“As global connectivity continues its unprecedented advance many old institutions and hierarchies will have to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant to modern society.” Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and BusinessEven a decade into the 21st century, educational leaders and policymakers stubbornly hold on to an outdated, twentieth century manufacturing education model with its standardized approach to teaching and learning. Little discussion has been about how can we redesign teaching and learning; instead, we are still bolting on new and recycled reform measures to an old model of education that has proven inadequate for all students. The search for the perfect test or set of standards that has the power to magically transform education continues. It's as if in some ways, there's still little incentive to change, but as Schmidt and Cohen point out, the power of "global connectivity" continues to force its way into our institutions and our lives, and the question is adapt or be irrelevant.
What education leaders and policymakers really fail to see are Four Big Trends of Connectivity that Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen describe in their book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business. According to these authors, these trends are at work, powerfully transforming our public institutions whether we want them to or not. Education leaders have spent much of the first decade of the 21st century either resisting these trends, trying to adapt them to old models of schooling, or trying to ignore them, perhaps even hoping they're some kind of fad that will fade with time. But these four trends are creating stress on all our public institutions, according to Schmidt and Cohen. Their impact on education is continuing as well.
1. Quicker rate of change than at any time in history. According to Schmidt and Cohen, “We experience change at a quicker rate than any previous generation, and this change, driven in part by the devices in our own hands, will be more personal and participatory than we can even imagine.” This handheld-device driven change has already began impacting education. Schools have yet to really harness the power of these devices and connectivity, because they mostly have only been asking questions like: "How can I control these devices which are a nuisance?" or "How can these devices help us do the teaching and learning we now do?" For schools to capitalize on this quicker rate of change, our educational institutions and the people in them must become much, much more flexible. They need to recognize the personal and participatory nature of learning and move away from a “prescriptive philosophy of teaching” where education is perceived to be a “treatment” provided to produce a desired result. In the “quick change” environment of the future, individuals will take charge of their own learning, and prescription learning will be history. Personalized learning will result from the quicker rate of change.
2. Seamless permeation of technology everywhere. In spite of their efforts to keep devices and technology from their buildings, school leaders are losing this war. As Schmidt and Cohen point out, "In the future, information technology will be everywhere, like electricity. It will be a given, so fully part of our lives that we will struggle to describe life before it to our children.” In that same future, educators will be surrounded with technology. Questions like, “What do we do with these devices?” or “How do I use this in my classroom"?” will completely vanish. Technology will “just be” part of how we do education and life. It will be seamlessly part of every aspect of teaching and learning. In that future no one will question or even notice the technology.
3. Attempts to try to contain or restrict connectivity is futile. “Attempts to contain the spread of connectivity or curtail people’s access will always fail over a long enough period of time---information, like water, will always find a way through,” state Schmidt and Cohen. No matter how institutions try to to control access, it will happen anyway. Since the age of connectivity began school leaders have been trying to control connectivity on their terms, which is like trying to control the output from a fire hose. Many still don’t get it; that this torrent of content, wanted and unwanted can’t be contained or restricted. Like the printing press, once information begins spreading, ideas and information spread. Instead of futilely trying to restrict or contain the torrent, we need to provide our students with the values necessary, the moral and intellectual center to engage connectivity appropriately and effectively.
4. Permeation of connectivity and mobile technologies means power moves away from the few to many. The final big trend described by Schmidt and Cohen involves a power shift. As they point out, “With the spread of connectivity and mobile phones around the world, citizens will have more power than at any time in history, but it will come with costs, particularly to both privacy and security.” The power of teachers being the “primary dispensers of information” to our students has slipped away. This shift continues unabated, and if students really need content experts, they don’t need teacher-content experts any more. They can connect with those using the devices in their hands. Students need guides and mentors to help them navigate the global world of information available. They need connectivity experts. They need simply, those who will help them make sense of information, evaluate it for relevance and validity, and use it solve real problems.
Judging from these four trends described by Schmidt and Cohen, schools as public institutions have little choice in adapting to the changes wrought by global connectivity. I fear, though, we're still too busy trying to adapt the technologies and global connectivity to fit our old ways of teaching and learning.