Monday, July 6, 2009

The Education Train May Have Left the Station

The education train may have left the station, leaving traditional educators still groping their way blindly to the platform.

New, innovative, non-educators are poised to blaze the new education trails needed to help America reclaim its status as the world class education system. These new style educators usually have not earned education degrees, have not taught school, and do not possess any state teaching licenses. All that stuff is so last century. Nevertheless, they may be at the forefront of the education reform so many of us yearn for.

I am not talking about technology, a relatively recent buzzword near and dear to education writer and grant-funding foundations. A Request for Proposal without a technology piece is getting pretty rare. But technology is often nothing more than gussied-up drill-and-kill.

The people currently studying the dynamics of learning are not necessarily publishing in journals, but they are implementing what they learn in domains outside of traditional education settings. Second Life just held its first commencement ceremony honoring virtual students who earned degrees entirely in the virtual world. Talk about online education. I just want to know if real person behind the Second Life avatar has acquired real-life marketable skills. I mean if the avatar had to complete assignments and pass tests to earn a virtual degree, is it possible the person behind the avatar acquired that knowledge. And if not, could the concept be designed so that the puppetmaster, so to speak, does acquire the puppet's skills? Intriguing.

The government has commissioned Visual Purple to create training simulations that put participants in decision-making roles to maximize learning by doing. Robert Kiyosaki, of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, has a game, The CashFlow Game, out to help people master his strategies and tactics. The idea behind these simulations is the the puppet represents the puppetmaster, and the puppetmaster must learn and integrate knowledge and skills in order for the puppet to succeed. The acquired knowledge and skills is then directly useful in real life work.

So am I just talking about games and simulations? No. Games and simulations are nothing new. I used Reader Rabbit, Oregon Trail, Operation Frog, Sim Ant, and other programs with positive effects many, many years ago. But those programs were supplemental to my main teaching agenda, and compared with some of the new developments, frankly clumsy and primitive. With a well-designed curriculum, some of the new games can BE the teaching environment.

To be clear, I am NOT saying you have to subscribe to the opinions of any of the purveyors of games and simulations. I AM saying that the old canard works. The amount remembered depends on the level of processing. The simulations seek to maximize learning at the active, 90% level.

Dear Readers, what other examples of active learning can you share?

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