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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Does the inherent impossibility of education, training, and other formal and institutional learning processes drive all of those involved insane?

Albert Camus famously asked, does life have meaning, and if not, should he kill himself? Here's a similar question I was pondering while in a meeting the other day. Does the inherent impossibility of traditional education, training, and other formal learning processes drive insane all of those involved for too long?

Here are some of the problems facing traditional educators:

It is almost impossible to change the long term behavior for most students in a contained event, no matter how long. There is a predictable decay curve.

The tools available themselves just too blunt for knowledge capture and sharing. PowerPoint? Lectures? Workbooks? Really?

The measurement techniques are too weak and they take too long, and they measure the wrong thing. Quizzes? Surveys? Standardized tests?

It costs too much to deliver useful content. Development costs... Deployment costs... Management costs... Infrastructure costs...

The time to return on investment and evaluation is too long. Months? Years? (For K-12) Decades?

The nature of learning interventions are too discreet from life. Leave life. Learn in foreign context. Return. Forget.

The programs are funded indirectly, so students are seldom customers. How many layers are there between a student in a public school and the people who pay for it? Or a corporate employee?

Students themselves are, of course, incredibly inconsistent. They come in with the full spectrum of background skills and knowledge, interests, and needs.

Formal learning programs have to be both individually specialized, yet integrated across other programs. Google can't even do this.

Programs require a lot of time on the part of the student outside of engaging the learning content. Downloads. Passwords. Buildings. Buses. Food. Lock down drills.

As a result of deploying classrooms, do people involved in formal learning programs go batty? Do they get paranoid, or turn into hucksters, or do they cast customers and sponsors and business leaders as enemies, or quickly burn out, or just focus on building fiefdoms? Or if all actions lead to pain, then is it easier to do nothing? Is the best strategy to tamp down all sense of ambitions and just go along with the flow?

As more funding gets cut from schools (from big steps such as forcing larger class sizes to surgical smaller steps, such as by firing TA's and forcing professors to grade their own papers) and the expectations go up, it is reasonable to assume the entire school system in this country will display the signs of an organizational nervous breakdown - including demonstrating paranoia, malaise, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Or perhaps it already has.

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