Why does technology have so little impact in education?

Alarmingly, there may be no sector of society [other than education] where technology has had less impact.
Dan Kinnaman (via Doug).

It’s absolutely true. In the business world I see paper, telephones, even offices becoming redundant as we find we can do things more efficiently online. In schools, I see classrooms largely unchanged since my own childhood. Even where there are computers, the traditional classroom dynamic has not substantially changed.

What’s gone wrong? The core of it, I believe, is that we have no agreement on what education is actually for. In the debate, I see two camps:

  • ’empowerment’ – learning to learn, learning to think, etc
  • ‘exams’ – knowledge, presentation skills, etc

Most teachers, in their hearts, fall into the first group. They would like to see their young charges go out into the world bright, inquisitive and empowered.

The electorate, as a whole, falls into the second. The public wants measurable outputs, and exams give these. It is far easier to measure a young person’s knowledge of history than his or her ability to make it. Politicians who set the agenda for education must follow the electorate.

We see this same dichotomy in the way technology is used (or not) in schools. If you look at what has been most successful, it’s the whiteboard. Why? Because it is very good at delivering knowledge. More empowering, but far cheaper, projects like Wikitextbook certainly have their followers, but have not gained mainstream acceptance because their outputs are harder to measure.

Technology is not going to really improve education unless we use it to really empower learners. Ultimately, that means letting go the obsession with knowledge and letting it help us embrace higher-order learning. To do this, we have to accept that the process is driven by an electorate that wants to see measurable results they can believe in.

Here is one place technology can help. Now that we routinely gather marks electronically, they are easier to share with parents. Through web, email, SMS, we can show parents the measurable outputs they want to see. But that’s just a first step. Having got their attention, we can now engage them in a debate about what sort of results would help their child get to a better university or find a better job.

At this point, I predict that parents themselves will start to demand evidence of empowerment rather than rote knowledge. How I think you might deliver that evidence is the subject of a future post.

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