By David Price
If you were only to listen to politicians and policy makers, you could be forgiven for harboring two delusions: first, that the sole purpose of schooling is to create the workforce of the future; second, that the only place that our students learn is at school. If you believe that preparation for work is at least a part of education’s function, at what point do educators have a responsibility to face the radically changing employment patterns facing our students? And how can we re-think schooling to complement, not compete with, their informal learning?
My argument, here and in my book, OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future, is that the discourse surrounding formal learning is becoming ever further detached from the lessons we see when learning happens outside formal boundaries. The grades that individual students receive for their school projects matter little compared to the comments found on their blogs, or their Vimeo accounts. Rising numbers of parents, frustrated by the worksheet culture of their child’s classroom, are self-organizing and co-creating local home-learning networks.
Learning which is “open” — outward-facing, highly collaborative, co-created and purpose-driven — offers the promise of addressing the two biggest, yet largely overlooked, challenges facing educators.
1. The Revolution In How We Now Work
According to social forecasts in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, the point at which our labor market has more freelancers than full-time employees is between 5 to 10 years away. The growing automation of knowledge work means that, globally, we are expected to lose around 2 billion jobs by 2030. Some of that loss will be softened by new jobs created, but they’re going to be of the low-paid, temporary, variety. Today’s university graduates are facing what has been termed a “high skills/low income” future. The recent rapid growth in “knowledge process outsourcing” — the breaking up of salaried jobs into bid-for tasks, through websites like Elance.com and Freelancer. com — may well be transforming economies of developing countries like India, but it is causing futurists in the west to predict “the end of job.”
2. The Revolution In How We Now Learn
It is perhaps a measure of how open our learning has become, that the exchange of knowledge among anybody with an Internet connection, has become ubiquitous. Much of it may have once been frivolous: pictures of cats playing the piano and the like. But now it ranges from the personal/professional, through blogging and other forms of social media, to the political. The phenomenal success of campaign groups like Avaaz and 38 Degrees give the lie to the stereotype of young people who are politically disengaged.
The learning which is taking place socially is also purposeful: we have more control over our lives now, and we learn so that we can collectively take action, often driven by values and humanitarian concern.
Because socially-connected learning has crept up on us, we have not seen it for the true revolution that it represents. In addition, although high-profile examples of abuse are often scandalized in popular media, the value of peer-to-peer informal learning is absent from policy discussions on education.
BACK TO BASICS
Instead of a forward-focused public discussion on the challenges of the labor market, or the opportunities presented by informal learning, what we have seen and heard from politicians and policy-makers tends to be a nostalgic desire to return to the certainty of “the basics.” Such nostalgia is bolstered by the PISA performance of countries favoring traditional pedagogies (whilst neatly avoiding the inefficiency of learning systems that, in order to be successful, require students to work longer hours than 19th century English child factory hands).
While this myopic and somewhat irrelevant argument takes place, the gulf in motivation between the learning that our students have to do, and the learning that they choose to do, grows ever wider. Meanwhile, the implementation of standardized testing and high-stakes accountability leaves a devastating legacy of what Yong Zhao calls side effects: increasing student (and staff) disengagement; perceived irrelevance of formal education; and the loss of autonomy and trust in the teaching profession.
If we want to re-engage learners, re-professionalize teachers, and re-think how we prepare students for a globally competitive working life, we need to follow the learners, and develop more open learning systems.
David Price is an author, learning futurist and senior associate at the Innovation Unit in London, England. His new book is OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DavidPriceOBE.