helps them study in a more productive pace with tailor-made feedback and tutoring. Combined with other emerging technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, the opportunities are mind-blowing.
We should not be surprised if education technology (or EdTech) would replace many traditional teachers within the near future.
But something else is going on — The “up-side-down” of education
While the advantages of EdTech tools are clear, they will never wholly replace teachers and the classroom experience. Gathering knowledge will remain essential. But we see a stronger focus on “skills,” the things that “machines” cannot teach, or cannot do better.
We can refer to them as “human skills.” Advanced language use. Structured reasoning. Problem-solving. Creative thinking.
And there are three “big themes” which will always be more suitable for in-class training.
Collaboration. Communication. Community.
In the new world, with the explosive growth of digital technologies, we can already see a paradigm/significant shift in education, in particular, when, where and how people learn.
The center of gravity of education has shifted from in-class learning to peer-to-peer learning. In the 20th century, schools quickly became structured and formalized. The focus of teaching and learning was on processes, procedures, specialization, and certification.
What we currently see happening is that digital technologies allow us to “go back to the future.” There is a new emphasis on social and peer learning, and on the job training in teams and on assignments. All approaches to teaching and learning that prevailed before the 20th century. The educational methods of craftsmen and apprenticeships.
Smart companies understand this. They now make lifelong learning and training an integral part of the job. They realize that this is the only way for them to remain relevant, successful and competitive in the new world (which is characterized by disruptive innovations and the emergence of new and agile competitors). They know that this is the only way to attract and retain the best talent.
Companies that I am involved in have recently introduced “in-company” learning platforms and communities. They put huge emphasis on the importance of group learning and self-learning.
Will we see a reinvention of education anytime soon?
The paradigm shift in teaching and learning are the main reason why two years ago I decided to focus more on collaboration, communication, and community-building in my classes. Students must learn how to solve problems in teams. Building relationships and working together are the key skills in the new world.
Sure, people still need basic knowledge of a specific discipline — engineering, software programming, finance, law — but the ability to work together with others and to solve problems creatively is key. The spirit and experience of the “Hackathon” is the future.
Being a team player means that they must be able to think out of the box, be innovative and creative.
You need to be able to communicate using digital tools. New world skills. But you also need to be able to pitch ideas and tell a story. Persuade. Convince. And then execute.
In an age of social media, it is also essential that students understand how to build communities and operate effectively in those virtual communities.
Finally, in this new world, “self-learning” has become the most essential skill. The capacity to quickly curate and filter content and then absorb and use that content creatively by yourself. In a world of infinite information, self-learning is the skill that distinguishes people.
The result of the new approach is that the distinct roles of teachers and learners are becoming more and more blurred. Classrooms become laboratories with a focus on experiments, sharing and co-learning. Teachers become inspirators and influencers, rather than figures of authority that communicate knowledge. That world is disappearing, and that style of teaching is met with enormous scepticism by more and more students. They look at such teachers and ask: “What can they teach me?” What do they understand of my world?”
So far, my experiences with a new approach to teaching have been exciting. More and more students have become successful entrepreneurs. More and more students were hired by companies to help them remain relevant in the age of digital transformation.
But transforming education is difficult. Like any system with entrenched interests, the educational system is conservative and reluctant to embrace the new. Clearly, not all of my colleagues are open to change. You probably face similar struggles in your own environment.
Nevertheless, I will continue to push for change. I will keep experimenting and will communicate my “lessons learned” in future stories. I will document and share my experiences teaching students how to navigate in a digital age.
Because one thing is for sure: We must reinvent education and make it relevant to this amazing new world that we are creating.