Moving from EdTech to the Technology of Learning

by Shelly Blake-Plock

EdTech is its own biggest problem.

In defining itself as a genre of technology, it has done more to dissuade serious technological advancement in the learning sciences than any detractor or technophobe could ever do.

Three Things EdTech has Done Wrong

1. Trying to make real-world tasks easier.

From digital grade books to quick foreign language instruction to push-button attendance to the ability to lecture to billions of people and automate multiple-choice quizzes, the overwhelming majority of educational technologies have been built for efficiency. But what they are making efficient are the very modes of production that have led us to the learning crisis we currently face. What we need are technologies that make real demands of our creativity and which enable us to actively take part in the connected future, even if it is uncomfortable. We need to step away from the idea that progress means a better assembly line. Stop building technologies that work to make the status quo more efficient.

2. Building edtech for exits.

As disruptive as you may think you are being, when you build with an eye to an exit, you build complacently. Quick growth will never outweigh real vision. Though real vision may make you less money. Personally, I'm not all that interested in building for the next 4 years; I'm interested in building for the next 1,000 years. I'm interested in building technologies of learning that will still be influential when future archaeologists are picking iPhones out of the rubble. 

3. Building technology parallel to innovation.

This is the big one. You may have noticed that no educational technology has yet to change the world. You may notice that so many educational technologies seem to be watered down versions of consumer products, dressed up with an educational spin. Nothing new here. Think educational games. I can still remember playing the math version of Space Invaders in fourth grade.

Why is it that educational technologies are never on the cutting edge? Why are we always building the new educational technology for Google Glass or whatever else comes down the pike? Why do so many educators themselves jury-rig together quasi-platforms cobbled from mashups of Google+ and Twitter and Nings?

Because for most of its existence, edtech has been built in parallel to innovation. It has never been the innovation itself. MOOCs, adaptive platforms, PLCs... none of this stuff constitutes groundbreaking new technology. It mostly represents the appropriation of technologies to select human-centered problems. Even the brightest spots in edtech continue to develop in parallel to innovation, as opposed to coming into the fold as the innovation. We need to transcend appropriation.

There are things going on behind-the-scenes in the technology of learning and in learning science itself which will shortly upend much of this status quo. My hope is that this post is soon obsolete. It will matter upon the will of developers and thinkers.

Learning itself is universal: among humans, and increasingly among machines.

And in thinking through that alchemical problem, serious developers of edtech may find a path leading towards a new technology of learning.

This is 1,000 year stuff.


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