Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
April, 25th 2012

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When you discuss efficiency, education isn’t the endeavor that first comes to mind.  In fields such as manufacturing, one worker today is performing the equivalent of three or more workers fifty years ago.  Even in services automation has significantly improved output per person.  I know in my field of technology, responsible for many productivity gains, that the number of workers to output seems to have grown exponentially.  Why has education, despite investments in technology, needed more people to educate per student than fifty years ago?  And remain relatively stagnate in results?

In the 60′s it was not uncommon for class sizes to be well north of 30 students, in many districts approaching 40.  Today class sizes in the low twenties are common, and teacher assistants are far more common than they were five decades ago.  To clarify, I’m discussing the United States.  Why has the technical revolution that allows manufacturing and services to increase productivity so much, not touched education?

When I talk to educators, and their spouses, I often hear how they work late into the night to perform all of their tasks.  I believe there is something missing in the education establishment.  We have thrown more bodies at students and shown some gains, billions have been spent on technology with limited results.  What do we need to do, that will revolutionize education?

I think we have some basic steps to take to identify, acknowledge and start fixing the problem.

  1. Identify what educators do that doesn’t involve education, and automate it to minimize effort.
  2. Segregate the core business, education, and outsource the rest to appropriate organizations.
  3. Automate as much learning as possible.  Allow educators to concentrate on remediation of weak students and encouragement of excelling pupils.  Minimize the time required to teach, and enable motivated students to educate themselves.

It seems easy in a bullet list, but will require a great deal of effort, training and time to implement.  Do educators think I’m on the correct path, or is education immune to productivity gains?

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April 26, 2012
10:58 am

My terminology may be off for the education field, but I envision a grid like education, where students get a highly differentiated education from multiple sources.

Peer to peer in group activities that are not limited by geography.

Instructional from the best educators, again not limited by geography, and more importantly, by organization.

Locally where social interaction is best in person.

This is from a student focus, but educators benefit also. They can focus on teaching, while discipline, organizing and counseling can be coordinated by specialists.

Posted by: jschweitzer
April 26, 2012
7:20 am

This is a really interesting post – because education is poised for disruption along several of the lines you mention….

This fun Claymation Education 2.0 captures some of it:

For higher education this is a good whitepaper:

As systems evolve to higher productivity, you often see technology enabled self-service increase, as well as peer production increase (student-to-student)… this is a natural part of complex service system evolution.

Posted by: Jim Spohrer
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