We’ve fallen into an education rut. Teach, test, accredit. Repeat.
For many students, this cycle of education is done to them rather than with them. It’s a requirement rather than a pleasure, something they are compelled to do — by parents, teachers and the law in some cases.
This state of affairs shouldn’t be a surprise. With notable exceptions, we’ve focused on teaching to the test for decades in schools — boiling down complex ideas and skills to component parts and then testing, assessing and certifying the mastery of them.
Starting as young as the age of 5, students learn to follow what they are told is important — and what will be tested — rather than what makes them curious. They learn there is information that is interesting, fascinating and perplexing. And then there’s information that will be on the test. The incentives focus on the latter. Pass the test, get the degree. Get the degree, get the job. Get the job, get the life.
The result is an education system that resembles a massive, smokestack-topped factory churning out the newest model for the showroom floor.
This isn’t an anti-testing screed. Educators need to ensure they are teaching the right things and the way they are doing it is valid and based on evidence.
Questioning the ultimate outcome of education is fair game, too. For schools, that means looking beyond the test and examining social and economic effects such as higher employment rates and GDP growth. In companies, it should lead to a better bottom line, a boost in sales, engaged workers and fewer, less costly mistakes.
But in the search for bottom line results it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Teaching to the test will cause us to fail.
For decades, the education system cranked out workers that built one of history’s greatest and most productive industrial engines. As the age of innovation takes hold, it’s not enough. More and more people in the future will need to deploy complex cognitive skills like analysis, decision-making and creativity.
The future economy is driven by people who use the information and resources available to make smart and unexpected decisions. Creativity is the killer app.
In education theory, it’s about exploitation vs. exploration. Faced with a problem, adults who have been schooled in data and immersed in information exploit that experience and knowledge for answers. That works when there’s a solution that already exists. It’s efficient. It’s effective and nothing is better for a quick fix. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes.
Creativity, on the other hand, depends on exploration. It’s inefficient. But it adds long-term value in a way exploitation doesn’t. For evidence, look no further than your smartphone’s colorful touch screen versus the old touch keypad. Which was the more creative but more complex solution to interacting with your device?
Technology is a powerful enabler of education but it can also get in the way. Between virtual reality and powerful analytics platforms and artificial intelligence, there’s a host of engaging, user-friendly and, most importantly for many CLOs, relatively inexpensive tools to implement. Early results from microlearning technology and video-based learning are encouraging, showing higher engagement among learners. But is technology helping us learn via exploration?
That’s the question. According to data collected from Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board surveys, more than half of CLOs plan to up their already significant investment in technology next year.
Technology is no longer just an aid to many jobs. It has become the indispensable way work is done. It’s also increasingly the way people learn. That subjects us to what software programmers call “lock in,” when we are forced to work and learn in the way software creators decided it should be done when they wrote the code way back when. We’re acquiring knowledge efficiently but we’re not exploring.
When technology becomes just a new form of teaching to the test, it doesn’t lead to increased creativity. Helping employees make meaning from the tools they use and pairing them with others to explore new frontiers of knowledge leads to higher creativity and breaks us out of the rut we’re in. Technology is part of the answer. People are the rest of it.
Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.