Technology Will NOT Revolutionize Education

Dec 5, 2014 by

If you’re involved with ed tech evangelism on any level (this includes large conference keynoters) the questions that Veristasium’s Derek Muller asks in this video must be shared!

This video has had a lot of “air time” in education circles this past week. It’s been described as humorous, as thought provoking, even heretical in some circles. Regardless of how accurate you perceive the video’s main thesis to be (you could argue that some technology has revolutionized how we think about education), the basic sentiment is dead on. There exists a constant stream of new gadgets, gizmos, and learning platforms that tech evangelists claim to be the “silver bullet” that will solve all of our educational problems. We make claims about technology that on face value are sound, but when held up to greater scrutiny are patently ridiculous; how often have you seen “kids today learn different than the way we learned” plastered in bold letters on a keynote slide at a conference? Learners today learn no differently then how we’ve always learned as a species; making, building, tinkering, exploring, testing, failing, reflecting, and ultimately synthesizing greater knowledge out of pre-existing knowledge and new experiences.

The most exciting point in this video is the “evolutionary” nature of technology in education. Technology will continue to transform how we demonstrate and communicate our inner thought processes to others, but the learning will always be an internal, cognitive act. We still learn in small groups, with a teacher or facilitator to guide and inspire learners because thousands upon thousands of years of human development has led us to an understanding that shared experiences gives us a common reference point to build new knowledge upon; we pass down stories from antiquity and our religious and cultural ancestry. We value the connection we have with the past, and attempt to build new understanding through metaphors that link back to our previous cultural, religious, and societal touchstones. We still strive to find relevance in the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, and base theories of the universe on mathematical and philosophical texts written hundreds of years ago.

Thousands of years of thought has taught us that the learning process is messy! The exact opposite of what technology is designed to do. Most technology is designed to help streamline, codify, and create more efficient paths to learning, growth, and understanding. In many small ways it helps, but when technology excels at creating linear paths to new understanding, it can ultimately diffuse and disarm the engaging and messy learning that inspires us. If you read through the comments on this video on Youtube you’ll find several fascinating conversations of individuals who were disillusioned for one reason or another with their educational experience. It doesn’t fall on technology to inspire and engage us, it falls upon the understanding and ability of the teacher to manipulate the learning environment and create opportunities that speak to the individual needs of their learners; needs that may change on a day to day, or even hourly basis, depending on the individual. Technology will never afford the same “swiss army knife” like tool that is the human mind, able to adapt to a wide variety of needs, one of which might include the need to turn off the technology for a particular learning experience.

There may exist a time when technology affords us the ability to articulate and communicate our own internal thought processes in a way that is universally understood, but until that point in time, the only revolution that is needed is one of educational practice and delivery. And even that, technology cannot help, as the impetus for change must exist within the minds of those at the front of the classroom.

9 Comments

  1. Hello, I am grateful for such an insightful post. However, i have to disagree with the post’s title. In my case as a lecturer at the European University I have joined a new educational project for children. Our team have came up with a new idea for child education. I would love to share this idea as a response since our project may solve various problems that current education system is unable to and it would prove that technology can push it much further.

    As the founders of this project we are trying to make an interactive program enabling children to create animated cartoons with custom characters, self-dubbed voices, and own dialogues. In addition to entertaiment aspect, there is educational side of the project, as well. More specifically, children may discover the world around them, learn alphabets, solve basic mathematical equations , learn foreign languages, and work on vocabulary pronounciation. This project has great potential to address current issues in education system.

    For more information about the initiative, please check the following website: http://cartoontist.com/. Also, there is a campaign for this project to get further funding options in order to add more features to the program. We have already received a small donation which in return provides a periodical access to the application, however our goal is to provide even better version. You can visit this website to join us and build an innovative way to educate our kids: http://goo.gl/mDpWl7.

    Please reply if you are interested in this solution or if you want to make a suggestion.

    • Thank you for the comment, and your dissenting opinion. While I believe you may have quite an engaging tool for users to author, create, and craft digital stories, it falls perfectly in line with the premise of the video. It is yet just another tool in an incredibly long line of “this WILL change education” tools. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that your efforts aren’t engaging or worthy of exploration. Rather, we all need to temper our expectations of what we expect out of technology.

      Using one hammer over another will not radically change how a house is built, and using one cartoon creator over another will not change how our schools function on a large scale. What the video is asking for, and myself as well, is to temper our enthusiasm; parade your cartoon creator, beat your drums, and make it the best dang cartoon creating website the world has ever seen! Show us how it will help students express themselves, and praise the way it helps connect learners; but don’t claim that it will revolutionize education as we know it.

  2. Hey Ben!

    You inspired me to write a post and put my short little Ignite Presentation I made for my Instructional Leadership Internship last week out there. I too saw Derek’s video and really liked what I saw. I think he was getting at the point of teacher/student relationship, but I think it needed to be more emphasized. Granted, I took his theme and tied it toward Instructional Leadership, but you get the idea. 🙂 I do wish his mine was a bit more witty as his, but I think my point was made.

    http://blogs.henrico.k12.va.us/trhart/2014/12/08/relationships-are-the-revolution/

    • I really dig your post and your video! I don’t hear as much “this will change everything” as I used to these days, so maybe we’re on a better path. At least more people are starting to acknowledge the fact that maybe technology doesn’t have the answers we’ve been seeking, and force more educational leaders to look inward. Glad to know you’re one of the leaders thinking about this 🙂

  3. Isn’t the point of technology to augment education? It’s true that nothing will ever change how people learn, but technology makes it easier to access that innate human trait. The GATE digital curriculum does exactly that and we have the results ti prove it, too. Check it out: igg.me/at/GATE-System.

    • Augment, yes. But augmentation is not a revolution, merely an extension of what already works (or doesn’t work) that’s in practice.

  4. Keri Izoco

    This is such a refreshing look on technology inside the classrooms! I teach in Baltimore City and there is such a divide of teachers who believe technology holds all the answers and teachers who fear that their jobs will be taken away by robots. I have often felt that both opinions are too extreme; we are giving technology too much credit! I am always looking for the newest gadgets as ways to bridge gaps in a learner’s education or to promote excitement in my students and so far my response to all of it has been, “This is exhausting.” Each time I hear of a new gadget that will “change the world of education” I feel the need to create an account, play around, and find ways to integrate it into my classroom only to find that it is exactly like that other thing I signed up for an account on. As an educator studying Technology Integration in Classrooms I am grateful to hear this message. The important thing is not the tool that we use but rather how we use it and most importantly, that we are there to provide feedback.

    • BINGO, Keri! You’ve hit the nail on the head; at best new technology tools offer unique ways to express ourselves and create, but for most new software or tech, it’s often just a re-arrangement of existing abilities and tools. It’s human nature to grow tired of existing pathways, hence the need for exploration, which is fine. I’ve just increasingly found myself looking at new tools as nice opportunities to explore, but rarely do I come across anything that truly delivers on a large-scale transformational practice.

  5. The MOOC / online course is different. We can now have virtual classrooms. People will still pay for the real deal if they can afford it, however middle ranking colleges could suffer as students deem its better to be online or at the top but not in the muddy middle. http://www.jelt.com

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