Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Two competing visions of the future of education

Which vision of computers would you prefer for your children?
(Image credit: Left – Multnomah County Library, Right: Sam Howzit)


If you ask people who attempt to predict the future of education, you will find out quickly that there are two very different, competing perspectives.

One camp believes that the future of education is in moving away from complete standardization of curriculum and focusing on nurturing students to become learners, so that when they need to learn something new, they are capable of doing so independently. They are less concerned with the media that students use to learn, and more concerned about ensuring that students have at least some say in what they learn, and how they learn it. They believe that computers are powerful devices for exploration, and that the full potential of computers in education has not yet been realized.

This first camp believes that learning is something best done within social contexts, while simultaneously believing that cultivating the ability to think independently of others is of critical importance in our life. They believe in students spending some time learning independently through self-exploration, and some time collaborating deeply with others. They believe in teaching kids how to think, not what to think. They believe the role of teachers is primarily to mentor students and to model being a learner with them.

The other camp believes that the future of education is in mechanical learning. They believe that if we can just find the right mixture of content, media, and machine-graded assessment, we can greatly reduce the costs of education, and deliver a personalized education experience to every child. They believe that a teacher’s job is to deliver content and assess the understanding of students, and they believe that these can both be done efficiently and effectively with a computer. They believe that if children just have the perfect explanation, they will learn.

This second camp believes that the future of learning is with children carefully isolated, sitting in cubicles, watching videos, and then answering questions prompted on the screen. They believe that social interaction with other children is at best a supplement to what happens on the computer, and at worst it is a distraction. This camp is usually more concerned with the cost of education than the quality of learning.

Both of my descriptions of these two camps are somewhat reductionist. Obviously there are shades of gray between these two camps. However, if you had to choose between these two visions, which would you choose? More importantly, what are you doing to make it a reality?