The Failure to Disrupt or Innovate in Education

Below is the genesis of my last assignment for my Graduate Certificate in University Leadership & Management. It’s based on some scribbled notes and it has quite a cynical tone – which does get watered down in the final piece. In the final work I was much more solution focussed and quite optimistic but this, this was the initial seed of an idea and it’s why I wanted to put it here on the blog. This is a starting point and an acknowledgement of where I was. It’s the catalyst that kind of led me down a path of finally being able to identify a reason as to why things kinds of suck at the moment. Doing the course has provided the necessary time and framework to dig a little deeper into why disruption and innovation have failed to take hold within education.

We all seem to be stuck with a single model of what education is – what it looks like, how it’s done and where it’s done.

It’s structured around subjects, courses and degrees.

Consists of teaching through classes, lectures and tutorials

And is provisioned on campus or by correspondence.

Despite 30 years of digital technology and a reform agenda to match, not much has changed. For all the hype, the structure of online is simply the same constrained model in a different medium. Where is the real innovation? What has been really disrupted in education?

I have to acknowledge that there is a fringe that has been experimenting and exploring the possibilities outside this model (DS106 is a good example), but it’s far from the accepted model and further away from anything like mainstream adoption.

If education were a pie then it’s inconsistent and mostly underdone. It might have a nice crust (out on the edges where the fringe lives) but the middle is undercooked – it’s a soggy and mostly in edible mess. For the most part it’s expensive, boring and elitist. Despite all the books, posts and infographics – this is what 21st century education actually looks like.

All those “interactive” resources are really just a layer of navigation overlaid on unwieldy, long and and complex information.

Boring lectures are now delivered via video instead of the classroom, rather than being rethought and restructured to take advantage of the power of video as a narrative tool.

The current emphasis in education is on passive information being presented to students. It creates a model of learning that in reality is dependant on osmosis as the dominant pedagogy. Here’s stuff – if your read it, you will learn. If you watch it, you will learn. If you attend class, you will learn.

The same kinds of issues that lead to obesity are happening in education.

  • an over abundance of food (information) is available
  • a corporate push to consume more “snack sized” portions – high in energy low in any real benefit
  • steeply declining rates of activity
  • play becoming increasing sedentary and sandboxed from reality
  • lack of foundational education in the underlying mechanics, physiology and psychology
  • a system too cumbersome to properly address the underlying issues.

To get innovation into education we need to rethink the model. We need to learn from the past – there are decades of research and we know deep down what works! We just don’t do it! (MOOCs are the perfect example – elearning that harks back to the 90s and simply ignores decades of research and best practice.)

Model around activity, not content.

Interaction not information.

Remodel and rethink learning – it occurs from doing, not osmosis. Move away from the approach “here is content – absorb and regurgitate” as it’s not what learning actually looks like.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll put up the rest of the work I’ve done in the course – which will hopefully give this more context. This is the criticism – there are suggestions and ways forward to come to make this a critique rather than a whine.


2 thoughts on “The Failure to Disrupt or Innovate in Education

  1. Some nice analogies and much I’m in agreement with. However, I was wondering whether or not education has always been a pie like you’ve described. Sure there are environmental factors that are pushing for some fundamental rethinking of how it works. But if there’s always been a soggy, inedible mass in the middle? If so, what is it about education that makes it that way?

    • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. In many ways yes the pie has always been a soggy inedible mess but theres been a few mitigating circumstances. The first is the lack of accessible knowledge – the internet changed that entirely. The second is access – the growth of higher ed made the pie bigger and in doing so diluted the good practice making it more soggy. The third – which i feel is where we are now – the development of viable alternatives.

      So what is it that mames education this way? Basically it remains a cottage industry based around individuals thats simply been scaled up. Rather than rethink the model we’ve simply made it bigger – exagerating the flaws, loosing the details, and producing a behemoth with the manouverability of an oil tanker.

      And the problem with the current model is that you cant break it because financing, accreditation, governance, performance, rewards and awards are all based around maintaining it.

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