Here is a link to the executive summary [190 kB PDF] of Learning from the Extremes [621 kB PDF], a thoroughly referenced and visually appealing report about the future of schools by Charles Leadbeater and Annika Wong (link to bio needed) for CISCO, and linked to GETideas.org, an open CISCO-funded "public service site providing community, collaboration, and resources for education leaders worldwide".
The 28 page report takes as its framework this "innovation grid":
Formal Learning Informal Learning
Sustaining Innovation Improve Supplement
Disruptive Innovation Reinvent Transform
Improve schools through better facilities, teachers, and leadership.
Supplement schools by working with families and communities.
Reinvent schools to create an education better fit for the times.
Transform learning by making it available in radically new ways.
For each challenge, the report then examines the opportunities for improvement through the lens of the innovation grid. To give you the flavour here is an excerpt from Part VI "Alternatives to School":
The Case for Transformational Innovation
Transformational innovation does not create alternative kinds of school but alternatives to school—entirely new ways of learning. In the developed world, a range of critics argue that traditional schools are designed for an era when most jobs were in hierarchical, industrial-era corporations that needed compliant, punctual, diligent workers who were good at following written instructions. In the modern economy, jobs will require more collaboration and entrepreneurship, creativity and problem-solving. Workers will need the ability to ask, recognize, and explore interesting questions rather than looking for pat answers. Education tailored to the needs of mass production industry is out of kilter with the times.
In the developing world, schools do not work well in many of the most challenging social contexts where education is most needed. A social innovation created in response to industrialization and urbanization in Europe and the United States in the 19th century may not be the best answer to the needs of sprawling developing world cities in the 21st century, where most people will earn their livings in small, entrepreneurial businesses. The developing world needs low-cost, high-quality forms of mass learning to reach the millions of families who are coming to cities and who want to learn. Schools are a cumbersome and often ineffective way to meet this need.
The means are now becoming available to produce transformational innovation of this kind. The spread of the web, particularly through mobile phones, will allow more people than ever to access information, knowledge, and advice from skilled teachers and their peers, to participate in discussion, and to learn by their own discovery and through playing games. We have only just begun to explore how the web
might be used to promote learning.
Already there are signs of the potential. In 2010, Google will enable 1 trillion free searches. Wikipedia contains 13 million free articles. About 20 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Educational talks, such as the TED (a non-profit that organises conferences and talks on new ideas around the world) lectures, reach a mass global audience. Virtual worlds and games that involve collaborative learning engage millions of people—for example, 100 million young people are members of the virtual world Habbo. The potential for learning through mobile phones is only just beginning to emerge. A BBC service to teach English in Bangladesh through mini-lessons on mobile phones attracted 300,000 plus calls in a month.
In the next decade, developments on the web are likely to make it even more powerful as a platform for learning. These developments include:
- Better tools to present data in visual ways
- More effective spaces for collaboration
- Seamless connection to multiple devices with software and data increasingly held in third-party clouds to cut costs and ease access
The web may yet disappoint these hopes. In their day, television, radio, film, and computers were all heralded as disruptive technologies but were incorporated into standard schooling. However, web may prove to be more elusive and less easily absorbed into the establishment, not least because it puts power in the hands of users and takes control of information out of the hands of established hierarchies, such as schools. That is why this technology’s disruptive potential is likely to be brought to life by social entrepreneurs and innovators, working outside the school system.
I think it is promising when influential global businesses like CISCO encourage and support discussion about what is in effect "lightweight learning", and challenge the conventional and often facile "make formal schooling better" thinking that characterises a lot of establishment debate about schooling (in the UK on both sides of the political divide). My major grouse about Learning from the Extremes was its silence on the science of learning (try searching it on terms like "science", "learning design", "cognitive", "cognition", "brain", "biology", or "neuroscience"). In its defence, the report is based on conversations with practitioners rather than scientists, but any report with recommendations about how to transform learning should surely have as a cornerstone what is known about how people learn.