eSN Special Report: Convergent Education

Change is inevitable: How do schools adapt?

Experts say a change in thinking among educators is needed for the country’s educational system to be prepared for convergent education.

Students need to be taught more critical thinking, says Magee. When learners are made to memorize facts and then spit them back, they are not learning how to think.

Memorization “means nothing, especially with the kinds of students we have today,” Magee says. “There’s no reason to memorize it. They have access to information 24/7, their hands are on the computer.” It’s better, she says, to understand the how and the why of something rather than just memorizing content.

Kurshan agrees. Students need to know content, but more than that, they need to understand the process of learning, she says: how to realize what knowledge they’re missing, and then how to discover the answers to what they don’t know. “It’s not the content that needs to be changed. There’s not a whole lot of ways to change the content of math,” she explains. “It’s the way you teach that has to be changed.”

Teaching also needs to begin to move toward differentiation, or teaching different things in different ways to students, depending on their existing knowledge and on their learner profile.

Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of a new educational site called, a directory of educational videos for students, describes how such differentiation might happen: Teachers must currently use the lecture format–teaching a roomful of students the same thing at the same time–because there is not enough time in the day to teach them one by one. “But what if there are really excellent explanations of everything you could want to explain to a kid, available instantly?” he says. “Wouldn’t that take the necessity off the teacher to do the lecturing, and make it possible for people to proceed to learn at their own pace? This frees the teacher up to act as a tutor,” giving one-on-one time to students.

Cheryl Lemke, CEO of the Metiri Group, a consulting organization for the education sector, sees another side of differentiation. “One thing we’re suggesting to teachers is that they get to know their students,” she says. If an instructor is teaching cell biology, she might know her students well enough to know that with one student it should be approached in the sense of genetics, while with another you might approach it from the angle of disease, and so on. “There are a lot of approaches you can take, and you won’t know which to use unless you know your students pretty well. You could do interest inventories to learn about their lives beyond school,” Lemke says.

The ability to assess the quality and veracity of online materials is also a necessity in embracing convergent education. Students and educators alike need to learn skills of discernment, to understand what online sources are the most valuable and accurate.

“We’ve come to realize that knowledge-based content has exploded to such a degree that the ability to find it and use it is more critical than having it archived in our brains,” says Knezek. “What’s clear is that we can’t learn all the content. We’ve got to be sure we’re providing learning experiences that give skills for working with the body of content that is expanding so rapidly. We must learn to find it, judge it, and use it.”

Embracing urgency: The time for change is now

While some experts agree that change is happening, and happening quickly, others think the education sector does not feel the urgency it needs to force real transformation to occur.

“People say [education] can’t get any worse, that it’s hit bottom. I don’t think there’s any bottom,” says Gary Stager, a visiting professor at Pepperdine University. The system has been attacked by government regulators at an unprecedented rate, creating “the perfect storm of an abusive relationship,” Stager believes. Educators are being cowed into accepting things–like more testing and rote memorization–they know are wrong. This situation must change, and change quickly, he believes.

Countries such as Korea and Singapore, which were in the lower third of countries in terms of education, are now at the top, while the U.S. is in the lower to middle third of developed nations according to international benchmarking exams. Yet many educators are hanging on the edges, not seeing how fundamentally the world has changed, Krueger says.

“We have an inherently creative culture, but we’re on a path to squeeze out the creativity,” he says, “We’ve squeezed everything we can out of the accountability issue. Now we have to start looking at the whole system and see how we engage kids, to get them as excited in school as they are out of school. And I don’t think we’re going to get there by continuing to do the same thing.”

Jennifer Nastu is a freelance writer from Colorado who writes frequently on education and technology.

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