Technology Will NOT Revolutionize Education

If you’re involved with ed tech evangelism on any level (this includes large conference keynoters) the questions that Veristasium’s Derek Muller asks in this video must be shared!

This video has had a lot of “air time” in education circles this past week. It’s been described as humorous, as thought provoking, even heretical in some circles. Regardless of how accurate you perceive the video’s main thesis to be (you could argue that some technology has revolutionized how we think about education), the basic sentiment is dead on. There exists a constant stream of new gadgets, gizmos, and learning platforms that tech evangelists claim to be the “silver bullet” that will solve all of our educational problems. We make claims about technology that on face value are sound, but when held up to greater scrutiny are patently ridiculous; how often have you seen “kids today learn different than the way we learned” plastered in bold letters on a keynote slide at a conference? Learners today learn no differently then how we’ve always learned as a species; making, building, tinkering, exploring, testing, failing, reflecting, and ultimately synthesizing greater knowledge out of pre-existing knowledge and new experiences.

The most exciting point in this video is the “evolutionary” nature of technology in education. Technology will continue to transform how we demonstrate and communicate our inner thought processes to others, but the learning will always be an internal, cognitive act. We still learn in small groups, with a teacher or facilitator to guide and inspire learners because thousands upon thousands of years of human development has led us to an understanding that shared experiences gives us a common reference point to build new knowledge upon; we pass down stories from antiquity and our religious and cultural ancestry. We value the connection we have with the past, and attempt to build new understanding through metaphors that link back to our previous cultural, religious, and societal touchstones. We still strive to find relevance in the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, and base theories of the universe on mathematical and philosophical texts written hundreds of years ago.

Thousands of years of thought has taught us that the learning process is messy! The exact opposite of what technology is designed to do. Most technology is designed to help streamline, codify, and create more efficient paths to learning, growth, and understanding. In many small ways it helps, but when technology excels at creating linear paths to new understanding, it can ultimately diffuse and disarm the engaging and messy learning that inspires us. If you read through the comments on this video on Youtube you’ll find several fascinating conversations of individuals who were disillusioned for one reason or another with their educational experience. It doesn’t fall on technology to inspire and engage us, it falls upon the understanding and ability of the teacher to manipulate the learning environment and create opportunities that speak to the individual needs of their learners; needs that may change on a day to day, or even hourly basis, depending on the individual. Technology will never afford the same “swiss army knife” like tool that is the human mind, able to adapt to a wide variety of needs, one of which might include the need to turn off the technology for a particular learning experience.

There may exist a time when technology affords us the ability to articulate and communicate our own internal thought processes in a way that is universally understood, but until that point in time, the only revolution that is needed is one of educational practice and delivery. And even that, technology cannot help, as the impetus for change must exist within the minds of those at the front of the classroom.