Should a student-centric, user-generated education be the

predominant learning model for this era of the 21st Century?

The Problem

The Question

Should a student-centric, user-generated education be the predominant learning model for this era of the 21st Century?

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Christensen, C. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, New York: McGraw Hill.

This vision for the classroom of the future is not new. It's one that people have talked and dreamed about for years in a variety of forms: Students partake in interactive learning with computers and other technology devices; teachers roam around as mentors and individual learning coaches; learning is tailored to each student's differences; students are engaged and motivated.

Mizuko Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, B., boyd, d., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., Pascoe, C. J., & Robinson, L. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning

In contexts of peer-based learning, adults can still have an important role to play, though it is not a conventionally authoritative one. In friendship-driven practices, direct adult participation is often unwelcome, but in interest-driven groups we found a much stronger role for more experienced participants to play. Unlike instructors in formal educational settings, however, these adults are passionate hobbyists and creators, and youth see them as experienced peers, not as people who have authority over them. These adults exert tremendous influence in setting communal norms and what educators might call “learning goals,” though they do not have direct authority over newcomers. The most successful examples we have seen of youth media programs are those based on kids’ own passionate interests and allowing plenty of unstructured time for kids to tinker and explore without being dominated by direct instruction. Unlike classroom teachers, these lab teachers and youth-program leaders are not authority figures responsible for assessing kids’ competence, but are rather what Dilan Mahendran has called “co-conspirators,” much like the adult participants in online interest-driven groups. In this, our research aligns with Chávez and Soep,liii who identified a “pedagogy of collegiality” that defines adult-youth collaboration in what they see as successful youth media programs.

Kids’ participation in networked publics suggests some new ways of thinking about the role of public education. Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?

Manzo, K. K. (2010, January 29). Digital Tools Expand Options for Personalized Learning

Some of the latest technology tools for the classroom promise to ease the challenges of differentiating instruction more creatively and effectively, ed-tech experts say, even in an era of high-stakes federal and state testing mandates. New applications for defining and targeting students’ academic strengths and weaknesses can help teachers create a personal playlist of lessons, tools, and activities that deliver content in ways that align with individual needs and optimal learning methods. Those examples are a crude picture of a future scenario, where there’s a student playlist of learning experiences, some of which happen in something that looks like a classroom, some with a computer, and some at a community resource, like a library, museum, college, or workplace,” says Tom Vander. “Their day could look like an interesting variety of activities, driven by their learning needs, not by the school’s limitations.” The advantages for students are potentially more compelling, given the widespread enthusiasm among young people for using technology to create and consume media, ed-tech experts say. “We have this generation of students that yearns to customize everything they come into contact with,” says Steve Johnson, a technology facilitator at J.N. Fries Middle School in Concord, N.C

Project Tomorrow. (2009) Speak Up 2009: Creating Our Future: Students Speak Up about their Vision for 21st Century Schools,

Devaney, L. (2010. March 16). Digital access, collaboration a must for students: Students increasingly are taking education into their own hands with personal technology experiences, a trend with important implications for schools.

The survey indicates that students increasingly are seeking out and obtaining technology-based learning experiences outside of school—experiences that are not directed by a teacher or associated with class assignments or homework. “Students, regardless of community demographics, socio-economic backgrounds, gender, and grade, tell us year after year that the lack of sophisticated use of emerging technology tools in school is, in fact, holding back their education—and in many ways disengages them from learning,” the report says.

The three elements identified in the report are:
  • Social-based learning: Students want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education experience.
  • Untethered learning: Students envision technology-enabled learning experiences that transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding streams, geography, community assets, or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Digitally-rich learning: Students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content, and resources as a key to driving learning productivity, and not just about engaging students in learning.

Anderson, J. (2010, January/February). Remaking Education for a New Century. The Futurist.
The era of hyperconnectivity will require that most professionals weave their careers and personal lives into a blended mosaic of activity. Work and leisure will be interlaced throughout waking hours, every day of the week. We need to move away from the format of school time and non-school time, which is no longer necessary. It was invented to facilitate the agrarian and industrial economies. Faculty, teachers, and principals could inform students that they expect them to learn outside of the classroom and beyond homework assignments. The Internet plays a key role in that. Rather than classrooms, one can see the possible emergence of learning centers where students with no Internet access at home can go online, but everyone will be working on a different project, not on the same lesson. You can also imagine students making use of mobile and wireless technology for purposes of learning. More importantly, we need to teach kids to value self-directed learning, teach them how to learn on their own terms, and how to create an individual time schedule. We need to combine face time with learning online. And we can’t be afraid to use the popular platforms like text-messaging and social networks. As those tools become more immersive, students will feel empowered and motivated to learn on their own — more so than when they were stuck behind a desk. What we do need are places were people can gather — places that foster an atmosphere of intellectual expansion, where learners can pursue deeper meaning or consult specialists with access to deep knowledge resources. It’s all about people accessing networked knowledge, online, in person, and in databases. We need collective intelligence centers, and schools could be that way, too.

Modularized Curriculum

Educational systems have a tendency to survey constituents when making change, but is that prudent? (Perhaps from a political perspective, but from the perspective of affecting change is it?) Don’t constituents simply want more of the same? How often do we hear, “Back when I was in school…” when folks talk about innovation in education? For example, we know from Howard Gardner’s work that different children learn differently, but the movement to enact meaningful change for atypical learners is often meant with resistance because, “back when I was in school, we didn’t have…” or “when I started teaching we didn’t have to worry about…” Despite mountains of research to suggest that innovations often lead to increase student performance, educational systems are loath to change – or perhaps it is more accurate to suggest that they can’t change. Horn made the claim in our discussion that the interdependency of school systems creates standardization, thus not allowing schools to customize and personalize their program. In effect, making them rigid and change adverse. The online environment, if established properly, can provide students with the individualization and customization that they desire. With open enrollment and any time, any place learning, online schools have the flexibility that well-established systems seem unable to provide. In the book Christensen and Horn make a compelling case for online learning being a disruptive innovation in education, much like my example of eBay being the disruptive innovation to the Sears catalog. How disruptive could online education be? Christensen and Horn predict that by 2019, 50% of high school courses will be offered online. That percentage hovers around 6% now. Horn predicted that the next disruptive innovation will be the modularization of the curriculum.

Bonk, C. J. (2009). The World is Open. Jossey-Bass.

Learning can be a spontaneous, on-demand decision. Sure, you can assume the role of teacher or learner when in the Web of Learning. But you can also be a learning escort, concierge, coach, media designer, planner, or anything you really want to be to facilitate your own learning or that of others. And if such responsibilities do not fit your style, there are hundreds of additional roles or avatars to select from or personally create. So why not partake in it? It is a gigantic learning party that is happening each and every day. And this is one party you do not want to miss! Most of the time, you do not even need an invitation; instead, the invitation to learn exists at a mouse click. community of learners who are making daily pilgrimages to the Web of Learning for casual insights. It can also be more thoughtfully and purposefully designed. The instructional approaches of choice in online environments are more collaborative, problem based, generative, exploratory, and interactive. There is more emphasis on mentoring, coaching, and guiding learning than in the past. Clearly, there is a need for instructional approaches that are more active and engaging and in which learners have greater control over their own learning. Words such as ‘‘ownership,’’ ‘‘control,’’ ‘‘engagement,’’ ‘‘relevancy,’’ and ‘‘collaboration’’ are among those shaping the learning-related dialogue of the twenty-first century. With opportunities to make personal decisions related to their explorations and potential online discoveries, learners develop a sense of ownership and self-directedness or self-determination.

Because the Web of Learning contains opportunities for all such approaches, emphatic statements about which ones it is best suited to support are naive and, at times, quite silly. It is a space that is evolving. It is such a new and interesting place for learning delivery that the experience base of any one person is not enough. No one knows the entire space and all the educational possibilities and resources that reside within the Web of Learning; this would be impossible. But one can test out and gradually master strategies for harnessing its energies and resources. There are games, 3-D worlds, online conferences and professional meetings, podcasts on nearly every education topic imaginable, world and city maps, virtual museum tours of famous exhibits, and countless visual records of human history. So many resources can be embedded in online courses and programs.

Emerging educational technologies and resources are allowing for a more learner-centric focus in education where the learners are active instead of the more passive mode of instruction that has existed for centuries. During an invited presentation at MIT on December 1, 2006, John Seely Brown argued that in this new participatory educational climate, learners become engaged in a culture of building, tinkering, learning, and sharing.16 When I talked to him during a conference at Rice University in Houston a few months later, Brown reiterated these points. The combination of free and widely distributed educational resources with tools that enable learners to add to or comment on such resources or build entirely new ones begins to redefine what learning is—it becomes production or participation, not consumption and absorption.

Boyd Myers, C. (2011, May 14). How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education. The Next Web.

As connection speeds increase and the ubiquity of the Internet pervades, digital content reigns. And in this era, free education has never been so accessible. The Web gives lifelong learners the tools to become autodidacts, eschewing exorbitant tuition and joining the ranks of other self-taught great thinkers in history such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Paul Allen and Ernest Hemingway.

Technology has the opportunity to completely disrupt education by democratizing learning. There’s something fundamentally wrong when a college degree can cost upwards of $100,000 when all of the information can be learned for free on Khan Academy. We need to go back to the true goal of education: learning new skills.” Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Founder of Skillshare

It’s clear that the world is moving faster than it ever has before. As we learn more about ourselves and more about the world around us through massive amounts of data collection and data transfer at ever increasing speeds, surely the foundations of learning must change too. After all, it’s clear our current education system is broken, from the bottom up. If we’re going to continue to evolve as a species and as a culture, we’re long overdue for an education revolution.

Peer 2 Peer University 2010 from P2P University on Vimeo.

Furedi, F. (2009, November 18). Let's Give Children A Store of Knowledge. Spiked.
(Note: the is a perspective that counters the above "arguments" allowing for all sides to be considered and discusses.)

Time and again, curriculum specialists inform us that because we live in a world of rapid change, the conventions and practices of the past have become outmoded, outdated or irrelevant. Present educational fads are based on the premise that because we live in a new, digitally driven society, the intellectual legacy of the past and the experience of grown-ups have little significance for the schooling of children. The implicit assumption that adults have little to teach children is rarely made explicit. But there is a growing tendency to flatter children through suggesting that their values are more enlightened than those of their elders because they are more tuned in to the present. So children are often represented as digital natives who are way ahead of their text-bound and backward-looking parents. Although education is celebrated as one of the most important institutions of society, there is a casual disrespect for the content of what children are taught. Curriculum engineers often display indifference, if not contempt, for abstract thought and the knowledge developed in the past. Both are criticised for being irrelevant or outdated; only new information that can be applied and acted on is seen as suitable for the training – and it is training and not teaching – of digital natives. In policy deliberations about education, the acquisition of subject-based knowledge is often dismissed as old-fashioned. Typically, an emphasis on the intellectual content of classroom subjects is labelled an outdated form of scholasticism that has little significance in our era.

Often change and social transformation are represented as if they are unique to our time. Innovation guru Bill Law makes this pronouncement: ‘We may not know precisely what shape the future will take but we do know that the futures of our current students will not much resemble those of our past ones.’ But when did we last think the future of our children would resemble our own? Not in 1969, or in 1939 or even 1909. The idea that we live in a qualitatively different world serves as a premise for the claim that the knowledge and insights of the past have only minor historical significance. In education it is claimed that old ways of teaching are outdated precisely because they are old. Knowledge itself is called into question because in a world of constant flux it must be continually overtaken by events. Policy has become so focused on keeping up with change that it has become distracted from the task of giving meaning to education

What to learn: 'core knowledge' or '21st-century skills'?
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — If someone told you that kids need to think critically and creatively, be technologically savvy and work well with others, you'd nod in agreement, right? At least 10 states have committed to helping students develop these "21st-century skills" in schools, the workplace and beyond. Most recently, officials in Massachusetts committed to working with the Arizona-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21, the movement's main advocacy group. But a small group of outspoken education scholars is challenging that assumption, saying the push for 21st-century skills is taking a dangerous bite out of precious classroom time that could be better spent learning deep, essential content. For the first time since the P21 push began seven years ago, they're pushing back. In a forum here last week sponsored by Common Core, a non-profit group that promotes "a full core curriculum," they squared off with education consultant Ken Kay, co-founder of the P21 movement.
"It's an ineffectual use of school time," says E.D. Hirsch Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and author of a series of books on what students should learn year-by-year in school. He calls the P21 movement "a fragmented approach with uncertain cognitive goals" that could most profoundly hurt disadvantaged children: At home, he says, they don't get as much background as middle-class students in history, science, literature and the like.
Kay calls criticisms by Hirsch and others "a sideshow that distracts people from the issue at hand: that our kids need world-class skills and world-class content." Kay notes that virtually all of the industrialized countries the USA is competing with "are pursuing both content and skills."
In November, a Massachusetts task force concluded that straight academic content "is no longer enough" to help students compete: It urged state education commissioner Mitchell Chester to add 21st-century skills to curriculum guides and teacher training. That drew a rebuke from The Boston Globe, which editorialized last week that it's "not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content."
At its heart, say Hirsch and others, the conflict is about what should happen in a school day: Do kids learn to think by reading great literature, doing difficult math and learning history, philosophy and science? Or can they tackle those subjects on their own if schools simply teach them to problem-solve, communicate, use technology and think creatively?
If you pursue the latter, says University of Virginia cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, the rich content you're after inevitably "falls by the wayside." While kids may enjoy working together on projects, for instance, the amount of knowledge they get often ends up being shallow. Furthermore, he says, research shows that many teachers find it difficult to actually teach children to think creatively or collaborate. In the end, they rarely get better at the very skills that P21 advocates.
"If we want our kids to learn how to be better collaborators, we're going to need to teach that," says Willingham, author of the new book Why Don't Students Like School?.
Kay says P21 critics miss the point, offering "a false choice" that won't help U.S. students. He says he hopes to work with critics on incorporating both thinking skills and content into future P21 work. "We need kids who don't just do what they're told but who are self-directed," he says.

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