The recent McKinsey report Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works reveals that despite a world wide shortage of skilled workers less than half of students think their education prepares them for employment. Unfortunately almost three quarters of the institutions surveyed believe that they are doing a good job of preparing their students for entry level positions in their field of studies. My recent experience as the Vice President Academic of a small liberal arts University confirms that most faculty, administrators and staff believe their institution is doing a wonderful job at preparing students when in reality they are not. How can so many seemingly intelligent people be so wrong and not fully grasp the changes that society is facing and the need for our educational system to adapt?
I have been considering this question for over 30 years and unfortunately, I haven’t seem any significant systemic changes in the educational system since my time as student in grade school–but this may be about to change. Yes, we are using technology like whiteboards instead of blackboards and some institutions are even dabbling with digital content but for the most part any advances in technology are used to make the delivery of information more efficient. We even give our Learning Management Systems names like “Blackboard” to help preserve the notion of information delivery in the traditional sense.
I think a significant part of the problem is that those who are really good at doing school as students come back as instructors and administrators–it is a self perpetuating system. In the extremely popular TED Talk Do schools kill creativity? Sir Ken Robinson makes the argument that if aliens were to visit our school system they would simply see it as system established to produce University Professors. This perhaps explains the disconnect between what the business world and students expect and what the educational system provides. Most instructors are convinced that the system is doing a great job because they are delivering the content in the same way that they had it delivered to them. They did very well in the system so they are living proof that the system works well. They do unto their students what was done onto them and so on. As we see from the data most of these people in the system do not see any problems. Fortunately, those outside the education system see the need for reform and the power of disruptive innovation is about to change the education system in ways that will be beyond the system’s control.
In the recent Forbes article One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education author Michael Noer argues:
No field operates more inefficiently than Education. A new breed of disruptors is finally going to fix it.
The article highlights Salman Khan’s Khan Academy which is a collection of over 3000 short video clips that can be used in a just in time basis to help understand and learn many mathematical, scientific or other technical concepts. The videos themselves are really not that high in aesthetic quality so many traditional instructors are quick to dismiss them on this basis. But this is a classic example of a disruptive innovation. The disruptor often from outside the industry (Sal Kahn is not even a teacher) comes in and fills a need that the incumbent market leader ignores. Kahn upstages the educational establishment with his instructional videos that can be accessed for free that enable the learner to learn at their own pace and master concepts before they move on. Kahn has not discovered anything new and his presuppositions have been well researched by educational theorists. Self paced differentiated instruction and the promotion of mastery based learning work well. We see small pockets of these methodologies all over the world–the ideas are nothing new. It simply took an outsider to the educational establishment to make it work in a way that the educational system couldn’t.
Perhaps this is the secret–perhaps it will take those outside of the educational system to help the educational system to change. The Forbes article points 15 Classroom Revolutionaries who are exploring disruptive technologies that may change the way we teach and learn.
Perhaps the best place for out of the box ideas is from outside of the box.