Previously I discussed a brief history of learning online and thoughts about while online degrees are becoming more ubiquitous. Let’s look at another Economist article, Has The Ideas Machine Broken Down? which discusses how the pace of innovation has slowed down in greater detail. While the article doesn’t specifically relate trends and issues to education I feel like there are there and should be for our consideration.
Mr. Gordon muses that the past two centuries of economic growth might actually amount to just “one big wave” of dramatic change rather than a new era of uninterrupted progress, and that the world is returning to a regime in which growth is mostly of the extensive sort (see chart).
Mr Gordon sees it as possible that there were only a few truly fundamental innovations—the ability to use power on a large scale, to keep houses comfortable regardless of outside temperature, to get from any A to any B, to talk to anyone you need to—and that they have mostly been made. There will be more innovation—but it will not change the way the world works in the way electricity, internal-combustion engines, plumbing, petrochemicals and the telephone have. Mr Cowen is more willing to imagine big technological gains ahead, but he thinks there are no more low-hanging fruit. Turning terabytes of genomic knowledge into medical benefit is a lot harder than discovering and mass producing antibiotics.
You will notice that I didn’t mention some new tech in this post. I could have but choose not to because I don’t think we know what that is yet. There is a big difference between an invention and an innovation and I think we can “innovate” with what we already have. What do I mean by this?
Tony Wagner who is over Harvard’s Innovation Lab was a recent featured innovator on the Just Start blog (see Tony Wagner: Need for Parents and Educators to Join Forces). He shared that knowledge is rapidly becoming commoditized, it’s free on the Internet, and it’s growing exponentially, changing constantly. Certainly, you need expertise, but what’s far more important is what you can do with what you know, which is a completely different education challenge.
When I attended the Global Education Conference a month ago I was able to connect with Jaime Casap during his presentation that is embedded below.
One of the things that stuck with me was when he was discussing how “he doesn’t have all of the answers anymore.” As a father as well I enjoy having the answers when my children ask me questions. His children are older than mine and with smart phones but he gives an answer and at the same time they are asking Google. Just as Tony was saying above, “what is far more important is what you can do with what you know.” Google is a tool that doesn’t make us experts. I see it just as steeling the answers for a test. You might get an A but you definitely didn’t learn anything. Instructional designers know that this knowledge needs to be used, applied to new situations, etc.
Here lies the challenge and ways to innovate with all of the technology that we have. The answer may sound simple but it isn’t. Our students need to learn from using the technology and not just use the technology. If not then our students will not be the next innovators. Robert Gordon discusses above in his Economist article that there isn’t any more low hanging fruit. Innovation is going to be a challenge for our students just as it is for the designers of our online education.