Modeling Education for the Connected World

Published: 06/13/2013, Last Updated: 06/13/2013

Sit back for a moment and reflect on just what the internet is and how it has affected you, your work, and the world at large. Feel the sweeping, awestruck sensation of there being a meta-universe that exists, not unlike the seemingly infinite neural pathways inside your brain (that picture, by the way, is not of firing neurons, but a visual fragment of the internet's interconnectivity.) Feel it? I hope so. But just in case, let me explain why the novelty of the internet should never wear off, for this is just the beginning.

It is said that Einstein at a cocktail party was asked for his phone number on the spot.

"I don't know it." he responded.

"But how can you not know your own number?" his friend asked incredulously.

Einstein famously responded, "Why should I memorize something I can look up?"


This might be paraphrased and the moral of this story is thrown around a lot, but its meaning is paramount to the time-period we live in; for we live in the dawning of the information age. Indeed, for the first time in the entirety of the history of everything, it can be said that absurdly vast quantities of quality information is simply a Google-search away or even a short drive to your library.

Let me reiterate this profound realization: the aggregate of human knowledge is essentially accessible and categorized (enough, anyway) to be available to you in less time than it takes for you to read this sentence.

Of course, troves of knowledge were around in prior times; the Library of Alexandria, as one example, comes to mind. But the difference between then and now is a matter of volatility and accessibility—both illustrated by Alexandria's library. It has always been the case that those in positions of power—nobility or aristocracy—generally held exclusive access to wells of knowledge. This constricts growth and progress, and invariably leads to more systemic societal issues. Moreover resources of information have been fairly transient. This is hardly the case anymore, for what we have are the most powerful tools to breeding innovation in addition to guiding civilization to the next plateau—whatever that may be.

For me, that is the most astounding fact I've come across. And I don't believe enough people take a step back to look at the big-picture—to realize what sort of platform this gives us to stand on. Not only is limitless information available, but so too is instantaneous, wide-spread communication.

The internet has changed everything, and that is not exaggerated in the slightest.

But there's a problem. We've become inundated with so much knowledge that sometimes we do not know how to process it effectively. In a sense, we've become overloaded and now technology is outpacing the supply for workmanship that fulfills oversight of that technology. To me this boils down to a necessity in changing the way we think about education.

Now I can't possibly scratch even the surface of this topic, but I have suggestions to at least entertain a conversation:

1. Education needs focus.

Greek philosopher Plato wrote in The Republic, establishing the ground-work for an ideal civilization, that society would inevitably require specialists. We're reaching the point where we require not jacks of all trades, but specialists in highly focalized areas that require a long-term commitment toward developing a certain set of skills—and I'm not talking about Liam Neeson here.

We can further learn from other countries such as Germany that use a more prevalent dual-education system—emphasizing a level of specialization by providing students with apprenticeships and vocational training. This better prepares them for a future in the ever-evolving technological landscape. We're fitting a 20th century educational model for a 21st-century world; it's acting as a rickety guide-rail to our progression, offering a little stability and assurance at the cost of slowing us down.

2. Less memorization and more critical thinking/problem-solving.

We've established that we have a sort of external hard-drive (albeit perhaps more reliable, I confess) nearly always connected to us, and on that hard-drive is a photographic memory of any fact or formula we could possibly desire.

I'm not an expert in terms of computer memory, but it generally tends to go that the most important and immediate info is held most closely to the processor. In the case of the mind, one wants to free up their most valuable, immediate memory. Why store something in valuable working-memory you can look up and is not necessary immediately? But what is knowledge if it is not put to good use? Where is the processor? It is for this reason that problem-solving should be emphasized as strongly in grade-school as it is in universities, if not more so.

3. Meaningful or passionate project-oriented learning.

In my experience a student's capability is less defined by what they know, but by their interest or more precisely, their passion. Passion breeds a desire to learn, and there needs to be a certain level of flexibility allowing each student to learn in the way they best suits them. Knowledge is little more than a tool to use in a task; if you're determined enough, you're going to find the tool. Purposeful, project-oriented education can often include multiple grade-levels on a single project while also providing more meaning to tasks such as monotonous math problems that are otherwise disconnected from any sort of big-picture objective.  This teaching method moreover fosters both independent dedication as well as interdependent collaboration—all the while it just might be the spark necessary to setting students on the path to seeking out those "tools."

Moving Forward

Old-school teachers always said that you would never have a calculator on you at all times, despite those of us who may or may not have worn calculator-watches; and yet nowadays one would be hard-pressed to find a bystander who didn't possess enough tech to calculate Pi to a million decimal-places in under 20-seconds. Intel sees a future with their vision where the "lives of every person on earth" is connected and enriched via technology—a feat that hopefully will be achieved not far from today. In many places, the permeation of technology is prevalent; others, not so much. To move past the dawn of this age, the entire globe needs to be connected. Indeed many of the major obstacles we face in this day can be solved with accessible information and ease of communication. Through each time-period, there has existed a new step from which we've leapt off from and pushed the boundaries if only a little further. In the Renaissance, for example, it could be argued that the breakthrough was a liberalization of exploration and curiosity, as well as establishing the framework for the scientific method. Today, I see our stepping-stone as the internet and therefore find it imperative that we recognize that we've only reached the dawn of the day—that this is only the beginning.

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