From improvement to innovation

I’ve just been reading a fascinating publication released a few months ago by CISCO titled “Learning from the Extremes”, written by Charles Leadbetter and Annika Wong. The authors carried out in-depth research into some of the world’s leading educational innovations, meeting with a range of  educational innovators from around the globe. The gist of the conclusions they draw is that improvement in our current schools, on its own, will not be enough to meet the growing and changing demands of governments, parents, and children.

The following quote stood out for me as representing the essence of the report:

To make learning effective in the future, to teach the skills children will need, on the scale they will be needed (especially in the developing world), will require disruptive innovation to create new, low-cost, mass models for learning. Even relying on good schools will not be enough.

This means there will have to be a wholesale shift of emphasis in education policies. School improvement is still a vital goal. But more emphasis will need to be put on innovation that supplements school, reinvents it, and transforms learning by making it available in new ways, often using technology.

The chief policy aim in the 20th century was to spread access to and improve the quality of schooling. In the future, it will be vital to encourage entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation in education, to find new and more effective approaches to learning.

Note the key words here… “reinvent“, “transform“, “disruptive innovation“, “entrepreneurship” – these are explored further in the text., forming the basis of what they are discussing.

Leadbetter and Wong go on to present a four-quadrant model to provide a powerful framework for education leaders to engage, discuss and explore in their efforts to bring about large scale, system-wide change in education. The framework consists of four strategies: Improve the schools we already have, supplement the learning our kids already do, reinvent schools to make education more relevant, or transform “learning by making it available in radically new ways.” They provide the following graphic which I think sums it up really effectively:

The authors present a useful overview outlining when and how the first three of these can be beneficial, but it’s the lower-right quadrant where they obviously feel the greatest benefits are, and where more of our energy should be focused. I tend to agree. The discourse around school improvement has tended to focus on issues of raising the standard of what we currently do – making it ‘better’, improving ‘quality’ etc – where at the end of the day, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always had!

While it’s inarguable that there ought to be some attention paid to issues of quality, our school system is in great need of something much more radical than simply ‘better’ or ‘higher quality’ versions of what it currently does – we need transformation. To achieve this, as the authors argue, “we are going to need more    powerful    sources    of    disruptive    innovation,    to    create     different kinds of schools and to create alternatives to school—in other words, to create entirely new ways to learn.”

I recommend this as a worthwhile read.

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