Lights, camera, action! I had one of the most rewarding opportunities of my professional career last summer when I was allowed to write and produce a video series around Education 3.0. Through my work directing the Center for Online Learning (an academic “think tank” dedicated to searching out academic problems and finding academic solutions), we created a vision of learning in the near future. We literally went to Hollywood for two weeks, hired legitimate actors, used giant “green screen” sets, and so on. Even my 6-year-old daughter was cast in a non-speaking role! But throughout, we tried to show what learning could look like in K-20 education five to seven years from now, if we use what we know about the most effective learning strategies.
But, as I have travelled the globe deconstructing the videos, I have found that it’s hard for many to get past the technology and see the pedagogy / andragogy. The videos are attempting to showcase what I refer to as Education 3.0: the confluence of neuroscience, learning psychology and education technology. In the videos, the EdTech comes through loud and clear – from data driving personalisation to MOOCs to rich educational assets delivered when a student needs them, the technology is pretty obvious.
But, many seem to lose the rich tapestry of cognitive science and behavioural elements being showcased. And to me, that is what the future of learning is all about!
We know more about the brain and about learning than we ever have in our history. While most neuroscientists would argue we still know almost nothing about how the brain works, what we do know is light years ahead of our knowledge even 50 years ago.
I think of the “Great City” being built in China where they are throwing out old notions of city planning and building a city from scratch. The technologies and understanding of engineering we have today will make the city incredibly efficient, safer, and better for everyone. Can you imagine if we built a University using that same idea?
We may start by eliminating an age-old practice that is fought with religious zeal by some: the lecture. According to a 2006 Engagement Survey, lecture is still 50% of all information dissemination in higher education in the USA. (I’m guessing it’s higher in most of the rest of the world…) Yet, we have known for years it is ineffective and non-compelling. In 1996, Middendorf and Kalish cited several studies showing professors have a 10-18 minute window in which students MAY be engaged. After that, no matter how compelling the presenter, focus and attention lapses. Likewise, a few years ago, Dr. Eric Mazur – a Harvard Lecturer of the Year – measured his student’s brain activity over the course of a week. Like TV-watching, lecture showed brain activity that dropped to a flat line. Perhaps instead of 50% lecture, our neo-millennial school allows 1%.
Then, we might move to a Problem-Based-Learning (PBL) model, rather than the broadcast model. We know that memory is enhanced tremendously when spaced repetition occurs. In fact, we know that a specific spacing is ideal for every person, even though that space is unique per individual. Problem-based learning can create an environment where spaced repetition occurs quite naturally. Likewise, we know that the more elaborately we encode information originally, the more easily that memory can be drawn out. Again, PBL can aid significantly in this endeavour.
Our new school should definitely include more planned, physical activity. We know the connections between cognition, learning, and memory with physical activity. Study after study shows measurable, cognitive gains when brains engage in aerobic activity. Yet, universities rarely require it at all. Instead, what if a requirement of any full-time undergrad was a physical education component? Perhaps we also encourage desks with treadmills and open learning areas with recumbent bikes, etc.
This Education 3.0 environment may include rest pods, a la Google. Scientists have studied the impact of Circadian rhythms contrasted with the homeostatic sleep drive for years. The curves generated by the two have regular intersection points. These points are when you typically fall asleep or wake up. And we know that over 50% of young people (those under 25) have sleep cycles which are not conducive to early morning learning. We also know that almost every human benefits cognitively from a short nap when the two curves come together in mid-afternoon. So our respite pods could mean a major difference in cognitive gain.
Our institution of the future will take what we know about boredom and utilise it too. Just seven minutes of boredom can result in a huge influx of cortisol in the blood. So, it’s easy to see why over-exposure to boredom results in all of the things the stress hormone promotes: anger, frustration, depression, etc. How can we deal with that? Gamification, PBL, curriculum integration, social learning and many other strategies can dramatically change the boredom equation.
In the School of Thought video series, we tried to showcase a lot of this. When you look past the technology, you start to see education that utilises research on pattern finding, the Orthographic Lexicon, the Forget Curve, immersion and so on.
I’m looking forward to speaking on some highlights of this research and information at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN this December. I hope to see you there! Good luck and good teaching.
Dr. Jeff D Borden
Director of the Center for Online Learning – Research & Innovation Network
VP of Academic Strategy & Instruction – Pearson
Enriched Lecturer – Chaminade University