Sir Ken Robinson – Learning [Re]imagined

As a treat for the readers of this blog here is a longer and more complete interview with Sir Ken Robinson that was recorded as part of the Learning {Re}imagined book where he discusses educational technology, creativity, assessment and the future of learning (15 minutes).

There are more exclusive videos contained within the book when used together with the free app.


gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.


Sir Ken Robinson – The Education Economy

It has often struck me that a conflict of interest exists across education systems, state or private, where the awarding bodies of high stakes examinations are also owned by the very same companies who sell the content, that must be learned, to pass the test.


Such an end to end business model would make a lot of sense for the entrepreneurially minded and quite possibly create very large enterprises as a consequence. The “big edu” of the learning sector, if you don’t mind indulging my conspiratorial whimsy for a moment longer.  Imagine if automotive companies were owned by the oil industry. We would still be driving around in cars that did 5 miles to the gallon with no sign of a real commitment to clean, sustainable energy in sight. End to end business models, cartels and monopolies tend to be bad for innovation and progress. Even Apple doesn’t own all the companies who make apps for it’s platforms.


A similar conflict in the education sector, if it existed, would surely mean that change would be slow coming and that our schools would be held in a kind of persistent groundhog day for, say, 200 years or more. Should there be a shift in technology then no doubt these advances would be deployed to maintain the status quo, whilst reducing cost and improving efficiency. Perhaps the content could be digitised and fed to children using advanced computer algorithms that search for patterns in the data trail of its usage so that there would be a feedback loop to ensure every kid past a standardised test. Teachers optional.


My musing on this subject may seem somewhat fanciful but we have undoubtedly entered a new age of “evidence based practice” where the data can not lie. I’ve often thought that “evidence based practice” was a clever slogan whose rhetorical effect was to discredit  opposition. After all, who could possibly argue with the evidence and the data or that practice could be based on intuition rather than “the facts.”?


Well that’s an argument for another day but whilst interviewing Sir Ken Robinson in Los Angeles for Learning {Re}imagined we discussed what we agreed was a “tyranny of testing“. The pre-occupation with high stakes testing at young ages, when kids are in high school or earlier, seems patently detrimental to learning and, of course, teaching, providing a false metric for the success of a school or indeed the nations that depend on them.


Here is an excerpt from my interview. Robinson draws parallels between “big education”, “big pharma” and even “big tobacco”, suggesting that there is gold in maintaining the status quo for those who stand to benefit financially. He says:


I do think we live under a tyranny of testing. I think there’s no question about that. It’s not totally benign. An interesting parallel to me is the drug industry. Depression is now a worldwide epidemic. It’s anticipated that within about 20 years, according to the World Health Organisation, I’m told, that depression will be the single largest cause of mortality among human populations. Depression.


Well, the drug companies profit hugely from depression and all that kind of related, ancillary commercial interests. It doesn’t seem to me that they’re very keen to cure depression. Why would they? It’s not that the people who produce acid reflux pills out trying to cure acid reflux. They want you to keep taking it, so you can keep buying their products.


Like cigarette manufacturers aren’t trying to wean you off cigarettes. There’s a kind of benign view of testing which is that it fulfils necessary purposes in relation to keeping track of standards, accountability in providing certification and qualifications for progress through the system. There’s a benign way of looking at them saying, well, it meets those important purposes in education, and there’s something to be said about that. What’s also true is it’s a massively profitable enterprise for all publishers. It’s one of the engines of the education economy.

Have a look and tell me what you think



Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.


Teachers as designers

What is the role of today’s teachers?


Are they like commercial radio DJ’s who are given a prescribed playlist and are left to try to innovate within those limitations or are they able to design their own show?


John Dewey in The Child and the Curriculum (1902) suggested that there might be at least two alternate schools of thought within state-directed education. One school, he says “fixes its attention upon the importance of the subject matter of the curriculum as compared with the contents of the child’s own experience.” Thus he suggests that, “Subject matter furnishes the end, and it determines method. The child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is being deepened; his narrow experience which is to be widened. It is his to receive, to accept. His part is fulfilled when he is ductile and docile.”


The other school Dewey suggests is where “The child is the starting-point, the centre, and the end.” He continues, “To the growth of the child all studies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the needs of growth. Personality, character is more than subject-matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realisation is the goal.”


More than 100 years later these arguments are still being debated as successive policy makers and educators lurch from one side to the other.


I spent a day at High Tech High in San Diego, who are a case study in my book, Learning {Re}imagined, and I left inspired by what I saw. The school is built around the Dewey traditions of project based learning where subject material and disciplines are taught within their application and across disciplines rather than the subject silos that are so typically of our high schools throughout the world. I met with their founder and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, who is a force of nature if ever there was one. His full interview and discussion of High Tech High will be published in the book but here is an excerpt from my interview with Larry where he discusses teachers as designers.


Larry tells me:


So the idea of teacher as designer means that the teacher has control over what they’re basically doing. There’s nothing canned about it. And it has not only teacher voice and choice but student voice and choice. What I want to see kids doing is creating new knowledge and I want teachers creating new knowledge and doing so means that basically the teacher is the designer



gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.


Teaching as an Art

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

Seth Godin



During my global journey for Learning {Re}imagined, I learnt about the absolute importance of the teacher and their engagement with their students. Indeed research by Gallup presented at the WGSI Equinox Learning 2030 Summit in October 2013 by their executive director for education, Brandon Busteed, showed a direct correlation between teacher and student engagement in relation to learning outcomes and wellbeing. The research also suggested that up to 70% of the teacher workforce were not engaged.


“We definitely want to show that these ‘soft’ measures move the ‘hard’ measures, like grades and test scores,” Busteed said. “But we’re also asking: is engagement more important or are grades more important? If you ask a parent whether they’d rather have a kid who is getting mostly As and is only mildly interested in what they’re learning or mostly Bs and is super engaged, I can tell you what most parents would pick.”



Quest to Learn, a school in New York that uses gaming mechanics within its practice and curriculum design, are a featured case study in my book. On the subject of teacher engagement Quest to Learn’s Co-director of School, Arana Shapiro, goes further telling me that when recruiting teachers:


We’re also looking for teachers who are really open to learning new things who are risk takers, who are passionate about kids learning, not just passionate about them passing the test. We’re looking for that kind of teacher who thinks of themselves as, for want of a better word, an artist


This certainly resonated with my experiences “on the road”. No matter how much, or little, technology was being used within a class or school it was the teacher who made the difference, who brought the room to life and engaged students in their learning. That’s not to say that the technology wasn’t valuable when used intelligently and with purpose but I would suggest that the technology-centric, teacher-less classroom is not only some way off in the distance, it isn’t even desirable. We may, however, need to think about the skills we are looking for in the teachers of tomorrow, or even today.


Learning {Re}imagined is published by Bloomsbury/WISE on October 1st 2014 and is available for pre-order now.


Noam Chomsky on Assessment

Herewith another teaser from the Learning {Re}imagined transmedia project coming out on October 1st from Bloomsbury. This time is an excerpt from an interview with social and political theorist, Professor Noam Chomsky.


In this 7 minute excerpt I ask Chomsky about his thoughts on the value of the way we currently use high stakes examinations to test our high school students.


He says:


Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring and into pursuing topics that engages and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests. In fact, if that’s the kind of educational career that you’re given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you’ve discovered. There’s a famous physicist, a world famous physicist right here at MIT who, like a lot of the senior faculty, was teaching freshmen courses, he once said that in his freshmen course, students will ask, “What are we going to cover this semester?” His standard answer was, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.”


That’s what teaching ought to be; inspiring students to discover on their own, to challenge if they don’t agree, to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones, to work through the great achievements of the past and try to master them on their own because they’re interested in them. If that’s the way a teaching is done, students will really gain from it and will, not really remember what they studied, but will be able to use it as a basis for growing, on their own. Again, education is really aimed to just helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own because that’s what you’re going to do for your life, not just to absorb materials given to you from the outside and repeat it.



gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

Noam Chomsky and Graham Brown-Martin

Noam Chomsky on Technology & Learning


As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.


Noam Chomsky


For the Learning {RE}imagined book and digital resource project being published later this year I interviewed Professor Noam Chomsky where we discussed the purpose of education, the role and impact of technology and the challenges of assessment with standardised tests.


I thought visitors to this blog would enjoy this 5 minute excerpt from my conversation with Noam where when asked about technology and its impact on learning he argues that:

You have to know how to evaluate, interpret and understand. Let’s say, biology, again. The person who wins the Nobel Prize in biology is not the person who read the most journal articles and those notes on them. He’s a person who knew what to look for and cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track. That’s what education is going to be about whether it’s using computers and internet or pencil and paper or books


Do you agree?


Have a listen and please feel welcome to add your thoughts and comments below.



Sir Ken Robinson & Graham Brown-Martin

Sir Ken Robinson : The Art of Teaching

That’s why I always say that teaching is an art form. It’s not a delivery system. I don’t know when we started confusing teaching with FedEx. Teaching is an arts practice. It’s about connoisseurship and judgment and intuition. We all remember the great teachers in our lives. The ones who kind of woke us up and that we’re still thinking about because they said something to us or they gave us an angle on something that we’ve never forgotten.


Sir Ken Robinson


One of the many people I met and interviewed during the research tour for #LearningREimagined was my friend and mentor Sir Ken Robinson. The full interview will be published later this year as part of the Learning {RE}imagined book and accompanying app but I thought you would enjoy this 5 minute excerpt.



Let me know what you think in the comments section below and please feel welcome to share with your friends and colleagues.



Seth Godin on Education Reform

Happy New Year everybody and please accept my apologies for being quiet on this blog. After completing my travels and returning to London at the end of November I needed some time for reflection as well as taking care of some family matters as a result of a bereavement. 🙁


My visits to China and India were quite frankly, eye-opening, insightful and enlightening. I regret that I haven’t yet been able to post updates from these visits but will endeavour to do so in the weeks ahead.


If you’re new to this blog the journey starts here otherwise read on.


Things have been very busy behind the scenes however as my team and I have been processing and curating the most amazing treasure trove of photographs (taken by Iran’s most acclaimed young photographer, Newsha Tavakolian), hours of video recorded interviews and case studies, audio recordings, transcriptions and several journals worth of notes.


EDlabs StudioI am now held hostage in my small but perfectly formed study in SE London where I’m carefully crafting the words, editing the videos, curating the photographs, coding the mobile app and working with my publishing team to create what I hope will do justice for all of the wonderful participants in this story.


Some have expressed surprise that I am doing much of this myself imagining a team of programmers and video editors but for me working in this transmedia approach makes perfect sense and chimes with the theme of the book. There are too many books and statements made about digital technology for learning by experts who haven’t used it and I didn’t want to be one of those.


As a New Years treat I thought I would share with you one of the many recorded interviews that will form part of a library of exclusive interviews, films and other digital resources that will be unlocked via the printed book when it is published later this year. My hope is that the printed book, lavishly illustrated, with my accompanying notes, documents, thought pieces and interviews will be an artefact in the physical world that is a delight to hold and explore whilst acting as a spring board into a digital ocean of additional material. Well it’s not like me to aim for the stars is it? 😉


Thanks to Seth Godin for his patience, passion and time. Seth has published a book on education reform that is available free in PDF/eBook format – Stop Stealing Dreams


I hope you enjoy this interview, I have plenty more that contradict it!




Outside it’s America

Airplane LondonWe spent an intense 10 days in the USA on what was an ambitious schedule of New York, Cambridge, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego then back to New York before heading to our next destination in Brazil (see next post).


Whilst at the time it felt madly ambitious we only missed one flight, which left me sleeping in a motel that looked like a rendezvous for Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman, we visited some really impressive people and organisations.


This post, like the others before it, can only be a brief summary of our activities. For the rest you’ll have to wait for the book 😉


First up in New York we visited Quest to Learn, a school that one of the 14 year old students told me was the school that everyone’s heard of apart from New York. By this she meant that Quest to Learn receives a constant stream of visitors from all over the world and yet many of her friends haven’t heard of it. Designed from the ground up by a team of teachers and game designers based on 30 years of learning research it is a bold initiative that redesigns the curriculum and teaching practice taking influence from the way young people engage with games.


Quest to Learn SchoolBy games they don’t specifically mean video games and indeed despite being known as the “game based learning” school in the popular media there is little evidence of what we typically think of when we think games. As co-director Arana Shapiro tells me “people expect to see our students sitting around playing video or board games and whilst we do use such games from time to time the reference to games is in the mechanics we deploy within our teaching and learning strategy.” To get an idea of what’s happening here I visit their “Mission Lab” which is a design studio within the school where teachers work alongside game and curriculum designers to design flexible learning experiences for their classes.


One of the principles of the teaching style draws heavily on the gaming concept of simulation where learning is placed in applied context rather than simply memorising things by rote whilst employing cross-disciplinary skills to solve a particular problem or challenge. Students are actively encouraged to work in collaborative teams which effectively act as self-organising learning environments in between teacher directed segments of a given class.


The designers and directors of the school have learnt a lot since it opened in 2009 and an important lesson has been in the role of the teacher. Arana is candid when she explains that “initially we imagined that teachers would essentially be content specialists supported by designers but it soon became clear that there was far more to teaching than simply knowing the subject specifically their ability to engage learners by being engaged themselves.”


We left New York for Cambridge, MA where went to MIT to visit Noam Chomsky, Mitch Resnick and Eric Rosenbaum.


Noam Chomsky & Graham Brown-MartinNoam, unimpressed that I had hardly been home in months, suggested that I needed a good shave and looking in the mirror that evening I think I’d have to agree. To receive personal grooming tips from someone I regard as one of todays greatest living intellectuals was quite a moment for me. We’d arrived to take photographs for the book to supplement an earlier interview I’d conducted with him but during the photo session we discussed a variety of issues such as a comparison of the education systems of Cuba and Singapore as well as Noam’s childhood experiences of attending Oak Lane Day School that was regarded as an experimental when it was founded in 1916 upon the principles of honouring a childs individuality in a setting that fosters intellectual, creative, academic and personal growth in the Dewey tradition.


Well, I think the proof of the schools efficacy is in the results!


I asked Noam how we would reimagine learning and this is what he said.


Next, we moved on to another building at MIT to visit the people behind EdX, the non-profit partnership founded by MIT and Harvard with an investment of $60 Million to increase access to students globally, improve campus education by bringing online technologies in to the campus and perform research around learning. It’s the latter parts of their mission which I feel separates them from the almost embarrassingly over-inflated EdTech bubble that is MOOCs.


I met with Johannes Heinlein, Director of Strategic Partnerships at EdX and like him immediately as he immediately dismisses all the hyperbole around MOOCs and sticks with the facts that MOOCs are still work in progress, that they don’t replace the vital social, interpersonal and collaborative engagement that a physical meeting place provides and whilst access is key they are using this opportunity to improve the quality of learning on and off campus. He tells me that EdX students are forming meet-up groups and that nearly 30% of the EdX subscribers are of high school age effectively benefitting from the lack of any entry requirements to begin studying degree level material. I ask him about the potential for educational colonialism as a result of exporting MIT or Harvard degrees and he agrees that this was a concern so they have made their technology open so that international partners can participate in this programme with their own materials.


Mitch ResnickWe moved along to MIT’s Media Lab and the Lifelong Kindergarten where we met with its leader and Professor of Learning Research, Mitch Resnick. Mitch amongst other achievements is regarded as the father of the Scratch programming environment for children and the building bricks that became the basis of the LEGO Mindstorm kits. I’ve been a long time fan of Mitch’s work and he tells me that the thinking behind this group at MIT was based on the inspiration he gets from the way children learn in kindergarten where they spend lots of time “playfully designing and creating things in collaboration with one another”. Mitch believes this natural creative learning instinct becomes eroded by the time students reach high school where the learning is more geared towards listening to lectures rather than experimentation rather than develop as creative thinkers. So Mitch’s group explores and develops techniques and platforms to prepare young people for the kind of tasks that he believes are more needed today where they are able to take on new challenges with confidence. That said Mitch is concerned that kindergartens today are becoming more like our schools in that you can now find young children now filling out worksheets on phonics and working on spelling flashcards.


Working in the same group as Mitch and in fact one of Resnick’s PhD students is Eric Rosenbaum, co-founder of Makey Makey.


Makey Makey calls itself an invention kit for everyone and is a programmable circuit board that allows you to control things and get feedback. Sounds techy but it’s child’s play and you can be up and running making the contents of your fruit bowl into a musical instrument – yes really! Makey Makey is to programmable control boards like Arduino what the Scratch programming environment is to Python it’s an easy point of inception that gets kids engaged, building and creating quickly. It’s also a fab present for the upcoming holiday season (or so my daughters keep reminding me).


John MaedaWe then take a 2 hour drive out from Cambridge to Providence and the Rhode Island School of Design and meet the team lead by Provost Roseanne Somerson and President John Maeda. I asked John why he thought STEM subjects had become such an apparent priority amongst education systems to the detriment of the arts and he explained to me that “it’s because we believe that technology innovation creates new economic opportunities in a way like back in the 1960’s the Moon shot required a significant expansion of our knowledge in maths, science, physics etc. But the reality was that it was influenced by creativity and design. Somewhere along the way we become more interested in the “what?” rather than the “why?”. This creates a problem in that you can be a good testing nation but you can’t invent or innovate which is why we seek to put the ‘art’ back into the STEM education conversation in what we call STEAM”


I had a really stimulating afternoon with the RISD team and learned far more than I can write in this blog so looking forward to putting altogether for you in the book. But speaking of books Roseanne kindly gave me a copy of her recently published book which is not only beautifully produced but also very thought provoking so I recommend you take a look. It’s called “The Art of Critical Making”.


Sir Ken Robinson & Graham Brown-MartinOver to Los Angeles and we meet with the one and only Sir Ken Robinson. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Sir Ken for a few years now and I’ll admit that I feel a couple of inches taller and a bit more determined after spending an hour or two in his company. We meet in his very trendy offices in Westwood Village to film our interview before heading across the street for a very good cup of coffee and some photos. If you’re attending or watching the livestream of the WISE 2013 Summit you’ll catch a small preview of our interview but you’ll get full access to the whole enchilada once I’ve had a chance to edit it down and prep it for, well you know, the book 😉


We had a detailed discussion about the role and potential of digital technologies within the learning experience and Ken compares them to the role that many tools have had in our past to extend what we are capable of, not just of doing but of thinking about. Ken tells me that “as soon as you have writing systems you don’t just extend your ability to spread a message you affect the very nature of the message and what you can conceive and all great transformative technologies have done that. They’ve not just let us do the things we did before just differently but let us do things we haven’t conceived of before and that’s what’s happening with this new wave of digital technologies”.


Ken was generous with his time and has made a terrific contribution to my work. I asked him the same question as I asked Noam Chomsky about how he would reimagine learning and he said this.


Our work completed in Los Angeles we left for San Francisco, not to visit the homes of the digital technology companies that have so much impact on our lives (although we did ask – see my earlier post about Silicon Valley’s false consciousness), but to meet with Sandy Speicher, the education lead at design consultancy IDEO.


Sandy SpeicherIDEO designed Apple’s first mouse for the Lisa and Macintosh computers, the Palm PDA and work for a range of well known brands. They have been championing the approach of “design thinking” and more recently applying it to education. Sandy explains that IDEO take a human-centred approach to their design work which really means adopting a process that begins with people and that leads to a desired outcome that takes into account the desires and needs of the people working within that system. Sandy believes that by adopting design thinking approaches to education we can create better learning experiences and environments where teachers and learners are designers of this physical and mental spaces. Sandy has already instigated some useful resources for those interested in learning more about design thinking as it applies to education. There’s the free “Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit” and hot off the press the “Design Thinking In Schools” which is a partnership between IDEO and the K12 Lab Network at Stanford both established by IDEO co-founder David Kelley with the aim of helping people of all ages and background build their creative confidence.


I happened to be at IDEO’s offices at the launch of Tom and David Kelley’s book “Creative Confidence” and was given a copy. It seems like everybody is writing a book these days!


We then headed over to San Diego to visit High Tech High and the force of nature that is Larry Rosenstock, their CEO. High Tech High is in fact 11 schools in the San Diego area comprised of 2 elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 5 high schools. They are “charter schools” which means that whilst they must adhere to a set of state standards they have greater freedom in how they teach. They are state schools and deliberately attract a socially and culturally diverse student population selected by lottery.


Larry RosenstockDespite the name the school does not deploy or rely upon any significant about of digital technology. It is there but it is not the focus, the name comes from the schools origin as a response to the high technology corporations in the region that were becoming frustrated with the skillset exhibited by students coming out of traditional schooling. The schools DNA is configured around a high level of personalization, adult-world connection, common intellectual mission and the teacher as designer.


Larry explains that “teachers as designers means that they are creators of new knowledge and not just churning stuff out of books”. He says this with such conviction that you wouldn’t want to argue with him. There is such a rebellious streak in him that I am immediately caught up in the bonhomie but with good reason for this is one of the most exciting schools that I have had the fortune to visit.


The interior of the school is almost identical to the design studio of IDEO in San Francisco, part swanky private members club of the Shoreditch House variety and part creative design studio with nearly 500 students. It’s difficult to define where classrooms finish and social collaborative areas begin for in effect they are one and the same. I am guided around the school by a student and invited to speak to any student or member of staff that I wish. Without exception every one that I speak to is knowledgeable, interesting and interested.


Jeff RobinThe school is almost certainly the leading exponent of “project based learning” guided, defined and installed by resident art teacher and ships mate Jeff Robin. I’m not going to say anything more about Jeff here other than if you want to put a zap on your educational world then visit his website that is full of resources that he has created to share with the community. I mean just visit it, like right now!


The project based mentality that is at the heart of educational practice within High Tech High means that the walls and common areas within the school are adorned with the outputs of the students projects where the goal for each student is to complete their project to the point where it can be displayed to share with other students. Trust me when I say that much of what I saw would not have looked out of place in a high end design store.


I’ve a lot more to write about High Tech High but I can say that this is as good as transformation gets within the confines of remaining within a system that demands a set of standardised tests at the end.


Larry has a coffee mug that states his aim of “nurturing creative noncompliance” which pretty much sums up the exciting learning environment he & team have created.


Here’s Larry’s words on how he would reimagine learning.


Finally, we head back to New York to the offices of TED, of the conference and talks fame, to meet Logan Smalley the head of TED’s educational initiative TED-Ed. The goal of TED-Ed is to find the worlds best lessons and combine them with great animation and production so that they can reach a bigger audience. TED-Ed uses an open nomination system where anyone can nominate either themselves or an educator they respect for consideration for the TED-Ed program. So far in the 18 months since they started they have created nearly 300 lessons worth sharing that have been viewed about 36 million times.


Logan SmalleyLogan says that a key motivator for teachers to get involved is the reach of the TED-Ed platform, he says “that they have worked with teachers that have given a lesson in a class that may reach perhaps around 500 learners a year but on TED-Ed the same lesson is reaching more than 100,000 learners”. He continues to tell me how “exciting it is to hear the voice of great teachers amplified”. Logan cautions however that “video is not teaching, it doesn’t have the body language or the sixth sense that teaching requires but it delivers content in a way that can be used by teachers and learners.”. Logan explains that the purpose of TED-Ed is to ignite curiosity and compared to other video based flipped classroom approaches he feels that its geared towards the why? of education rather than the how? By this he means learning, for example, why Pythagoras Theorem is useful as opposed to just learning the formula.


This is what Logan said when I asked him how he would reimagine learning.


So that was our excellent adventure in the USA. If the truth be told there was certainly a book’s worth of material just from that 10 day trip and I will do my best to distill it down into a useful essence when I come to the full writing and resource editing part of this project.


Here’s another musical interlude:


Next up Brazil!


Silicon Valley – Open Up

“I can tell you what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like. Terrible food, worse style, and no sex. And lots of apps”


Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review


Apple, Google, Facebook. These and other corporate religions from Silicon Valley exert a disproportionate amount of influence on our civil society yet are unaccountable, unelected, undemocratic and rarely questioned. What does this mean for the world of education?


Be Ready

As if irony knows no bounds we spent 2 days in Silicon Valley during the US leg of our world tour to discover innovation in learning but didn’t meet with a single technology company.


One might think that for the Learning {RE}imagined project to deliver a book and digital media about the impact of digital technology on learning this might be an oversight but it wasn’t. It was expected.


Over a period of many months prior to our trip I invited Apple, Google and Facebook to participate in the project by way of granting a short interview. Invitations were sent at the highest level I could muster, after all I hobnob with CEO’s, Vice-Presidents and PR bunnies, but despite my silver tongue and persuasive charm I was politely declined. I even invited celebrity educator Salman Khan to an interview but unfortunately the not for profit superstar, who will charge $75,000 to speak at your next conference, was unavailable for the 20 minutes it takes to go in front of my teams camera.


So what happened here?


Well, normally when I meet with these companies it’s 100% on their terms. It is a carefully constructed experience that is designed to deliver “The Message“. Absolutely no deviation from “The Message” will be tolerated, none of the individuals within these organisations are allowed to speak to the mortals outside their fiefdoms without ensuring that they are completely on “The Message” of “The Brand“. Critical thinking is regarded as a mortal sin that will ensure that invitations to future gatherings that celebrate “The Message” according to “The Brand” will be withdrawn. They also like to ensure that “on the record” meetings are so rare that even respected members of the mass media will prostrate themselves before them. One only has to read the fawning non-stories splashed across the planets mainstream media when one of them hosts an “Event” to launch a piece of unapologetic plastic to realise that something has got seriously out of hand here. If an alien species visited Earth during a product launch they would assume we’d discovered the cure for cancer.


The level of control that these organisations have over “The Message” makes the Jesuit movement seem like party.


The reality is that I knew these organisations would decline the opportunity to participate in this book but I wanted them to have the chance just in case. Now, before you go thinking that I’m suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (do you know who I am?) I realise that it could just be that the WISE book and community just isn’t important enough for them in the grand scheme of things and perhaps I just don’t have enough pull. So go ask any technology or political journalist when was the last time they got a senior representative from these organisations to speak on the record about something that wasn’t to do with a new product and that wasn’t 100% managed by a member of the Marketing Communication Stormtroopers.


These are private companies who, in theory, have only to answer to their shareholders so why do I think it’s important?


Well, for a start these companies manage communities. that have populations the size of continents. They also have revenues that dwarf the GDP of many nations as the untaxed income from overseas and the money that used to go to the physical economy fills their offshore banking arrangements. The world it seems is becoming a smaller place and the wealth being distributed to an even smaller number of organisations and individuals. But these aren’t really my chief concerns.


AppleWhat I’m concerned about is the influence, intended or otherwise, that these corporations have on the way we as a society learn about our world for we have unwittingly allowed this world to be mediated by algorithms designed by a handful of computer programmers that dwell in the Valley of the Digital Gods.


Excuse my act of heresy but I suggest that these algorithms are not pure and that they are not democratic. I would also suggest that whilst the Internet brings us together it is also driving us apart.


If we are to assume that children of today and tomorrow will increasingly gain knowledge from digital devices then I believe we need a greater understanding and awareness of how this knowledge is mediated and the biases these algorithms hold.


What do I mean by bias?


There’s a common belief that “The Internet” has a culture and that its rules of apparent openness and ways of working are sacrosanct and should now be applied to nearly all aspects of human society. But my gambit is that we should start questioning this and practice some much needed critical thinking.


Some simple examples to illustrate my point.


Today’s search engines have lost the notion of metaphor and thus we title or books and reports in such a way to reflect this in order that they might be more advantaged towards discovery. Journalists, writers and publishers engage digital manipulators to game search engine algorithms to optimise their articles to appear at the top of search engines with the result that whilst the internet is in theory a window to all of the worlds information and knowledge the majority is obscured. Commercial digital publishing is typically supported either by paid wall gardens or advertising that is paid on a per click or impressions basis. As we move to a world of intense personalisation where information is held in content farms matched to relevant advertising, stories that would typically appear in the general public in what the digerati would consider as the inefficient publishing of print no longer appear thus our news becomes increasingly superficial.


Likewise the things that we think are news, for example, on Twitter are more like the reporting that we might expect from the Fox News network. Twitter use their own proprietary algorithms to determine what “trends”. Trending doesn’t mean that something is the most talked about rather it is a spike across a community that is wider than your own. Once something begins to trend the fact that Twitter’s algorithm identifies it as trending effectively makes it trend. Thus the algorithm is effecting the outcome. Additionally Twitter’s algorithm is optimised for these spikes rather than something that is discussed by an equal or greater number of people over a longer period of time so it favours spikes over consistency.


All of these algorithms can be gamed. It is now relatively straight forward for marketing agencies or other forces to hire low cost labour through, for example, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to enter enough search terms, back links or mention certain subjects to encourage them to trend or appear in search requests.



Memes, those things that seem to appear spontaneously as a result of the crowd are more often than not manipulated by advertising and marketing agencies who leak information to smaller blog writers and then social media before it is eventually picked up by the mainstream.


For more information on the manipulation of search engines, social media and memes read Ryan Holiday’s “Trust me, I’m Lying“.


I did this myself last week, albeit with good cause, when I published an accurate screen shot of cigarette advertising on a child’s iPad game with the result that British American Tobacco pulled their entire online advertising.


If any of this interests you I urge you to read Evgeny Morozov’s latest book “To Save Everything, Click Here” which takes a long and overdue critical look at the technoutopia prescribed by the technosolutionists of Silicon Valley.


One of the mantras of the Internet-centrists, as Morozov call’s them, is the notion of “openness” in fact it’s a founding tenet of Web 2.0 from open government to open education but we should ask what this really means when the very architects of this new digital world remain closed to our questions.


In our quest for efficiency and our fetish for digital innovation we might consider what the unintended consequences of MOOCs and flipped classrooms will be. What would happen, for example, if a dominant provider of MOOCs appears like the equivalent of iTunes in the music industry where ultimately all of our information, media and learning comes from a single mediated source governed and tracked by algorithms? What does an algorithmic society look like and will this ultimately slow down innovation and obstruct creativity.


With this in mind why has there been so little dissent from the educational community? Could it be that our educational evangelists are so reliant on the crumbs that fall from the masters table that they are unwilling to bite the hand that feeds? It appears that we lack the very thing we are trying to instil in our children and charges, to critically think and question the status quo.


Now before I burn all my bridges with the digital companies with whom I’ve spent a career nurturing relationships with I should point out that I am not suggesting that they are malicious however neither am I saying that they are neutral. The suggestion that digital technology is merely a tool and is neutral is a dangerous fallacy. Unlike a hammer these platforms have unconscious biases that have the potential to impact human consciousness and the ‘open’ discourse around these platforms, especially when we consider their impact on the education superstructure, is overdue.


As I mentioned in a post some 2 years ago, and in several keynote talks, our society moved from an agricultural economy defined by the windmill where the feudal lord was the master to an industrial economy defined by the steam engine where the industrial capitalist ruled. Today as we move towards a digital economy we should consider who are the masters and for whom we till the fields.


There are executives in Silicon Valley who think they can fix global education, they can’t & you shouldn’t expect them to. Equally there are educators and policy makers who think they can maintain the status quo, they can’t either.


Something we can all agree on is the importance and value of education and our ability to learn and relearn. Digital technology has the potential to have a transformative and liberating impact within this domain but as we have seen from recent revelations about global surveillance using the very tools intended to liberate they also have the power to enslave.


Here’s a musical interlude:



Naturally I will be covering some of these issues in the Learning {RE}imagined book in 2014 but stay tuned for the next post which will be about some of the amazing people and places that we visited during the US leg of this tour.