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George Needs Help

The Future is Here?

George Siemens is fine despite his sparsely titled circa telegraph text post Need help in which he asks some super broad (yes important) questions:

I often hear educators talking about “education needs to change” (I do it too). This is the case for the K-12, higher education, and corporate training/education markets.

As a small research project, I’d like to ask people to answer the following questions (on their blog, in YouTube, Seesmic, or wherever – please post a link in the comments section below):

1. Does education need to change?
2. Why or why not?
3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

My first knee-jerk response was terse:

(1) Yes. (2) If not it dies. (3) Different.

But that is not very helpful, and as George has helped me much in the past, I ought to try harder than just snark.

Which is usually my first response regardless.

I do struggle with trying to write concrete do-able responses to such broad questions. But I am to gather the point is not to come up with a “right” answer (as I am still suffering from my own conditioning in the education system), but to be in the discussion (of which a lot of folks have already done in George’s comments).

So back to thinking…

1. Does education need to change?
Well, nearly everything is always in some ready or probable state of change. The things I don’t want changing are the regularity of the sun’s appearance on a daily basis… my health, and maybe my broadband internet service.

But to me the question presumes a changeable thing called “education”, like “does my tire need a change?” which I can tell by some simple inspection and then specific action (like cussing at the overtightened lug nuts– wait a minute! I tightened them!). The thing we call education is an amalgamation of many other, some interconnected, many not, systems and forces, and like large systems is going to prefer a status quo state of stability. Big things wanna stay the same.

I’d say it is more important that people change in how we work, think, communicate, participate, converse, consume… That is where the effects will take root and then filter into the systems, networks groups, they are part of.

Well, it cannot be all bottom up, but to me, that is what makes the system in a real ready state to change. There are then powerful people, groupsm networks, etc who have a stake and benefit in keeping things as they are, and not much will change until they do (or an asteroid hits).

flickr cc licensed photo by nebarnix

The process takes me back to education in geology- in the 18th century James Hutton proposed the long age of the earth allowing for its features to develop by very small actions (sand grains settling) over long periods of time or gradualism (“no vestige of a beginning; no prospect of an end), and the same ideas spilled over into the theory of evolution.

Yet it was almost 200 years to flip that sideways with the recognition of punctuated equilibrium, that species and other natural processes, actually changed quickly in short bursts of high energy, disruptive chaos, with long intervening periods of no or little change that appear more gradualist.

flickr cc licensed photo by piotr.amigo

So putting that lens on education, it sure seems like we are in a long period of gradualism- that the processes of the System (classes, courses, certifying institutions, teachers in the front, grades, degrees, etc) have changed little in, oh maybe 200? years.

The looming mystery then is what is the unforeseen influence that triggers the periods of rapid change? Is it the internet? An economic crises? YouTube? (just kidding).

So “education” does not need to change; it will be changed by the people in it (and outside), but not via a comfortable status quo strategy.

2. Why or why not?
Someone in the comment stream already questioned who would say “why not”! I think the answer is scribbled on a yellow notepad or an overhead transparency 😉

I’m not sure I have much to add besides if change does not happen, other parts of the system that are changing, adapting, evolving will supplant or make it irrelevant like a relict tail. It may take a longer time than we can see, but those that do not change or evolve are left to the whims process of fossilization.

3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?
Bug fuzzy crystal ball generalism goggles engaged.

There still ought to be some social element of people coming together (be it in person or virtually) to learn *together* or from/to each other. It ought to be much more individualized so people can advance based on their readiness, not to some lock step schedule. It ought to be relevant, concrete. It ought to involve some aspects of online activity, face to face activity, and out in the real world activity. It ought to be transferable. It is not expert focused but focused on developing expertise or something like it. It ought to be easily demonstrable of one’s knowledge and skills, not of an ability to parrot memorized responses.

Good luck sorting it out George!

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hi Alan – thanks for your post. I’ll compile comments and see if some sort of “common sense whole” emerges. And, how responses differ from those who reply online (i.e. via blogs) versus those who are completely wrapped up in technology.

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