I recently came across a great book, first published in 1982 — Megatrends, by John Naisbitt. Remember that one? It was groundbreaking when it first came out because it predicted massive changes to due to upcoming “Information Revolution.” And Megatrends was not based wholly on speculation; it was routed largely in fact. Naisbitt and his staff looked at newspaper articles and how the topics of those articles changed over time. He could predict emerging trends as well as what mattered or didn’t matter to people, based on what newspapers decided to cover as stories. This is a really good way to determine change, I think. So what did we really learn from Megatrends? How well did it accurately predict the future? And most importantly, were we able to adapt based on the changes we knew were going to be happening?
Computers and technology have most definitely made a profound change in our lives in the last twenty years. It is hard to think of any field or endeavor that has not felt the massive impact of technology — except one, of course, teaching and learning. Technology has neither influenced teaching and learning in its methods, or in its outcomes. When we are educated, we still listen mostly to lectures; we read mostly from books. And we take tests over all of it. Has this pedagogy served us well? Perhaps 30 years ago it served us well, but not now. We need different approaches.
Consider a computer hacker? A hacker learns by doing, in a self-directed manner. A hacker is not taught; instead, he or she learns through discovery, by their own methods and actions. They solve problems. They determine solutions, even if not in the most ethical fashion. But, isn’t this a great way to learn — learning by doing, at their own pace and schedule. Hackers work at the level they are able, and they progress as far as they want to go. There are highly skilled hackers, and there are amateur hackers. But most importantly, they are all learning, and highly enjoying it as well.
We need learning opportunities that let people be hackers. Let them solve problems; let them explore ideas and issues that interest them. We used to have something called “independent study” in schools and colleges. It’s all gone away; replaced with the highly structured standards movement, and all confirmed through organized tests. Did the students comprehend and remember what we crammed into their heads? If not, drill it into them again. It’s demotivating and demoralizing. Lets use the wonderful empowering methods of technology to improve teaching and learning — at least part of the time. Perhaps not for children, but most definitely for adolescents and adults. The world is changing, and so should teaching and learning. John Naisbitt would be proud of us.