Tech-savvy children are driving the future of education


Last week I participated in and spoke at an Education Roundtable organized by Telstra, which brought together a small group of very senior executives in all layers of education in Australia. In the same way that I have been drawn into discussions on the future of government over the last 18 months, I am finding myself increasingly frequently asked to engage with decision-makers on the future of education.

There is much I want to share from my presentation and the fantastic discussion at the Roundtable, but for now I’d just like to point to the excellent Telstra White Paper launched at the event, titled Personalised Learning. The White Paper itself is the outcome of an Education Roundtable held a year earlier, and interviews with a variety of Australian senior educators and government officials.

The White Paper’s Executive Summary makes five points, in summary:

1. Today’s student is different in meaningful ways and as a result is transforming education as an institution.

2. In a 21st century model of education, learning can be liberated and enhanced in a technology rich environment.

3. Twenty-first century skills should be the outcome of a 21st century education.

4. Getting education right for the future requires a different approach to teaching and an on-going commitment to upskilling teachers for the very special task of designing and facilitating effective and engaging learning experiences.

5. Transformation starts by building a partnership that can put in motion a set of disciplined experiments designed to form the building blocks for a new educational model.

What came out most strongly from the research underpinning the paper is that the starting point for reshaping education must be that children today are different, and if school does not meet the quite natural expectations they have built up before they go to school about learning, then it will utterly fail. Children must, and will, shape our educational institutions.

The paper makes the point that today’s students have grown up in a world “saturated with technology”. This is absolutely correct, yet the issue is not the technology that children have access to, but what they have become through living in extraordinarily information, media, and interaction-rich environments. As it happens technology is the vehicle by which children experience immersive media participation, now often almost from the time they are born. Technology is also a key vehicle by which education can be brought to life, helping children to have learning at the center of how they interact with the world through their lives. Yet technology is not the focus, simply an enabler.

Which brings us to the fifth point above regarding “disciplined experiments”. At the center of my Enterprise 2.0 Implementation Framework are Iterate, Refine, Experiment, Learn Lessons. If we look at large-scale organizational change today, experimentation is a – perhaps THE – critical capability. While commercial organizations are usually not very good at it, it is probably fair to say that most educational institutions have even further to go on that path.

We don’t know what the future of education will be like. But the bottom line is that schools and universities today must approach the world with the same curiosity and desire to play as children who have been immersed in richly interactive media from birth. We cannot fail in this – it is at the heart of our ability to create a compelling future for humanity.