Total Disruption in Learning and Development! (maybe not)

I subscribe to a number of education-related publications, and there is currently a stylistic approach across many of them (and, generically, in the popular media) of relying upon sensationalism and hyperbole to drive heart rates up, in hopes of garnering interest (and of course the related retweets, likes and shares) around whatever the latest amazing technology is.

Lately, the frenzy has been around artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed realities (VR, AR, etc.), with various Paul Reveres signaling the end of the world as we know it.   This almost entirely positive spin rarely addresses the needs of ALL people, however.  National Public Radio reviewed an article by Pearson Education and posited a more circumspect view when it comes to AI in education:

So one great fear when it comes to the Pearson vision of AIEd is that we reproduce existing inequalities. Some students get individualized attention from highly skilled human teachers who use the best learning software available to inform their practice. Other students get less face time with lower-skilled teachers plus TutorBots that imperfectly simulate human interaction.

This is of critical importance, and I will be addressing this notion of equity in access in other postings.  But for now, let’s just try to calm down, and remember that some good folk have gone before us, and that some principles endure.

At this point in my life and career, I’ve seen a number of ed tech trends and have watched as some have grandstanded about the imminent revolution these technologies would bring. Remember educational television (beamed into classrooms)?  Remember e-learning?  Remember the learning management system?  Remember the MOOC?

I think it’s useful to learn from those that have gone before us – occasionally debunking some sketchy ideas while also building on the good ones.  Here are just a few good starting points that give us some comfort in knowledge from the past, and some guidance for how we avoid hyperbolizing:

  • Einstein, 1930:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    Albert_Einstein   ken-robinson

Sir Ken Robinson has also expounded on the importance of imagination; and as we look to a new wave of technological innovation, we will need this more than ever – especially as we are faced with entire populations of people that will need to learn new skills.

  • Dewey, 1930:  “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”


John Dewey – A bright light in the development of learning theories very early on talked about the opportunity for learning from failure.  Today we are hearing quite a bit about this, typically framed in a conversation about innovation, and this has always been a feature of good simulations.  It is also worth noting Dewey’s phrase “…person who really thinks…”.  This simply reinforces the need to provide space for reflection and honest assessment.

  • Freire, 1970:  “Education [is]… the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”


Transformation is everywhere, according to some.  This too, is nothing particularly new, but one could argue that it is accelerating as the global connective tissue of the internet, culture and economies strengthens and expands.  Relevant question for today:  What are we doing to provide education that emphasizes critical thinking and provides individual agency as digital transformation occurs?

  • Knowles, 1980: “… learning activities will be based on the real needs and interests of the participants…”


I’ve seen a number of recent posts and webinar advertisements for discussions of ‘adult learning‘.  I’ve always questioned this over-emphasis on differentiating adult from child learning.  Having taught everyone from 6 year olds to 60 year olds, I can tell you that there is just not that much difference!  However, this principle shared by Knowles will always be central to good education design.

  • Jonassen, 2000:  “Mindtools are knowledge construction tools that learners learn with, not from.”


Jonassen, a constructivist, pointed out the proper view we should take on using technology to facilitate learning – that ‘mindtools’ as he called them (computers, and digital resources) should be used to help learners creatively explore an area of study or interest.  We’ve seen, I think, an over-emphasis on using digital tools to create and push content, rather than providing tools that help learners capture, edit, create and share their own.

Warning:  Anytime you hear someone talking about ‘consuming content‘, that should raise a flag in your mind about the underlying role that is assumed of the learners in question, and whether or not there is a potential recreation at hand of the ancient idea of dumping knowledge into brains.

So:  Let’s relax just a bit, and maybe hesitate before we ‘consume’ that latest super-tasty hyper-urgent, hyperbolic declaration of imminent radical change.  With a bit of reflection, we may realize that some time-tested truths will remain, and that our critical review will help us build more, and possibly even better, future applications of technology in learning.

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