Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In a Digital World, Our Pedagogy is Centuries Old

The UKs Evening Standard has a short little blurb describing some comments from Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World and Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Although the blurb is interesting and enlightening, the really good stuff comes further down - when Tapscott responds to some reader comments. Worth the read! I couldn't agree more with Tapscott. I've added links throughout the passages to illustrate Tapscott's point.

'Don't teach children facts ... they can search online'
Schoolchildren should not be taught to memorise facts and figures because information is available online, a leading commentator said today.

The existence of search engines such as Google and Wikipedia mean that traditional methods of learning are redundant.

Don Tapscott, author of the best-selling book Wikinomics, said teachers should instead encourage pupils to think creatively and learn to apply available online knowledge.

The author, who coined the term "net generation", said the commonly-used modern-day education model was designed for the industrial age, and needed to be changed. He said: "Kids should learn about history but they don't need to know all the dates.

"It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google. Memorising facts and figures is a waste of time."
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that all facts are useless and a waste of time to learn. I do believe, however, for most of the classrooms around the world the model of pedagogy has remained the same for centuries. Teachers stand at the front of the class, spouting facts, figures and dates. Students demonstrate they have “learned” when they can regurgitate these facts on exams. I describe this model as being “teacher focused.” It is also outdated.

The better model is “student focused.” Kids memorize fewer facts but acquire more knowledge. They learn how to think, communicate, solve tough problems (from math to society), put things in context, and work in groups. Learning excites them, and they acquire an appetite to keep on learning throughout their lives. This works out well, because almost all workers in the digital economy will need to constantly relearn as their jobs evolve or simplify disappear through ever-faster Schumpeterian creative destruction.

Moreover, the factoids that students should learn could be acquired in a much more efficient manner than is typically the case today. Instead of delivering a one-size-fits-all form of education, schools should customize the education to fit each child’s ability and way of learning. Software can easily teach facts to kids and quiz them as they progress. When a student does poorly in one area, that material is retaught. Meanwhile, the teacher is freed up to spend more one-on-one time with each student.

- Don Tapscott, Toronto, Canada

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