Skip to main content
Workforce LibreTexts

2.4: Schools for Networked Societies

  • Page ID
    5633
    • Anonymous
    • LibreTexts
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    School as we understand it is not a new invention; for generations, adults have created and sustained them for a wide range of purposes. High schools both provide access to sophisticated and specialized curriculum and keep large numbers of able-bodied individuals out of the work force. Organizational structures and management practices are also articulated to meet a wide range of purposes. Summer breaks allow children to return to agrarian work when it is most needed (even in the 21st century when family farms are largely disappeared from the landscape). In these ways, and many others, we see how schools reflect the societies and cultures that support them. In some instances, the structures and practices remain after the need for them has disappeared. The slow rate of change in schooling is yet another example of the conflict that characterize the time when technologies replace technologies.

    For convenience, we can mark the 21st century as the historical moment digital information and information technologies replaced print and ICT (New) organizations replaced Fordist (Old) organizations. Certainly, this is an artificial and blurred boundary, but for our purposes it is illustrative. We can reasonably expect this boundary also marked by a transition in schools; presumably 21st century schools replaced 20th century schools as different skills and knowledge are needed to engage with new information technologies and to participate and succeed in new organizations.

    The change to education for ICT(New) organizations and society is not complete. Indeed, as the third decade of the 21st century approaches, there are two clearly different and competing approaches to education we observe. One seeks to preserve and continue education for print and Fordist (Old) organizations and the other seeks to more clearly reflect ICT (New) organizations and to educate for new literacies (Limbu, 2017). Just as writing replaced orality over Plato’s protests, we can predict 21st century skills and schools to replace 20th century schools, the nature of schools as the transition continues and after it completes focus this section.

    Nominal change in school

    In the 21st century, several major political efforts have sought to influence educational policy at a broad level; No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (2002) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) are two that attained national influence in the United States. Advocates for each indicated the effort would revise curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the 21st century. The publishers of tests used as part of CCSS claim they are valid (McCall, 2016), but those claims appear unverified by scholarly research. Further, claims by advocates that constructs and measures used in these efforts are valid and reliable are also unverified by scholarly research. Both NCLB and CCSS appear to be grounded in three assumptions about teaching and learning that dominated in the 20th century but that appear to be unsupported by and even contradicted by the discoveries of learning sciences in recent decades:

    • The curriculum (what students should learn) is well-known and accurately reflects the skills and knowledge students need. The reality is that what represents knowledge changes rapidly, and it is impossible to predict exactly which skills or knowledge students is actually necessary for students.
    • Educators know with certainty and clarity how to transfer the curriculum into students’ minds. Cognitive science is elucidating the details of how humans learn and the environmental factors relevant to learning in ways unavailable to earlier generations of teachers.
    • Tests are an accurate and reliable measure of what students have learned. Useful assessments and evaluations of learning will be predictive; performance on those tasks will indicate the student’s ability to use the information and skills in other settings. Most tests lack this predictive ability.

    Sawyer (2008) referred to education grounded in known curriculum and tests as the Standard Model of teaching and observed it had been widely adopted by the societies with industrialized economies in the 20th century. Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp (1992) educational psychologists who studied conditions in classrooms that influence learning, referred to this type of teaching as a recitation script and observed, “the predominant experience of American school children. Sitting silently, students read assigned texts, complete 'ditto' sheets, and take tests. On those rare occasions when they are encouraged to speak, teachers control the topics and participation” (p. 175)

    The Standard Model has been increasingly challenged by the observation that innovation economies were replacing industrial economies and the Standard Model is recognized as no longer gave students the opportunities to develop necessary skills. Helen Adabzi (2016), a scholar from the University of Texas at Arlington, observed, “many documents state that the traditional education has failed, and it is time for a new paradigm [that] “teach[es] a combination of basic, new and ‘soft’ skills [to] emphasize critical thinking, communication, and leadership” (p. 256). The Standard Model was also challenged by the observation that other models were more closely aligned with discoveries regarding learning emerging from the cognitive sciences. Deeper learning (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000) has emerged as a model that recognizes the social and emotional aspects of learning as well as the importance of activity and engagement, including reflection, in learning. Despite the finding that the Standard Model does not result in students developing the skills and knowledge they need for post- industrial economies, Sawyer (2008) noted, "Many of today’s schools are not teaching the deep knowledge that underlies innovative activity. But it is not just a matter of asking teachers to teach different curriculum, because the structural configurations of the Standard Model make it very hard to create learning environments that result in deeper learning (pp. 48-9.)"

    It is reasonable to conclude the Standard Model of education is based on assumptions about human learning that have been overturned and it is less effective pedagogy for developing necessary skills than others. Despite this, it seems the Standard Model has been reinforced by the policy determined by NCLB and CCSS.

    For many observers (including the taxpayers who fund public schools, the politicians who seek to control schools, the parents who send their children to schools, and even many who work in schools) what constitutes “school” is grounded in their experience with the Standard Model. Their concepts are clear and unquestioned and perceived to be objective and shared by all, so proposals that would produce different experiences for students are often shunned. This factor contributes to “institutional inertia,” and schooling continuing as it has despite evidence it must change.

    Also slowing the replacement of the Standard Model is the fact that schools have become highly politicized institutions. In 2006, futurists Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler captured the relative speed of change throughout society with this scale: businesses appear to be adopting new information technologies and adapting to them at 100 miles per hour, with other organizations (such as professional organizations and non-governmental organizations) moving almost as quickly; families in the United States are moving at 60 miles per hour. Schools and other bureaucracies are moving at a mere 25 miles per hour. Political parties and legislative processes are moving even slower, at three miles per hour in the Tofflers’ estimate. If we accept this scale, then it is reasonable to assume that schools would be adopting and adapting to new technologies faster than they are if it were not for the slowing caused by political actions (such as No Child Left Behind legislation and the Common Core State Standards initiative) undertaken to “fix schools.”

    The inconsistencies between the schools we need for innovation economies and the instruction provided under the Standard Model is yet another example of the conflict that Walter Ong (1982) described when technologies are replaced and that have become familiar in this chapter. Publicly funded and compulsory education for all is widely perceived to be the foundation of economic growth and effective governance in democracies. In the United States, education has become a government service influenced by increasingly centralized authorities as the population grew and become more urbanized and mobile (McCluskey, 2007). Especially since 1983 and the publication of A Nation at Risk (The National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), education has become an issue in national elections at a level that was not observed previously. This has placed education firmly among the institutions that innovate at the slowest rate.

    Alternatives to the Standard Model

    Many educational scholars and practitioners have recognized the inadequacy of the Standard Model in recent decades and they have proposed alternative models of education. The (incomplete) list of alternatives includes authentic learning (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2015), natural learning (Caine & Caine, 2011), project-based learning (Krajcik & Shin, 2014), problem-based learning (Lu, Bridges, & Hmelo-Silver, 2014), complex learning (Kirschner, Jeroen, & van Merrienboer, 2008), learner-centered instruction (Stefaniak, 2015), situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and cognitive apprenticeships (Dennen & Burner, 2008). While advocates for these different methods vary in the specifics of how they would implement schooling, there are several assumptions about teaching, learning, and testing that they share and that differentiate these approaches from the Standard Model of schooling:

    • The curriculum is assumed to be more dynamic and vastly greater than can be articulated in standards and “covered” by lectures and similar instruction, so these methods tend to include an increased role for activities in which students learn how to learn. It is reasoned that students who gain experience learning with independence are better prepared for rapidly changing and unpredictable knowledge and situations that characterize New (ICT) organizations and digital cultures.
    • Because the curriculum will vary and because their curriculum will, in part, be self-defined, teachers cannot accurately predict students’ paths through the curriculum. Further, new discoveries are likely to invalidate some of the extant curriculum before it can be completed. For these reasons, what students learn may vary.
    • In these models, learning is understood to be a social activity as much as it is a cognitive activity. Meaningful social engagement between students and teachers and other experts and among students are purposefully designed into the learning activities.
    • How learning is demonstrated varies. In these models, learning is best demonstrated through performance on authentic projects and performances, while schools based in the Standard Model tend to rely on test scores as the primary measure of learning.
    • Finally, metacognition—knowing how and what one knows—is a goal of learning in the alternatives to the Standard Model.

    The boundaries between schooling when the Standard Model dominated and 21st century schools are not as clear as I have presented. Activities, lessons, courses, and curriculum frameworks that promote 21st century skills have been available for decades (Dede, 2010). Student-based learning, constructivist methods, and other alternatives to the Standard Model of teaching have been described and promoted by scholars and practitioners, but those methods have largely been marginalized and have not been the focus of the wide-scale efforts to define educational policy. It is anticipated that 21st century pedagogies will replace the Standard Model, and the Standard Model will become the marginalized pedagogy. Daniel Pink (2006) can be credited with popularizing the term “necessary, but not sufficient” to describe the linear skills that are well-developed through the Standard Model. Scholars have continued to elucidate many trends, especially economic trends, that necessitate the curriculum be revised to both provide linear skills, but also prepare students to be flexible and innovative. The nature of the workers needed in institutions that reflect the ICT (New) organization, illustrate these changes. Johannessen (2008) concluded, "the workforce will shift away from employees who have traditional, practical training backgrounds and towards an ever-increasing number of employees who have had a higher education and are theoretically well equipped. Such workers will be capable of working in a problem definition and problem-oriented manner and possess skills for both analysis and synthesis (p. 407)."

    Richard Suskind and Daniel Suskind (2015), scholars and policy analysts from the United Kingdom, observed workers “will need to learn to communicate differently, to gain mastery of the data in their disciplines, to establish working relationships with their machines, and to diversify” (p. 114). The factors contributing to the changing nature of educational outcomes include globalism and technology-driven automation, as well as the availability of increasingly sophisticated information technology. Levy and Murname (2004) cited evidence that there are four trends that are changing that nature the tasks that will be necessary for workers: (see Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)):

    • Complex communication, which requires one to interpret sophisticated information and articulate clear explanations, is becoming one of the most important skills for workers.
    • Expert thinking, which requires one create solutions to unique and unfamiliar problems, is becoming increasingly important (but less than complex communication).
    Screenshot 2020-04-25 at 16.33.10.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Expected trends in 21st century work (Adapted from Levy and Murname, 2004)
    • Routine manual labor is decreasing in importance as robots and other tools automate the easy-to-repeat physical tasks common in the industrial economy.
    • Routine cognitive work is decreasing even more in importance as algorithms perform simple analyses andrestatement of information, and draw conclusions based on quantitative data.

    While most see clear connections between the skills Levy and Murname identify and the curriculum common in the Standard Model, there is also increasing need to diversify the skills that students develop during their school careers; these emerging skills are motivated by factors other than economic as well. In his 2010 book Wisdom, Stephen Hall who is an award-winning writer about science and society, posed the question, “How do we make complex, complicated decisions and life choices, and what makes some of these choices so clearly wise that we all intuitively recognize them as a moment, however brief, of human wisdom?” (p. 6). Hall recounted the story of a scholar who has become a leader in the field of wisdom studies, and who concluded,

    that wisdom represented a state of mind beyond standard metrics of intelligence, and this revelation forced him to see inherent failures in the educational system, and the philosophy of educational testing, and the degree to which too narrow measures like IQ tests fail miserably to predict lifetime satisfaction (p. 245).

    Hall concluded wisdom is grounded in eight characteristics which are generally ignored in the Standard Model, but that are more important than traditional measures of knowledge when solving complex problems: emotional regulation, knowing what’s important, moral reasoning, compassion, humility, altruism, patience, dealing with uncertainty.

    While advocates for the Common Core State Standards and other standards argue that curriculum is known and measurable via a test, the scholars whose work is summarized in this section do not appear to agree. They appear to concur, rather, with Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown who concluded full participation in the digital society necessitates individuals have the capacity for lifelong learning as workers and citizens will be adapting to new technologies and new information in perpetuity. They propose schooling be focused by, “a new culture of learning the point [of which] is to embrace what we don’t know, come up with better questions about it, and continue asking those questions in order to learn more about it” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, p. 38).

    Clearly, schools must adopt curriculum and instruction to reflect the needs of citizens in the digital society, and there have been localized efforts to make these changes. The rate at which schools are changing appears to be far behind the speed at which other organizations are changing, but schools are adapting faster than the political organizations that govern schools. The design of the learning environments necessitated by a world in which traditional skills and knowledge are still important, but that are no longer sufficient has important implications for IT managers as both of these models of teaching are dependent on IT that is appropriately and properly configured.


    2.4: Schools for Networked Societies is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.


    2.4: Schools for Networked Societies is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gary Ackerman.

    • Was this article helpful?