An Opportunity to Reimagine Learning

We have a onetime opportunity to remake education; not just to modify aspects of what we already do, but to start at zero and imagine a system that supports humankindfrom the report

Last June, the Augmented Society Network started examining the long term effects of the Pandemic. The Augmented Society Network is a Fellow Network of the RSA, and international organization focused on social impact with 260 years of history and over 30,000 problem-solvers.

An Opportunity CoverEducation is faced with a huge opportunity wrapped up as a monumental problem.

Together, 30 collaborators from 15 different countries representing five continents created a 100-page document to address both the problem and the opportunity. This report has eight themes. Here is a summary and intro for each theme. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

Theme 1: Basics for Fourth Industrial Age Human Success

We are entering into the fourth industrial revolution, where machines augment human mental and social activities. There is one lesson we can learn from the previous three industrial revolutions:

In the long run, each revolution has advantaged more people than it has disadvantaged, but there were severe disruptions that disproportionately negatively impacted the underprivileged. Many of them could have been avoided.

In the information economy, there is now an opportunity to give every human being access to high quality learning content, in any topic and field, and at any time they need it. However, the vast majority of individuals, schools, communities, and educators are not prepared for distance learning.

Theme 2: Foundational or Transversal Skills

Advancements in our knowledge of foundational skills, or skills that transverse all aspects of life, have exploded, and yet we are not scaling those skills.

Traditional methods such as planning, data analysis, goal setting, and expertise also lock us into ways of perceiving the world that end up limiting our ability to adapt to change or thrive during chaos. We cannot rely on the way we frame the past to prepare us for the future.

We need to develop the skill of creating alternative frames to make productive sense of threats and opportunities. This is the skill of unknowing, and it means embracing the unknown.

Let's embark on keeping the joy of learning, the excitement of trying something new, ignited in all people.

Theme 3: Solving Complex Problems and Design Thinking

The pandemic illuminated deficiencies that were always there if we had been looking for them.

Rigid educational systems are ill-suited to unleash creative thinking and problem solving.

The wicked problems we face tend to lend themselves to iterative design thinking, and the paper explores a five-step process of empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Design thinking can both be used as a tool to rethink education (and an array of societal issues) and as a skill to be learned in educational settings.

Theme 4: Access, Diversity, and Inclusion

Today’s societies, and the paths toward success, have been structured  as much through exclusion as for advancement; we have been striving for the advancement of the included. But when progress is framed as progress for all, all progress. The pandemic has again illuminated the inequalities, but they were always there for people who experienced them or looked for them.

Diversity builds stronger futures for all: gender diversity, biodiversity, ethnic diversity, financial diversity, all diversity. Learning is the best way to advance, both for individuals and for society.

Through education, we can change our language to promote inclusion and progress for all. To do this, we have to learn about the ways we have structured inequality, and one place this learning can take place is in schools. The language we use, and often the language we use without even thinking about it, often reinforces inequality.

Too often schools today assume and reinforce the dominant culture, gender, and skin color. We have to change schools to value and explore differences, using that diversity to build a stronger future.

Theme 5: Purpose and Context of Education

Education is the main driver for human talents and societal skills. Access to high quality education, whenever it is needed, needs to be regarded as a universal human right.

Many areas of the world have already seen improvements in academic knowledge because of the educational systems they have implemented, but in this Fourth Industrial Age, we need to think of learning beyond the education of the population under the age of 18, and beyond the transmission of academic knowledge and skills.

Education is shaped by society, but society is also shaped by education, and we need education to lead society to success, resilience, and adaptability. For example: globally, people need to learn the modes and means of sustainable development.

Rather than any one solution, local trust between the broad community and the learning institutions create dynamic effective systems. There is no one right way, there will and should always be a diversity in curricula, technology, and structure.

There are many new technologies that are having a huge impact when deployed in support of societal learning goals and to overcome gaps in equity, access, knowledge, and skills.

The article looks at cases where education has and has not prompted beneficial change for a society, and what we can learn from each one.

Theme 6: Success, Failure, and Evaluation

We need a radical reappraisal of what we understand as success in education.

Measurement of academic proficiency based on narrow learning goals, tying rewards and punishments to results of measurement, and accreditation of competence often distort education away from society’s needs for learning. They can move the focus from competence and mastery to one concentrated on achieving positive results on the assessments themselves.

This calls for a shift of emphasis from attainment to inclusion. Instead of rewarding those who have attained, the practice of education can address the needs of those who have not yet secured success.

Assessment would move from a screening mechanism, on which redirects human beings out of the paths of success, to a way of furthering learning. There would be no failure, just measurement for the aim of determining the next best possible steps to increase knowledge, skills, and capabilities.

It’s easy to test the things we don’t particularly care about. Technology can be part of the answer to assess the things that are actually important. Technologies such as AI, voice recognition, and Augmented and Virtual Reality can be, and are being, deployed to assess learning, to address learning gaps, and to certify competence.

We can hope that we make progress humanely by being inclusive in our implementation, evaluation, and iteration.

Theme 7: Empowering the Educators

We need to recognize that we all educate. And as people who educate, we all need to improve in our ability to coach, train, and inspire.

There are those who educate as a profession. We need to provide those people with the knowledge, resources, tools, and support to be effective.

Areas for support and training include

  1. knowledge and skills about teaching in an educational setting,
  2. technical knowledge (which includes knowledge about a subject or domain as well as technology), and
  3. critical reflection (models of reflections, ethics, and culture).

Educators tend to be most effective when they have access to high quality, differentiated educational materials and work collaboratively and supportively with diverse stakeholders toward common goals. Professional educators need the power, knowledge, and skills to make autonomous decisions about what happens with their students and within their classes. The report goes into some details as to what these are.

Theme 8: Lifelong Learning and the Social Fabric

We propose that a purpose of learning is enabling individuals and society to flourish multidimensionally, but that our current systems seem designed to produce “normal” people primed to follow social norms.

Education can address issues of equality, inclusiveness, and diversity, and it can be a factor in creating more equitable distribution of wealth, developing humans to their potential, and promoting multiculturalism.

A good start is to develop listening skills, to be able to listen and understand what we initially disagree with or dismiss.

Education should explore the differences between a society whose focus is financial to one where members define and develop their driving essence, purpose, and meaning in life. Learning should enable people to have work that matters, to embrace love unconditionally, and to be courageous and authentically vulnerable even in the face of difficulty.

Let’s start thinking of learning as unleashing each person to be successfully different in their own way.

How Does Technology Fit In?

Use of technology to further learning is a dominant theme of the report, and has the potential to

  • Facilitate exploration of concepts, problems, and alternatives
  • Augment the way people experience the world
  • Provide for what-if scenarios
  • Promote collaboration
  • Be a communication media
  • Improve technology skills, as 3D thinking and manipulation will be increasingly important
  • Be a critical component in the design process, leading to design thinking and computational thinking
  • Overcome obstacle of time, distance, and cost
  • Expand practice opportunities
  • Diagnose knowledge and skill gaps

During the pandemic, we have seen instances where technology has accelerated learning and development, and we have also seen how underprepared we all were to deploy technology at scale. If we are to level up, we are all going to have to become vigilant forces for progress.

What’s next?

The Augmented Society Network and the RSA are going to be planning a series of events for us to resolve how we are going to move forward. Contact [email protected] to stay informed.

Thank you Samaya Borom, Dr Tony Breslin, Zoe Camper, Nishan Chelvachandran, Jenna Fuentes, Gary Handforth, Nitzan Herman, Carlos Largacha-Martinez, Dr Lynda Leavitt, Rachida Merbough, Anna Morrison, Amy Moser, Julie Samuels, Jessica Slayback, Jenny Seelman Stiven, Tim Stiven, Benjamin Strawbridge, Ruth Travers, Jonathan Tavssberger, and Cyrill Wiget.

What a great beginning.

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