Education is not technology

This week I have been reflecting on what education is, more than ever.  There have been many times where I have stopped and reflected on what education means to me and others.  I am not sure why I have stopped and thought more than normal.  One dominant theme is how my personal education has prepared me for the future; or more importantly I suppose, whether it has?

As I look around at how education is marketed, yes marketed!  (See post on commodification of education here.)  I wonder how education will look in the future, and how our current education system will assist the current student cohort in coping with an unknown future.  I see that this is how education is marketed, but does it do this?  Is there too much reliance on where to find the information rather than where to find it and how to assimilate it?  What I refer to as transforming information into knowledge through action.

This thought/concern had been brought to the front of mind when a friend – in an online conversation – declared that he could not understand why penmanship was still being taught in school.  The thrust of his argument (and I am paraphrasing) is that with the rise and omnipresence of technology, students should be taught how to embrace technology so they will know where to locate the information rather reading textbooks and learning how to take notes to summarise or annotate information.  This, to me, is not education.

He is not the only one to proffer this view to me.  I recall having a spirited discussion with a colleague about training and education in our workplace and how the future of this training and development could be improved and/or streamlined.  This colleague indicated that – in his view – there was an inordinate amount of time spent on how to interpret the information when everyone could read.  This was somewhat surprising to me given that this colleague had spent several years at university to obtain a degree.  I asked him if he thought his university degree could have been similarly streamlined, and he said it could it.  His justification was that now information is available on the internet there is not a great need to spend much time on how to read and interpret.  I ended the conversation as I need to think about what he said; and perhaps why the most recent conversation stirred up some level of angst.

The approach to embrace technology as an educational pedagogy is not the panacea.  Technology should be seen as the latest educational tools to support and develop skill development; not replace it.  As such, current technology is really nothing more than the advancement of tools to aid education and replace the pen and paper, much like the pen replaced the quill and ink pot; the PDF document can replace the voluminous books, articles and magazines.  Google and similar search engines replacing the many many cabinets of catalogue cards (who remembers them?).

If all we accept my friend’s proposition, then embracing technology and knowing where to locate it is in effective education.  Okay, I may be being a little provocative, but think about it.  If we go along with this line of thought, then why do spend so much time in school.  Why not let children start school later, or have them finish earlier?  Why does a law degree take 3 years, a medical degree 4 years, and to practise as a psychologist now requires a master degree, which is about 6 years of study?  When all we have to do is show them how to locate the information and there we go; doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, and so on.  Just imagine the amount of money we could save and how quickly we could address occupational gaps.

But, this is not education, it is information provision.  Education is about preparing students with skills to not just be able to locate the information, but also understand, apply, and integrate the newly found information into their current skill and knowledge sets.  It is about guiding the student through a process of living and experiencing the information, and providing a safe location where they can learn from the failures when they have misapplied or misunderstood the information.  This takes time and maturity.

Education also requires learning with and from others, including peers, teachers and society.  Technology may provide some of this, but not all the time and often not when needed.

So, while I do not deny that technology has a place in education, it is not a replacement for the educational experience.

What do you think?  Let me know.

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