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This revolution is not industrial

By using post-industrial approaches to teaching and learning, it is now possible to tailor learning to individuals rather than large groups

At the start of the Industrial Revolution a new way was found to mix coal with coke to produce iron. This concept was then used to build the world's first iron bridge (at a town now known as Ironbridge) over England's Severn River. However, even though a new material was now available that allowed more efficient methods of construction, the bridge was built as if it was made of wood.

The designers had not adapted their building style to the new tools available.

The current face-to-face model of education didn't always exist. It was the product of the Industrial Revolution, when workers were required to learn skills to enable them to work in factories and obey rules. Even though we now have new tools and materials available, we're still using an industrial revolution model of teaching for a post-industrial age.

This fact was highlighted at EduTECH 2014, in Brisbane in June. EduTECH is an annual gathering of people involved in education and technology. This year there were over 4,000 people attending, from schools, the VET sector and higher education. The event ran over three days and featured workshops on teaching practice, show-and-tells from industry and institutions, exhibits of fancy educational technology, and master classes from world leaders.

Highlights included Sugata Mitra, who created the famous Hole in the Wall experiment (where children from an Indian slum taught themselves from a computer mounted in a wall) and who is now a proponent of Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE). Sir Ken Robinson spoke to a rapturous crowd about the sad state of educational policy around the world. He referred to the Global Education Reform Movement as G.E.R.M.

Three things were constant in many of the sessions and in the large-scale presentations (Ken Robinson spoke to all 4000 delegates and was received like a rock star):

  • We are still using teaching models established for the industrial revolution
  • Dismay at the changes in funding to education, not just in Australia, but internationally, and
  • The obsession with test results (like NAPLAN and the international PISA).
  • A recurring theme throughout the conference was the fact that more is expected to be done with less, and that the only measure of success seems to be test results. "World's Best Teachers call for end of Exams" was an item that ran on the Channel 7 news.  As Sugatra Mutri put it: "When the children who come out of school go into the real world, what will they be asked to do? They'll be asked to solve problems. They'll be asked to use all the resources of the Internet to do so." - he was arguing that students should be allowed to use the Internet in all tests and assignments.

    Sir Ken Robinson was scathing at the way in which education is trying to mimic industrial-scale operations. He likened the current approach to the use of chemical fertilisers which have denigrated the soil and forced a movement back to more organic forms of farming. He said the education sector now needs to emulate a more nurturing approach.

    "The new class size is one to one" was a mantra heard more than once. The implication here was that, by using post-industrial approaches to teaching and learning, it is now possible to tailor learning to individuals rather than large groups.

    One thing was obvious. There are major changes and disruptions occurring in education, just as they've occurred in other industries like music and publishing. As both teachers and learners we need to be prepared for them. Yet at the same time, we need to fight the dumbing down of education by economic ‘rationalists' and administrators.

    Time will tell if we are going in the right direction.