As educators, what should be our response to global and societal shifts? Do we see our places of learning as immune to the political turbulence currently shaking, and reshaping the US, Europe, Hong Kong and elsewhere? Or do we recapture the spirit of 1968 and encourage our students to be ‘woke’ - active and engaged citizens? Do we see our responsibility as simply to ensure that our students attain the qualifications they seek or do we embrace a more holistic definition of ‘success’?
The OECD’s 2030 project urges all of us - through curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment or student support services - to go beyond the often sterile debate of knowledge vs skills, and consider what values and attitudes our students should be developing. It’s a bold and controversial position, but I applaud it. Progress, in educational reform, is often an exercise in delayed gratification. The calls for an ‘education revolution’ have been around for so long that they’re preserved on VHS tapes. And yet, here we finally are: we now have the technology to truly individualise each student’s educational ‘journey’ and lifelong learning is, at last, a thing. Disruptive changes are happening, most notably in higher education, in response to machine learning and automation. Our current students are facing the challenges of underemployment, the gig economy, working until they’re 80, mass economic and environmental migration, alongside the existential threat of the climate emergency. Forecasters have been predicting this stuff for decades, and now it’s here….
No pressure, but how you prepare them will materially affect the future existence of our species. The good news - although not news to any of us who work with young people - is that I believe we’re in safe hands. During the past decade - thanks, in part, to the platforms and methods of the open-source software movement - we have seen an explosion in collaborative ingenuity, our ability to ‘figure things out’. The breadth of knowledge that we now share - eclectically and indiscriminately - has led to an epidemic of creativity and production. Multinational corporations are scrambling to respond to the new reality, with good reason. The era of passive consumption is over.
We are also witnessing an explosion in bottom-up, self-empowering and self-managed movements that not only challenge the way things are done but also offer hope of a future in which we, the people, create solutions and innovations for the common good. Take the biggest of current issues: the looming environmental catastrophe. No-one would have predicted that a shy, fifteen-year-old Swedish schoolkid with Aspergers Syndrome would spark a global movement of young people striking from school in protest at the complacency of governments in their response to the crisis of climate change. But that’s exactly what Greta Thunberg has achieved.
Something is happening. I’m calling it people-powered innovation, because there is now a human calling, across all spheres of human endeavour, to do things differently. It’s not always easy to hear it, among the shock-jock dog-whistles and the white noise of twenty-first century life. But it’s there all the same. Our purpose - and the focus of my keynote at CanvasCon 2019 - is to try to understand how and why it’s happening, what it might mean in the future, and work out how to re-think our organisations, our learning programmes, and our lives, as a result. Although I work with businesses, I’m someone who thinks of himself, primarily, as an educator, I’m passionate about how people learn, and how we can bring about change (because, ultimately, education is about changing the world). Too often we view innovation through a business prism: new products or services designed to make money. Social innovation is about how pioneers - in business, politics, education, campaigning, public health - are harnessing the power of us, to make society fairer, healthier, more sustainable, more purposeful. And the really exciting part of all this? It’s being driven (largely) by young people. The very human desire for self-determination is fuelling populist movements around the world. But it’s also driving the creation of new technologies, public health services, social platforms and the democratisation of learning. So how do we enable more self-determined learning? How do we design learning and social change with, not for, the end-users of our services? And how do we work with user-innovators? The demand for change is urgent and doesn’t stop at the campus gates.
The underlying message for all those who lead organisations, public or private is this: you need to understand what’s happening here because your future depends upon your response to people-powered innovation and self-determined learning. The time is now, and I look forward to seeing you in Barcelona, so that together we can figure it out.
David Price will be giving the keynote speech at CanvasCon Europe on October 7th. His new book, “We’ll Figure It Out: Mass Ingenuity & The Power Of Us” will be published at the end of 2019.