Future of Education…but not for everyone?

As part of Pearson’s recent efforts to make things more open and interactive they hosted an event with a diverse panel of folks attempting to discuss the “Future of Education- Learn Anything, Anytime, Anyplace through Informal Learning.” The moderator, Leonard Medlock, a fellow Stanford Ed Alum (LDT ’11) and current edSurge contributor, defined informal learning as learning that is “learner driven, flexible and not restricted to time or place.” The ambitious topic and my support for edSurge attracted me to the event but I have to say I was pretty disappointed, mainly due to the narrowly defined notion of ‘anyplace.’ For me, the potential for technology to impact education now more than ever before is the ability for it to level the playing field and ideally create environments for all learners to have access to the highest quality content, anytime and anyplace.

However, the general message from the panelists was that ‘anyplace‘ means wherever people already have access to devices and internet connectivity, as well as exposure to a culture of self-driven learning. Beyond that, it is really quite shocking how little people think or talk about getting these products to communities that need it the most. Credit to Sifteo co-founder, David Merrill who shared a story of donating Sifteo cubes to a local San Francisco school, but sadly no broader vision for how to scale those efforts. At the end of the day, I understand that they are a business driven by the need for sustainability, but then can you really say you’re representing a movement to provide learning opportunities for anyone, anytime and anyplace?

Udemy founder, Gagan Biyani, strongly stated that students either need to have access to really high quality schools or parents or they don’t have a chance to be successful within the current system. While this is probably true (and lead to a lively conversation about what constitutes high quality schools and teachers), I thought the focus of this particular event was to get the best and brightest people thinking about solutions to help all learners, anytime and anyplace, through informal settings outside the current dysfunctional school system. It is much easier to create informal learning options for kids who are fortunate enough to attend good schools and/or have good parents. Many of those learners are  already empowered to take control of their education and really take advantage of learning anything, anytime, anyplace. But isn’t limiting the conversation to those populations such a narrow way to discuss the future of education and informal learning?

I think the bigger challenge around the future of education is making learning anything, anytime, anyplace a reality for all students. This goes beyond distributing devices, which we saw clearly from the crash and burn of the OLPC program, and really extends to creating environments where people are empowered and motivated to learn. Brad Feld put it well in his blog post just today that “you can’t motivate people, you can only create a context in which people are motivated.” For me, creating these environments where people are motivated is the true challenge that we must tackle in thinking about the future of education and I’d love to find a community and go to events where people are talking and thinking about this broader issue.

Overall, the individual panelists are bright, inspiring and passionate entrepreneurs and the event attracted an interesting group of people. So, my biggest piece of feedback is directly to Pearson and the title of the event. Can you really claim to be fostering a conversation around the ‘Future of Education,’ focused on informal learning that can happen anyplace if that doesn’t include a large portion of the population that needs these services the most? While I know there isn’t a purely technical solution to creating motivating learning environments, I believe that technology can and will play a big role in helping people reaching their learning goals and I hope the tech community will embrace a broader definition of the future of education and what it means to truly make their products available anytime and anyplace.

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