Education 2.0: The importance of ownership

I’ve been teaching adults for almost twenty years. First as a lecturer, then as a professor and for the last ten years as a coach and facilitator for large organizations all over the world. I love technology and the possibility that it represents but I believe that technology can only ever enable educational success. It rarely drives. As technology becomes more pervasive we must shift our focus to the driving factors. I would argue that a key driver for educational success is the internal sense of ownership each student has for his or her own development. If they have this, they will find a way to succeed. If they don’t, the technology enables ever greater levels of complacency.

For example, companies offer more and better educational content to their employees each year via technology. The delivery mechanisms become more sophisticated, the market analysis and demographic segmentation become more precise. The richness of the experience and the connectedness of the learning with the world beyond the classroom becomes ever-broader. Do employees learn more today than they did in 1970? In 1900? I’m not sure. I’ve seen no compelling evidence either way. The ones who really want to learn, learn more. The self-starters learn more. The employees of the best companies learn at a breathtaking pace but that has more to do with these company’s ability to attract those who are committed to their own self development than it does with the quality of the educational technology. Students who own their own development use new technology well – it serves as an accelerant to their educational success. But the accelerant is not the spark.

This is the case for adults – employees in the world’s largest and richest organizations. Is it the case for children? I don’t know. Probably.

I was hiking with my son yesterday. It was a long hike for a boy his age and he asked me, “Dad, do your feet hurt?” I turned my head as we walked and said, “Yeah. They hurt. But not all hurting is bad and you wanted to get to the top of the hill. Do you want to stop?” He thought about it for a long while, ten, maybe twenty steps and said, “no, but my feet hurt too. I’ll be glad when we get to the top.” Ed 2.0 won’t make our feet not hurt. We’ll just be hiking to more wonderous places.

Ed 2.0 won’t be a kinder and gentler place, free from conflict and strife. It will be a hard place. A place where trolls and naysayers and those who would discourage others have the same loud microphone as anyone else. For each online Gandhi, an online bully. It will be a confusing place. A painful place. It will also be a wonderful place, a place where real liberation and intellectual progress will be possible in ways and on a scale we have never seen in human history.

Ed 2.0 isn’t only or even primarily about technology. It is about arming students with the tools and the fierce determination they will need to learn with and through that technology. It is about encouraging intellectual entrepreneurship – creating of our students hundreds of millions of one-person startups, kludging their way to happiness and success.

Ed 2.0 is about encouraging ownership – genuine heartfelt ownership of one’s own educational destiny. The institutions will transform faster than we can keep pace. Between the cracks of our existing educational infrastructure will grow varied species of educational delivery the likes of which we have never seen and cannot possibly forecast. What our students will need is a love of learning but we should not mistake this for an easy love affair. A love of learning is a hard relationship. Learning hurts sometimes. Learning is scary most of the time. It’s impact is all-too-often proportional to its agony. As Benjamin Franklin described it, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”

To paraphrase MLK, we must teach our students that suffering is redemptive and that that redemption takes the form of learning. Ed 2.0 is teaching a student what to do when the system doesn’t work, when the teacher is bad, when the school is failing, when the district is broke. The answer in each case is to rise above the failure and to use the power of technology to surmount each barrier. That’s the real model of liberation with technology – it’s not the gleaming cities of glass, it’s the kluge with wires poking out, too much Cat 5 cable, and the fuses in your house always on the edge of tripping because you’re downloading too much information. It’s turning on the fire hose. It’s taking the spark that is the desire to learn and building into an unquenchable fire.