‘We’ve never done a problem of this kind’ exclaim students.
‘We’ve never seen a problem like this before’ exclaim business executives.
See the pattern?
Back when I was in school, I always thought that the way I was taught didn’t fit my needs. It’s not fast enough I used to tell my mom. It’s not that theory isn’t important, but real world practice just seemed so distant to me.
Of course, because of the internet, that is no longer the case today. The lines between learning and implementation are blurring. Learning has become implementation because when you can iterate and get feedback really fast, learning and knowledge increase exponentially. Now multiply that by millions of people who might be tackling different problems sets. Boo-yaa!
Real-Time Strategy is the new normal
I stumbled on an article from Harvard Magazine on how a Harvard University Professor is trying to turn teaching on its head:
“We want to educate leaders, the innovators of society,” Mazur says. “Let’s turn our students into real problem solvers. In a real-world problem, you know where you want to get, but you don’t know how to get there. For example: how can I bake a cake with no flour? The goal is known, but the prescription to get there isn’t. Most tests and exams at Harvard are not like that; they are questions where you need to determine what the answer is. In physics it might be, What was the velocity of the car before it hit the tree? There, you know exactly what you need to do: you have a prescription to calculate velocity, but you don’t know the velocity. It’s the opposite of a real-life problem, because you know the prescription, but you don’t know the answer.
“Even now, if I give my students a problem on an exam that they have not seen before, there will be complaints: ‘We’ve never done a problem of this kind.’ I tell them, ‘If you had done a problem of this kind, then by definition, this would not be a problem.’ We have to train people to tackle situations they have not encountered before. Most instructors avoid this like the plague, because the students dislike it. Even at Harvard, we tend to keep students in their comfort zone. The first step in developing those skills is stepping into unknown territory.
“Think of education as a whole—what is it?” Mazur asks. “Is it just the transfer of information? If that’s the case, then Harvard has a problem, and all other universities have a problem, too. Information comes from everywhere now: the university is no longer the gatekeeper of information, as it has been since the Renaissance. And if it were, the only thing we would need to do is videotape the best lectures and put them online, like the Khan Academy [the California-based, nonprofit, online educational organization founded by Salman Khan, M.B.A. ’03]. They have 65 million users: it’s a force to be reckoned with. But ultimately, learning is a social experience. Harvard is Harvard not because of the buildings, not because of the professors, but because of the students interacting with one another.”
Go ahead and read the whole article. It really shows how a system built on 600 years of habits is difficult to change. Even with high IQ students!
Execution brings Focus
What’s the quality most valued in Leaders? The ability to execute on Strategy. Great. Let’s add Active Learning to the mix. Can you learn and apply while the world you live in is in a constant flux?
Active Learning in this case, is less about solving problems that have been solved before, but of solving problems that no one has ever encountered. And as we move forward, I think we’re in an era where everyone is a Thomas Edison. But with a key difference. In that much more people have access to knowledge, people and tools to build something. This, of course, means the ability to collaborate with customers, and even competitors, becomes increasingly important to create meaningful value.
The question now becomes: Who are you collaborating with? At what pace? How can you master the art of collaboration to become much more effective at applying while learning?
Video Games lead the way
For a look into a possible future of how this might look like in the real world, look at real-time strategy video game Starcraft 2:
That intellectual rigor and the corresponding data trail, multiplied across hundreds of thousands of players worldwide, makes StarCraft an unparalleled resource that scientists are only now tapping for the study of attention, multitasking, and learning. (As a rough estimate, at the time of writing about 11,000 games are being played on the servers of Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created StarCraft.) Recent experiments on computer games are beginning to suggest that players develop skills that could be useful in other contexts—skills that might allow those individuals to cope better with certain types of information overload. Thousands of these gamers are now contributing to a project under Blair’s watch, called SkillCraft, to learn what separates experts from novices and everyone in between. By all appearances this study of StarCraft players is the world’s biggest experiment on how expertise develops and, ultimately, on how we learn.
Action Oriented Learning has never been more important.
What are your thoughts?