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A New Era Of Learning

Thinking differently about education and technology.

Here's the quote that I think should compel every school administrator to read Allan Collins' and Richard Halverson's new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology:

"If educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, then the long identification of schooling with education, developed over the past 150 years, will dissolve into a world where the students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school." In other words, it's time to figure this technology thing out—now.

Getting Uncomfortable

It's hard to look at the educational landscape these days and not feel uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue that if you're not feeling a bit uncomfortable as a school administrator right now, you're not paying attention to the huge shifts that technology is bringing to the learning world. In networked, global classrooms, we learn in ways that physical-space classrooms can't offer. We're self-directed, inquiry- and passion-based learners who are finding our own teachers and classmates, writing our own curriculum, and learning anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It's a learning environment that looks little like what happens in physical space classrooms.

Collins and Halverson are paying attention. They frame a compelling case that we are entering a third era of learning, one of lifelong learning that is replacing universal schooling, which replaced apprenticeship. And they argue that the "seeds of a new education system" are already taking root, one that builds on the potential of technology that will ultimately leave schools with a "narrower role" in learning.

The authors suggest that despite the growth of access to technology in classrooms over the last 10 years, schools rarely allow technology's transformative potential out of the box. In general, schools either condemn the technology, focusing on risks rather than rewards, or they co-opt it, using it in ways that leave fundamental curriculum and pedagogy unchanged, or, finally, they marginalize it, allowing teachers to create "boutique" programs but never changing "the very fabric of education."

No Choice

And it's no surprise why. Change is hard—especially the kind of change I'm talking about here. It's not about learning how to do PowerPoint; it's about teaching students to use technology to teach themselves, to learn for themselves. In essence, it's about teaching ourselves out of a job.

It's a change we have to make. Seriously, do we really think our students have a choice about technology in their lives? Do any of us really think that they will not be using the Web to learn, whether on their computers or their phones, after they leave us? at debate is over. Our kids are going to choose technology whether we prepare them for it or not. Wouldn't they be better served if we provided them with the skills and literacies they need to succeed?

As Halverson and Collins point out, if we don't do this, if we don't figure it out, we are heading for a world where those that can will opt out for better, more relevant learning experiences, while those without the means or access will remain in our classrooms. I don't think that's hyperbole. While our youngest students will no doubt do most of their learning in classrooms with caring adults in their presence, older students will be more and more able to carve out their own educational experiences, whether these are online classes, games, technical certification programs, or something else. Halverson and Collins warn that this raises huge concerns around equity and social behavior.

More than any book I've read in the last few years (and I've read a lot of them), Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology captures the challenging moment that confronts us. This moment requires a context for change and the vision and leadership to carry it out.

Will Richardson is an author and educator who also blogs about teaching and learning at