The EdTech Revolution – According to Pearson

A colleague of mine posted this video of Juan Lopez-Valcarcel the Chief Digital Officer at Pearson on Twitter.

It comes from the Next Web Conference and I was immediately taken aback by the tone, theme and points made in the talk, so much so that I wanted to actually critique it. That’s what this post is a critique and an argument. You might get the most out of it by opening up a couple of browser windows – one with the video the other with this post – as I’ve time coded my points and arguments as a rebuttal.

0:37 – Opens with the standard “nothing has changed in education” rhetoric. It’s interesting how room configuration and furniture layout somehow relates to the pedagogical practices of the teachers in the room. Behaviours, practices, content etc don’t make a pretty pictures but they have changed in this time frame.

0:58 – If the problem is  the look of the classroom why doesn’t Pearson sell furniture? I don’t understand how the aesthetic of the classroom reflects what is happening inside it. Teachers have been moving and changing furniture configurations for decades now.

1:20 – Now here is an actual real life issue – university retention rates are a massive issue.

1:25 – Another real issue – many of current degrees lack relevance and authenticity in terms of the skill sets required of graduates.

1:32 – Tuition rises in the US are a problem but quite complex and often relate to decreasing government investment – but still a valid issue.

1:38 – “lots of opportunities to rethink the model” that’s an interesting conclusion based on those figures, their cause and responsibilities.

2:08 – Prensky’s concept of the Digital Native as an actual real life thing has been disproven. The quote from Tapscott – I call bullshit – what about the generation who went from steam to electric, horses to cars, canons to machine guns? First generation not afraid of technology! My ass!

2:38 – Here’s where I have another issue. Education isn’t an industry as such. It’s fundamentally a service, an investment by society to benefit its people. It doesn’t fit the language of industry, product or marketing. Yes, money is spent which can stimulate and support other industries, but it is not industrial in its nature. There are no products here, there is just an is investment in people.

3:06 – Education is not ripe for the transformation you have in mind. Setting it up as an industry in no way addresses the problems you outlined at the beginning of your talk – retention, relevance or tuition cost. I’m starting to lose any sense of credibility about now.

3:20 – One place, method, instructor & speed. This seems to outline where we are going now.

3:44 – The ‘current model’ – which is what? You haven’t explained that bit Juan. I would say that despite the ‘One list’ you just gave there is great diversity within that model. Great places, great practice, great instructors allow diversity of task, interaction and speed. They actively cater for that. So is that your solution – make things great?

3:52 – Nope – it personalised learning. :-( Taylor would be proud. Break everything down into individual components and make them efficient. Funny, I don’t think that’s what business wants from potential staff anymore and I predict, nor will those jobs we don’t know about.

4:03 – I would argue this – to me education is the environment, the process and the practice that we create to facilitate learning – and you can do that in a learner centric fashion. I would say that we are already moving towards (particularly in K-12) at the moment and distinctly away from something that is ‘done’ to someone.

4:42 – So people are the most important part of the process? OK thanks Juan, I’ll keep that in mind as we go through the rest of the talk.

5:08 – You need to work with research and teachers? Lets see where we go with this one, because you’ve already bypassed a century of pedagogical thinking, practice and improvement.

5:15 – Tablets are here and next we’ll see “Invisible computers”. OK but the technology is not the barrier it might have been, you just told us these kids were the first not to be afraid of technology. Why then would they need it to be invisible? Besides this wasn’t one of the issues you highlighted earlier.

6:03 – Now it’s Smart Data which can predict how you’re going to perform on Dumb Assessments and Dumb Practice. Predictable. If you’re going to be learner centric and personalised shouldn’t the student already know how they are performing? Seriously! That’s one thing I would expect for my ‘personalised’ learning experience.

7:10 – Next body language. OK so you’re proposing to video every student? Wow that’s not big brotherish or highly invasive or so prone to abuse at all!!! Privacy issues might just be the start. So a student is doing math, he looks a little uncomfortable therefore he mustn’t understand. What if he’s bored, tired, horny or hungry as teenage boys are prone to do? He gets extra homework, extra assignments, a robot tutor? And a quick aside – is there any scientific evidence that demonstrates a clear link between body language and the cognitive process of learning? *crickets*

7:42 – Remember the “people are the important” bit? Here’s when we don’t need them any more.

7:49 – This is a story that seems to have more to do with the resilience and innate intelligence of children rather than the amazing abilities of technology. What about the slower students? The ones that didn’t get it? The ones that needed support? Did the machines do that too…. and why did they end up hacking the device? Seriously! Why would they need to?

9:01 – So the solution is robots? What about connecting students to teachers around the world? You know the global village? Seems like it might be smarter and cheaper too, seeing how people are so important!

9:22 – Research shows kids connect better with robots than devices? What happened to the people???? I bet there’s more emotional attachment to an actual person and I bet there’s probably some research to back it up too. People are more important remember? (oh and connect to research and teachers too … oops we seem to be bypassing them too)

9:55 – Hong Kong tutors are not something to showcase. Have a look at Marcel Theroux’s doco on them and see if you’d be willing to send your kids into that! No QA, no measure of success – it’s purely a tool to mitigate guilt and create a false divide. AlsoFYI – Superstars tend to want Super $$$ and to drive around in a Lamborghini. Just to back track too – which issue was this addressing again – retention, relevance or tuition cost?

10:40 – And what access are we going to have to these superstars? We can watch and view them, but when do we get to interact, discuss, talk, debate? Access to consume is not a selling point – it’s a new version of the model that serves a similar role to the traditional library – an archive of ideas. It’s also a little irrelevant in the age of YouTube and the open web.

10:53 – Gamification and ‘stealth learning’ – oh god. Really that’s it? No understanding or credence given to the actual creativity, problem solving or strategy that games encourage and promote? Nope, relate it back to maths and then its ‘educational’. Is this intelligence by stealth?

12:06 – So when you get to school it no longer replicates real life social experiences? Come on!!! Are you even trying here? For a kid - social is school – home is the boring bit! Kids want home to replicate school,not the other way around! They want face-to-face action, their peers, time to play and interact. I thought you said people were important – maybe you should talk to some of them!

12:50 – Yep, Pearson = Open. Didn’t you know that?

13:00 – … and we’ll just skip over all that stuff about content (that we as a publisher  seem to know nothing about) and onto an area where we don’t compete or aren’t threatened – Hardware. Deft segue.

13:23 – So that’s the seven key trends… and that’s it. Applause

As you can see those trends map so well to the issues highlighted at the start of the talk… retention, relevance or tuition cost… hey hang on!

Look I don’t begrudge the tech industry becoming involved in education – but be a bit smarter. Know what you’re talking about and start basing some of your ideas on actually addressing the issues we face – not the ones you just made up! Most of the ed-tech available at the moment falls into two categories: the same but different or inevitably unnecessary. Both of these categories rely on marketing, spin and hype to sell. They miss the fact that education wants technology – but they just want the good stuff. If we are going to revolutionise education maybe we should start with revolutionising EdTech – just not in the way espoused by Pearson.

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