Sunday, November 25, 2012

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and perhaps the nation's most recognized advocate of systems thinking, made a brief series of presentations to educators and businessfolk in Denver last week. Organizers of the sessions framed them as an opportunity to bring educators and businessfolk together to talk about transformation in education through systems thinking. (That's a mouthful.) In the two presentations that I attended over approximately three hours, Senge wove together powerful and important ideas -- including business innovation, education reform, learning organizations, and dialogue -- in a way that seems important to rethinking education. I've excerpted my notes* from the presentations below; perhaps they'll prompt some transformational thinking.
*These notes paraphrase in detail what Senge said, quoting him as directly as possible (using a keyboard). I've rearranged a few paragraphs to enhance (I think) the flow of ideas. I've also added the italicized headings that mark what I take to be the thread of major topics Senge discussed.

A Systems Approach to Tranformation in Education 
by Peter Senge (as recorded in keyboard notes)
Master Class and Forum -- Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation -- 11/14/12
Learning and Schooling

First, we need to understand the difference between learning and information exchange.  "Learning is a process whereby we enhance our capacities to produce the results we want to produce." To ride a bicycle. Or talk. It's behavioral and cognitive, or physical (like how to make certain sounds). It's all of them at once.

There aren't any teachers. By which I mean we don't learn the key things by sitting on our butts and being told information. Mentors, yes -- people ahead of us in knowing, and showing us a way. But teachers, no. Learning is both very personal and instinctively social. Master teachers are really master mentors.

We're on the cusp of profound changes in our schooling. Which has never been much about learning, but more about socialization and getting kids through a curriculum that the adults care about.  Delivery of content is less and less what schools are going to be about; educators are going to have to give that up. The opportunity in this is that schools can be more focused on the social aspects of learning -- the soul of real education, which is kids learning together, learning how to work out their differences, learning how to work together.

The best class I've seen is an 8th grade algebra class: The teacher rarely talks more than 5 minutes. The kids teach each other. If I see a classroom with straight lines and individual desks in rows, I say, you're still teaching; you're not fostering learning. Kids get habituated to having a teacher. But for the rest of their lives, they won't have one. So they need to get used to that.

From "Design Pattern: Bringing It All Together,"
on DesignShare: Designing for the Future of Learning
(accessed 11-25-12)
I observed this algebra class along with several school leaders from Armonk, New York (global corporate HQ of IBM). The visitors were stunned. First, Rob (the teacher) didn't have to start the class. The kids started it themselves, working their way through their respective math exercises. Rob just talked with the visitors about what the kids were doing. The kids worked in groups of four, which he regularly reconfigures. He assesses by talking with the kids each day, and coordinates each student's learning based on these assessment conversations. 

If you brought a typical principal/evaluator into this class, the teacher would probably get low marks. But the kids are learning algebra and how to deal with the social aspects of learning and working together. One of the Armonk observers, a principal and former math teacher, said, "I've never seen a class where the kids did so much smiling."

There's a collaborative context for all of this. We look at exceptional teachers and ask, "How did they get there?" What are the good developmental processes? It's intensely collaborative. Current concern about teacher quality isn't really leading people to look at the developmental process for teachers. Collaborative learning. Reflection. Dialogue. Deeper conversation. Building trust and mutuality, while dealing with difficult issues.

Building Leadership Capacity: Reflective Conversation

To CEOs who want to have a learning organization, I say, "Do you really want to embrace your incompetence and ignorance?" And I would say the same to a principal, or a superintendent.  Leadership isn't just about the boss, but about the behavior of all the participants. A leader must cultivate three core capacities:
  • Reflective Conversation
  • Creative Orientation
  • Seeing/Sensing the Larger System
Building collective capacity to have difficult conversations is the key learning we all need. My network of educators tell me that the biggest single difference in their systems is the ability to have difficult conversations without having the train come off the tracks. It's a cultural and personal problem, collective and individual.

If you're serious about this point, you spend your whole life working on it. There are always near horizons. You reach them, then another horizon lies beyond. When you're really stretching, there's never enough time. You need to show up in an ongoing way. You have to be coached. But you have to want to be coached. It requires a voluntary act.

To build capacity, you need tools and methods. It's not about ideas; it's about tools. Theories, tools, and frameworks. We start with theory, then go to tools, then go to frameworks for seeing how a conversation can occur.

Model: Evolution of Collaborative Conversation (Dialogue)

Have you ever noticed that in a meeting the real subjects do not get discussed? They get discussed in the ladies room afterwards, or over beer at a bar. They don't get discussed in the meeting because folks are defensive. "Undiscussables" is a key concept of management. One definition of a management team is a group of people with an average IQ of 120 and a collective IQ of 63. We're polite, but with no energy. You hope the meetings are short - because the longer they are, the more time that gets wasted.

When we get out of Politeness (Stage 1), we often drift into Debate (Stage 2). It's edgier. The ties come down, and we really talk about what's going on. Does anybody's mind get changed? No. You wouldn't call it collective inquiry or real conversation -- where people actually start to think differently, where I take in something that somebody else says and change my thinking.

Stage 3 is Real Conversation. The shift to Stage 3 isn't trivial. Usually we just go back and forth between Politeness and Debate. A real working team develops the collective capacity to move into what historically was called dialogue. Interestingly, the root word (dia-logos) literally means "flow of meaning." Through Dialogue we can reach Stage 4: Inquiry. Where we experience a genuine flow of meaning. 

I'm told there's a Sioux expression: We talk and talk until the Talk starts. Every culture deep in its roots has an understanding of the evolution of conversation. Yet I think we've almost completely lost it here. It's not about education but about our culture. When voting started, democracy ended. The action replaced the deeper essence. Conversation is the root of all forms of self-governance. We're seeing the tragic consequence in our nation.

That's a useful framework. Groups usually follow a progression through the stages, though not always.
Graphic by Stevan Kalmon, 11/25/12

Data and Interpretation: The Ladder of Inference

Anthropologists developed the tool called the Ladder of Inference. The basic problem of anthropology is to understand a culture that's really not your culture. How do you do that without injecting your frames of reference? The discipline starts with making rigorous inferences.

At the base of the ladder lie data -- observations and descriptions. Directly observable phenomena. Nodding a head. What a video recorder records. 
     Usually, we don't just take in information. We interact with "reality," which brings in our awareness and cognition. For instance, it's usually pretty difficult for us to write down what got said in the previous five minutes, but we can pretty readily write down what we were thinking or feeling in that same time span. It's very difficult to write down what has "occurred." A man hears differently from a woman, an engineer differently from a teacher, an Asian from a European, and so on...
     We have individual variations. Then culture layers (family, society). Indeed, the best definition of culture is "implicit patterns of interpretation."

So we start with data. What the data mean is interpretation - inference. We don't explicitly say these things to ourselves, we just assume that the inferences we make are the data.

The second rung of the ladder is Immediate Interpretations. These are almost all implicit. They happen at the speed of light, conditioned in us culturally.
     For instance, I observe a man nodding as we speak. My immediate interpretation: He agrees with me. But in some cultures, nodding means "I'm listening." In others, it means "I disagree."

The third rung is Attributions.
Graphic by Stevan Kalmon, 11/25/12
     He's nodding. I think: He's a good guy. He likes me. We're making a connection. He wants us to get along. He's on my side...
     Attribution is the assumption I make about someone's reasoning or motives. 
     Attributions often come from stereotypes. Like: Crossed arms means the listener is resistant to what I'm saying... That's attribution. The Boss, of course, he never listens... That's a stereotype. We have a set of stereotypes -- generalizations about race, gender, culture, professions,…
     The fourth rung is Generalization, in which the attributions are taken to broader levels of interpretation. Here, stereotypes really play a major role.

The "Cycle of Inference"
From "Inferences - Meanings We Create"
on LifeSystems 101 (accessed 11-24-12).
These interpretations are inescapable. They're human. You can't not make inferences, attributions, stereotypes. The problem isn't that we do it, but that we don't see it. We treat our inferences as if they were data. [emphasis added] This is the biggest problem in communication. We make a bunch of automatic inferences, and then treat them as if they're Fact. Because the sense that we make is powerful, and it trumps the data. We give it meaning. And the meaning we ascribe is what sticks. Our opinion is more powerful than fact.

You have to start by being dedicated to being aware of your awareness. Separating what's said from what I heard. We think what people hear is what we say, but they're two different phenomena. As you acquire a discipline, then you start by saying what you think someone said. And then what you think about it.
     Step 1: What's the data?
     Step 2: What's the meaning?

This theory applies to all the ways in which humans interact.

Building a Partnership for Innovation in Education

What will it take to build a partnership between business and education that will sustain the kind of innovation in education that the society needs?

A Canadian business leader once said to me, "I've been called in so many times to consult with educators; I've been on so many committees. Whenever I've been called in, it's because there's a crisis. No one's ever asked me to help with innovation. I wonder why."

A suggested causal bubble for business innovation.
From "IC<=> Innovation Capital <=> Strategic Innovation,"
on ic knowledge center (accessed 11-25-12).
"Innovation" and "schools" are two words that don't get put together very often. In business, if you don't innovate, you're dead. Innovation creates new sources of value. If you don't do that, you're not around very along. Why don't we have that same mindset for our schools?
     Maybe we don't think schools should innovate. Maybe we think if they just do what they did when we were kids, that's great. But are the answers of 30-40 years ago really the answers we need today?
     Maybe we don't think schools can innovate. Over the last decade or so, the frustration among business people about education has grown dramatically. Few businesspeople will say so publicly, but privately they've given up. "We hire from all over the world, so it doesn't matter all that much." After years of various reform efforts, I think there's an attitude of profound frustration. Which exists in teachers as well.
     By the way, I have trouble with the language here: How many of you would like to be "reformed?" Or have them reform us? But this is the most common word we use when we talk about change in education. In business we talk about innovation.
     It's interesting why we think this way. Why we don't think education needs to continually innovate.

From "ITIL is Continual Service Improvement,"
on ETSM Watch (accessed 11-26-12)
Business people often don't appreciate the complexity of education as an institution. In the early '90s an effort was made to bring Quality Management to education. When done well, Quality Management practices build know-how in an organization; done poorly, they destroy trust and twist performance into metrics. And the application to education turned out to be a bunch of metrics. In 1992, I attended a session of education leaders in New York City. I was on a panel with Ed Deming. He said to this group, which he could see was intent on setting targets, making them measurable, then holding people accountable for reaching them: "You are in the process of trying to apply to American education a system of management that has almost destroyed American business." They went ahead and did it.

Targets matter. Measurement matters. But targets without empowerment of the people to reach them is useless and counterproductive. [emphasis added]

Setting targets and measuring people is the wrong story for building partnership. You build partnership around ideas. But this is difficult. We can say all the right things, but that doesn't mean we're getting anywhere.

Here's what I think about innovation -- actually, what Peter Drucker thinks, about innovation.
1. You must have a very clear sense of mission. And making money can't be the mission.
     Profit is like oxygen. If you don't have enough of it, you're done. But your purpose isn't to breathe.
Businesses exist to create value for society. Social and economic value.
What's the implication for education? Do we have any consensus on the mission of education?
     Without real effort to clarify our aims, almost any aims will do. We create a vacuum in which things like test scores become the aim. 
     It's hard to find school systems that have had a serious, multi-stakeholder process of working together to come to consensus about aims. I know of one system - a rural/suburban district in the Seattle area - Tahoma. Their website presents six aims - develop students who are complex thinkers, self-starting learners, self-critical learners, collaborative workers,… These goals were developed in 1991. The district convened meetings of stakeholders for a year - community, teachers, business, students, parents,... They primed the pump with various ideas, then they talked it through. 
     Is Tahoma's list of goals the answer? No, it's that district's answer. But until there's consensus on your mission, why take risks? Innovation is a fuzzy word, but one thing is certain: You make a lot of mistakes. Software designers say, "Fail fast and early." It's risky. But if you don't take risks, you don't innovate. So you have to have a reason - an inspiration.

2. You must translate the mission into compelling vision statements that you're prepared to measure in order to assess progress.
     Vision statements are "desired results."
     Of course you have to measure. But how you measure is crucial. The critiques that thoughtful educators have made of standardized tests are important. "I don't teach to get good test scores."
     A lot of the most compelling visions of businesses aren't accomplished. But they stretch people in the attempt to reach them.

3. You must have relentless assessment and correction. 
     You'll fail a lot. Assessment is tough. It means being always open to seeing what's not working -- and fixing it.
     But in order to have continual assessment and correction, you must have trust throughout the system.
     In order to have trust, you must have relationships that generate trust.
     In order to have the relationships, you must create good conversation, and you must assure everyone's safety.
     If everyone is in fear in an organization, you don't have trust. Safety is a sense of mutuality. Healthy social relationships. 
From "Back to the Future,' by Bridgz
On CustomerSpeak (accessed 11-25-12).
Of course there's more, but these are the basics. Why hasn't it been applied to education?

Innovation is messy, and involves a lot of errors. It requires a certain environment - with measurement of meaningful outcomes, in which we all acknowledge errors and seek improved outcomes. 

It's important that we're sitting together in this room. Now, here together to do what? Hopefully, this afternoon enables us to plants seeds for real dialogue. What seeds do you want to plant? What questions do you have?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Civics Lesson

Downtown Denver, seen from City Park Golf Course. Photo by Stevan Kalmon, November 2011.
Driving home across Denver on a recent evening, I had the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between privilege and housing/neighborhood design.

I travelled from Green Valley Ranch, at the eastern edge of the city, to my house on the western edge. (I was coming home from a golf lesson. Yes, a golf lesson. This embarrassing fact becomes relevant in about four paragraphs.) From GVR,  I followed surface streets west and south and west through Northeast Denver, Stapleton, Park Hill, City Park, Five Points, Downtown, LoDo, Platte River Park, Jefferson Park, and finally to my not-Highlands/not-Colfax area... It's a fascinating -- and highly learningful -- drive. Huge diversity of neighborhoods. Some fine views (like City Park, with the stylized Denver cityscape rising to the west). And much to consider related to the makings of a 21st century American city.

Apartments in Stapleton
As I was cruising along Martin Luther King, between Havana and Quebec, flanking the northern boundary of the Stapleton developments, I marveled at how much nicer the housing looks there than it does along, say, Tower Road in northeast Denver. "Nicer", of course, according to my subjective and culturally manifested judgment. 

House in Northeast Denver
Now, why is that?, wondered I... with ironic amusement...
  • Why do I think so? What makes me think so? How do I think that I  have the standing to think so?
  • Are the houses in Stapleton better built? Why might they be?
  • What economic decisions ordain that some housing has to be "ugly" and/or less well built? What would it "cost" to plan and build all housing with the same attention and care that was devoted to Stapleton? What would such an investment return?
  • Why did the Stapleton and Lowry developments get so much more attention than the Montbello, Gateway, Northeast, and Peterson developments?
  • As these areas continue to build out -- and when simply everyone thinks that Stapleton is a model of urban housing development but the northeast areas aren't -- why is it that more effort isn't made to emulate Stapletonesque features in the Northeast Corridor?  
  • Who is paying the costs of not making more such effort? Whose responsibility is it to make the effort? And who decides whether it will (or won't) be made?
After musing along these lines for some time, I suddently thought, What a study this would be? What learning! I'd like to be teaching in a school that makes this its "curriculum." Perhaps an ongoing study  for one cohort of students -- starting when that cohort first enters the school (like 9th grade, or kindergarten) and concluding (officially) when they graduate.
From "Systems Thinking," Part 3 of "Clinical Microsytems: Transformational Framework for Lean Thinking," published on the ASHP Foundation website - Last update, 9/17/12.

See blog rants about learning for the 21st century, how we learn, and inquiry. 

As it happens, when I got home and browsed my email, I saw my daily dose of the EdNews e-report, Accomplished Teacher*. Today's #2 "Top Story" was headlined "N.H. school embraces elections for civics lessons." The lead paragraph reads,
"Women Voters Secured Obama Victory,
According to Exit Polls,"

on the Glamour website (accessed 9-10-12). 
Teachers at a New Hampshire middle school began social studies lessons on Wednesday by discussing the results of Tuesday's presidential election. Leading up to the election, teachers also planned a series of election-themed lessons on topics such as the electoral college and political advertisements. The presidential election also came the day after the school's elections, in which 23 students ran for six school-council seats, and students were asked to vote for president along with their school representatives. SeacoastOnline (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Good for N.H. School! I might quibble about some of their reported strategies... For instance, why "election-themed lessons" rather than, say, just-in-time tutorials for students as they conduct elections? Or case studies about representative democracy? Are there some problems in likening student council to our national government? (I say this as a former Vice President of my high school student council.) I could go on... probably to everyone's dismay, including my own... 

Still. Here we have a whole world from which to learn; instead, we teach classes in civics. 

*  Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief - News about teaching and education excellence; November 8, 2012, edition is exceprted at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

November 12th Webinar: 21st Century Learning Naturally

Join us Monday, November 12, at 3:30 p.m. (Mountain Time) for a conversation about a school “dedicated to the study of natural sciences in a natural setting.” The webinar will be conducted in the CoLearning Network space on AdobeConnect. Jonathan Wuerth, co-founder of the School in the Woods (Academy School District 20), along with students at the school, will lead the conversation.
This webinar will explore how a school program can “inspire…students to be critical thinkers as they pursue lifelong learning through direct interaction with living systems, integrated into an academically challenging curriculum in a safe environment.”
Topics the webinar will explore include:
  • Inquiry science;
  • Collaboration among students and teachers;
  • Concrete application and development of 21st century skills;
  • Using school learning to foster lifelong learning.
Note the change from our regular schedule: This webinar will be conducted on the second Monday in November rather than the third, to accommodate Thanksgiving schedules.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Tipping Point to Personal Learning - Part 3

BTW... This exponential growth curve
applies to postsecondary schools too.
In less than five years students taking
all college courses online
may outnumber those taking
all courses in classrooms. (fn 18)
The authors of Disrupting Class make a convincing case that the disruptive innovation of student-centered computer-delivered instruction will bring the end of teacher-based instruction (and, therefore, conventional schooling. (fn 17) According to their theory and data, the tipping point has already occurred; the shift is happening. We see it in the exponential growth of online learning as well as the classroom use of computer-based exercises, tutorials, and games. Beyond that, we hear it in the new language of K-12 education --  "flipped classrooms" and, most prominently of late, "personalized (or individualized) learning." (fn 19)

I'm holding out hope that the projections of Disrupting Class are wrong -- at least in part. Not that schooling as we know it will continue to thrive. It won't, and it shouldn't. (fn 20) I'm hoping that the disruptive innovation which will end conventional to schooling is not (as DC labels it) "student-centered computer-delivered instruction," but is instead learner-centric learning. That the disruption is not about instructional software, nor virtual schools and digital content providers, but about the idea that each learner charts and pursues her own learning pathways.

Here's how I'd like to see the disruption play out.

From teacher-based instruction
To computer-based instruction

From teacher-based instruction
To individualized schooling
Stage Two
To student-oriented computer-delivered instruction

To learner-centric learning

(Projected by Disrupting Class)
(Hoped for by Stevan Kalmon)

The labels matter, as I'll try to demonstrate below.

Talk about "personalized learning" or "individualized learning" is all the rage in education. Indeed, a year ago a column in Forbes rhetorically wondered whether personalized learning is just a fad. (fn 21) But for the most part what's being raged about is really just stage one of the disruptive shift that DC characterizes as "computer-based instruction" and what I would label "individualized schooling." It's still monolithic with respect to the learner; hierarchical authority still mandates what must be learned. Increasingly, students are offered some crumbs of individualization -- like the opportunity to take courses online that aren't available in one's physical school, or the ability to set one's own pace for covering (hopefully mastering) content -- as with the Kahn Academy or Plato Learning. 

This Stage One shift was epitomized by the theme of Educational Leadership in February 2012: "For Each to Excel." In the first featured article, edtech gadfly Larry Cuban framed the issue as one of differentiation.
     "Many practitioners (and the public) highly value standardizing curriculum and instruction for students.... Yet educators and the public also prize individual excellence -- cream rising to the top. Differentiating the curriculum for students -- for example, for gifted students, students in advanced placement courses, English language learners, and students with special needs -- enables schools to customize learning opportunities and cultivate individual achievement." (fn 22)

Note the assumption Cuban makes that curriculum is established for the student -- standardized. The "balanced" approach he recommends would differentiate the predetermined curriculum. Customization, yes, but in the way that automakers offer models and options. You don't get to build your own car. 

Some examples of this Stage One -- individualized schooling:
    AP online -- one of the fastest growing segments of online learning, and a primary example of disruption cited in DC.
    Flipping the classroom -- material that the teacher believes students need to absorb is presented online, so that students can decide when and how to ingest it. Classtime is available for more individualized and work that applies the material. 
    Blended learning -- various combinations of online and face-to-face schooling environments, the most common of which offers self-paced online courses to students who sometimes work on the courses outside of school and sometimes work on them in school (with adult supervision and support). 
    Tracking -- which, of course, schools don't do any more, except for identified "gifted and talented" students, or NCLB-inspired "leveled" groupings in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
    Student information systems -- through which students, teachers, and parents can track the students' progress through specific courses as well as the overall learning program. (Without ironic intent these are frequently called "student management systems.")

For schooling such programs seem like radical changes. But for the most part they're merely better ways to do school as we understand it rather than ways of transforming how school is done. Their disruptive impact, to borrow the DC language, is that they open the K-12 education market to more "consumers" -- students, for example, who want more content than the school's conventional program provides, or students who would otherwise drop out (or already have dropped out) but can get back in the schooling loop by recovering credit. They also start to build a new education market in which the learner more actively engages in the pursuit of knowledge. Because the curriculum (e.g., the state standards in Colorado or the new and improved Common Core standards) is hard-wired to the educational experience, the individual learner still has minimal choice in what she gets to study, often no choice whatsoever. But she at least has greater capacity for tracking her own progress and greater control over how and when she'll work through course and curricular requirements. Often, she gets to create her own project, or choose among community service options. (fn 23) 

The education market is shifting inexorably to this more individualized approach to schooling. Charter schools, for example. But, as one commentator recently suggested, "For all the talk about 'personalizing learning' these days, we don't often hear much about the actual persons in the process. The prevailing definition of 'personalization,' ironically, seems to have more to do with what technology can offer ...seems to emphasize data and customization..." (fn 24)

Disrupting Class projects Stage Two as more of this programmed-but-individualized instruction. Because of the individualization that technology affords, the instruction will come with even more models and options for the student. 

But Stage Two could be learner-centric learning, in which the learner replaces the school as the primary agent. Each individual learner -- as a member of a community of learners and guided by coaching, advising, and community models -- both designs what she wants/needs to learn and how she will go about learning it.

Will Richardson says the key strategy we need to pursue is developing each learner's autonomy. Borrowing from Stephen Downes at the National Research Council of Canada, he says, "Autonomy is what distinguishes between personal learning, which we do for ourselves, and personalized learning, which is done for us." He asks, "Are we preparing students to learn without us? How can we shift curriculum and pedagogy to more effectively help students form and answer their own questions, develop patience with uncertainty and ambiguity, appreciate and learn from failure, and develop the ability to go deeply into the subject about which they have a passion to learn?" (fn 25) 

Personal choice about what to learn? Personal design of learning experiences? The chaos! Not necessarily. To work as a system, it would require dynamic structure and a great deal of mentoring attention to each individual. But the energy that we now invest in devising and implementing instruction could be invested instead into nurturing, strengthening, and guiding the innate human desire to learn. And such a system will do a better job of preparing our kids for their future than the system we have now.

Gabriel at the 2006 HS
Science Fair
Project Title-
The Fruit of Paradise:
In Vitro Embryo
Germination of Musaceae
Here's a learning story for the 21st century: Gabriel Sachter-Smith, now 23, discovered at 13 a compelling interest in bananas. Precocious, highly energetic, and intensely curious, Gabriel had never been a particularly "good" student. But entirely independent of school (and academic credit), he launched a personal, in-depth study of bananas and other tropical fruits – learning through websites and online communities and developing an experimental garden in the backyard of his mountainside home in Nederland, Colorado. By the time he graduated from high school (not with honors), Gabriel was a widely recognized international authority on the subject, invited to present at conferences and exchanging ideas/information with some of the world's leading experts. Correspondents who did not know him, other than through their online exchange, frequently called him Dr. Sachter. Now he's a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, which has the most prestigious tropical fruits program in the United States. He still has trouble mastering the classroom. But he has no trouble being a learner. (fn 26)
From "Banana Genius Grows 50 Varietals
On University Of Hawaii Farm,"
Huffington Post - 12/5/10

I'm not suggesting that every kid -- every person -- has a powerful passion that will drive a lifetime of intense learning. I'm saying that humans are designed to learn. Schooling, as it is currently practiced, is designed to make us unlearners: Students. The disruptive innovation that might be occurring is that schooling will be replaced by networked communities of learners -- inspired by passions, fueled by curiosity, guided by mentors, co-learning with colleagues,... Each learner will, as monika hardy says it, “experience the exhilaration of learning in a space of permission to be.” (fn 27)

fn 17 - For details on the case developed in Disrupting Class, see my preceding two posts ("Tipping Point..." parts 1 and 2).

fn 18 - From "Online Education Continues Rapid Growth," in Brain Track ( - accessed 10/1/12): "According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of students enrolled in at least one distance education course increased significantly between 2002 and 2006, from 1.1 million to 12.2 million--and the growth spurt doesn't seem to be slowing down. In fact, the research firm Ambient Institute expects this figure to skyrocket to 22 million within the next five years. By 2014, Ambient predicts that the number of students taking all of their classes online will increase to 3.55 million, while the number of students taking all of their courses in on-campus classrooms will drop to 5.14 million."

fn 19 - Here's a sampling of recent article titles:
    "K-12 Seeks Custom Fit: Schools Test Individualized Digital Learning" - Theme for Education Week: Technology Counts, 3/17/11. 
    "The rise of K-12 blended learning," a white paper published in January 2012 by the Innosight Institute -
    "Blended Learning Mixes It Up," by Katie Ash, in Technology Counts 2012, 3/15/12, pp. 31-34.
    "New charter school models are combining online-only learning and face-to-face instruction" - Education Week, 6/15/12     
    "Laptops, personalized learning replace lectures in schools" - eSchool News, 6/21/12
    "Upside Down and Inside Out: Flip Your Classroom to Improve Student Learning" - Learning & Leading with Technology, June/July 2012
    "'Hybrid' Home-Teaching Options Grow in Popularity" - Education Week, 8/8/12
    "When Technology Tools Trump Teachers" - Education Week, 8/8/12

fn 20 - I don't mean this as an attack on K-12 educators. I believe, as the authors of Disrupting Class demonstrate, that public education has been remarkably effective in accomplishing the many and varied missions it's been assigned during the past 100 years. And it seems abundantly clear to me that teachers do a better job now than they have ever done in this country. And, at the same time, schooling as we conventionally practice it is not adequately helping kids to prepare for their future.

fn 21 - "Is Personalized Learning an Education Fad or Can It Really Happen in Our Schools?" by Adam Garry (on behalf of Dell),

fn 22 - Source: "Standards vs. Customization: Finding the Balance," by Larry Cuban, in Educational Leadership, February 2012, pp. 10-15.
     Here's another example. EdWeek (9-18-12) promoted a webinar entitled "Hybrid Learning Pushes Personalization Forward," with the following paragraph: "To truly personalize the learning process, many educators are blending face-to-face instruction with digital resources that enhance or reinforce classroom learning. View this webinar and hear from three educators on the forefront of hybrid learning and discover what they have learned; including the 5 dimensions of differentiation, the components of a successful 21st century learning environment, and how to effectively personalize education and raise student achievement."

fn 23 - Here's an illustration of this minimal enhancement of learning consumer choice: The 2010 Speak Up survey asked students to identify the factors that make virtual education appealing. The students' top ratings went to Scheduling (61% of high school student respondents), Control of Learning (60% of high school respondents), Work at Own Pace (57%), College Credit (50%), and Review Class Material (45%). These answers are about time, place, and a little bit about manner, not at all about what students will learn. You can't blame the students; they're digging for whatever individuality they can find. Source: "Leveraging Technology for K-12 Learning," in Education Week, 3/15/12, p. 36.

fn 24 - "People vs. 'Personalization': Retaining the Human Element in the High-Tech Era of Education," by Susan Sandler, in Education Week, 2/29/12, p. 20.

fn 25 - Source: "Preparing Students to Learn Without Us," by Will Richardson, in Educational Leadership, February 2012, p. 25.

fn 26 - Google Gabriel's name; you'll be amazed.

fn 27 – monika hardy is a learning innovation facilitator in Thompson Valley School District (Loveland, CO). The “be you lab” that she and students have created is described in  "Nothing's nailed down in Thompson School District's Innovation Lab," by Shelley Widhalm, in the Loveland Reporter-Herald