Learnification and the Purpose of Education

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I have started reading Gert Biesta’s book, Good Education in an Age of Measurement. In the first chapter, he puts forward the case of three key arguments for a ‘good education‘: qualification, socialization and subjectification.

Qualification is defined as:

The qualification function is without doubt one of the major functions of organized education and constitutes an important rationale for having state-funded education in the first place.

Socialization as:

Through its socializing function education inserts individuals into existing ways of doing and being. In this way education plays an important role in the continuation of culture and tradition—both with regard to its desirable and its undesirable aspects.

And subjectification as:

The subjectification function might perhaps best be understood as the opposite of the socialization function. It is precisely not about the insertion of “newcomers” into existing orders, but about ways of being that hint at independence from such orders, ways of being in which the individual is not simply a “specimen” of a more encompassing order.

These, Biesta argues, are not to simply be considered in isolation, but in how they interact:

The three functions of education can therefore best be represented in the form of a Venn diagram, i.e., as three partly overlapping areas, and the more interesting and important questions are actually about the intersections between the areas rather than the individual areas per se.

This focus on purpose is in contrast to what Biesta describes as the ‘learnification’ of education. This is where the sole concern becomes the individualistic process of learning, rather than the intent that is actually associated with this.

This discussion of purpose made me wonder about things like learning walks and annual review processes. What if the success or failure of something like a learning walk was decided before anyone even enters the room? What happens if a coach considers qualification as being the primary purpose of education and inadvertently applies this lens to what they see. Yet the teacher in question’s primary concern is socialization?

I am wondering if it is for this reason that we need something more than a set of standards to improve education. We need a holistic approach, like the Modern Learning Canvas, that incorporates all the different facets.

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What about you? What tools and techniques have you used to capture a rich picture of practice? As always, comments welcome.

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What Type of Relationship Do You Have with Learners?

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In his attempt to develop a more sophisticated understanding of pedagogy, Richard Olsen developed the Modern Learning Canvas. Olsen separates the different factors that impact learning and teaching into nine parts. See my attempt to represent my school’s instructional model for more elaboration:

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Although there are differences throughout, whether it be in regards to outcomes or beliefs, it could be argued that the area with the greatest variable is that of the educator. As Olsen explains,

In highly didactic instructional classrooms Educators have total control and make all of the decisions. At the opposite end of the education spectrum with counter-culture student driven education where Educators have little control and make few decisions about student learning. The reality is that for most learning models the Educator Role sits somewhere between these two poles.

What stands out about these variables is change in relationship that exists between learner and educator. I was reminded of this connection yesterday while I was watching a new television series Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.

The particular episode I saw investigated the recording artists and the producers behind them. What was most interesting was the relationship each producer had with the artists they were working with. The show touched on four particular producers: Phil Spector, Sir George Martin, Dr, Dre and Rick Rubin.

The Wall of Sound: A pioneer in the recording industry, Phil Spector had the ability to push the technology to its limits. He had the ability to hear things and imagine different possibilities. Innovative, he turned the traditional orchestral outfit into a rock band. This organised chaos came at a cost as he was very demanding on the artists he worked with. What kept many there though was that you always knew he would produce something amazing.

The Fifth Beatle: Unlike Spector who led the show, Sir George Martin worked along side The Beatles. It was for this reason he was described as the fifth Beatle. He would listen to what the band would bring and provide a different take on things. Something akin to what Cathy Davidson calls ‘collaboration by difference‘. The example given in the show was his suggestion to include strings in Yesterday or to create the Psycho-inspired Elenor Rigby where strings and vocals were the only instruments at play in.

Artist as Producer: Whereas Martin was a guide on the side, Dr. Dre represents the move to the producer as a meddler in the middle. Building on heritage of those like Sly Stone, Dr. Dre worked both sides of the desk. What is most significant is that Dre’s success was built around capturing things that nobody else heard, whether this be in the records he sampled or the music he recorded. This change was in part enabled by improvements in technology, making production more accessible.

Conditions to Flourish: The producer behind artists from Metallica to the Dixie Chicks, Rick Rubin’s interest was not about creating a particular sound, but rather fostering the conditions in which the artists could bring out their potential. The example given was his work with Johnny Cash in regards to the American Recordings. After being dumped by several labels, Rubin worked with Cash to reimagine the legend. For more on Rubin’s unique approach, I recommend listening to the lengthy interview with Tim Ferriss.

Coming back to Olsen, it is interesting to compare different relationships between the artist and producer with the relationships between the educator and the learner. It is not hard to think of an educator who continually celebrated about the results they get, even if the strategies that they use seem questionable. Or of the educator who works alongside learners helping connect their work to what Seymour Papert describes as ‘powerful ideas‘. Then there are learners/educators who take control of their own learning and publish it to the world for validation. Or those educators whose success is hard to measure or make sense of, rather it is about connecting with the passions of each learner and starting there. In the end, maybe it takes all types of relationships to support all types of learners.

In part this post was inspired by the continual work of Deborah Netolicky on educator identify. I highly recommend listening to her interview on the Teacher’s Educator Review.

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A Response to @Richardolsen on Coding

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A few weeks ago, Steve Box put out a question on Twitter:

A lengthy debate ensued over the following days.

To be honest, this was a question that I had been thinking about myself for a while. Although I am a big believer of the power and potential of technology to make deep learning more doable, as Bill Ferriter would put it, that everyone should learn the same set of skills seems to me to lack purpose and clarity. I have taught different classes involving code over the  years, from Gamemaker to Lego Mindstorms. I have also had students explore different languages as a part of their own investigations. What stands out though in reflection is that everyone took something different from the process for everyone had a different purpose. The question remains then what does it mean for everyone to learn to code.

I wrote my initial post to outline my thoughts in the hope for some sort of debate. Sadly, although it continued in part on Twitter, the dialogue lacked depth. That was until Richard Olsen’s post. Moving beyond the usual explanations around workplace skills and the ability to build apps, Olsen suggests that coding is a core skill in the modern learning environment. Influenced by the seminal work of Seymour Papert, he asserts that it is coding and the digital workspace that allows students to learn real maths skills, to test hypothesis, to play with different situations. Going further, Olsen suggests that such a learning environment allows the following:

  1. Feedback-Rich Learning
  2. Reuse-Rich Learning
  3. Opinionated Learning
  4. Continuously Evolving Learning

What stood out to me was how this environment would look in many schools today?

For example, sites like GitHub and WordPress allow people to ‘fork’ code to make their own creations. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to open source software. However, for a range of reasons, schools usually embrace locked down tools and software, such as iPads and learning management systems. Just as continuous evolution of curriculum is not always desirable in education, nor is the idea of students being able to hack programs for their own use. We only need to look at the case of iPads in California. Such decisions though come at a cost.

We are faced with the challenge of either being able to program or be programmed (to remix from Doug Belshaw). That is where we either control the environment in which we exist or allow others to control it for us. What though does this look like in schools? In a Prep class? When should students own their own domain? Is it enough to go through such spaces as Edublogs? Or should we be encouraging students to use such sites as Known or WordPress.org, which allow them to make their own changes to whatever they like.

So in the end, the real issue is not coding, rather it is control and the dilemmas around embracing modern learning. Like teaching inquiry without relinquishing curiosity to students, Do we actually do more harm than good in teaching code in an environment that ignores the opinionated and continuously evolving nature of coding. We then need to refocus our attention on pedagogy and the problem at hand before we start taking medicine for the wrong problem.

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Vision for eLearning

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I was recently asked by a colleague about my ‘vision’ for eLearning and 21st century learning. Inspired in part by Gary Stager educational philosophy in 100 words, as well as my work with with DET exploring the EDUSTAR planning tool, this is the list of attributes that I came up with:

eLearning …

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

I supported this with a list of readings to clarify where my thoughts had come from. Although as I have stated time and time again, it takes a village and recognising everyone in the village can be a futile act.

My concern with this whole process though is two-fold. Firstly, a vision is not created by one person, however compelling that may be. A point that George Couros makes in his book Innovator’s Mindset. This is a problem I had with the DET EDUSTAR training where a few random representatives were expect to be the voice of a whole school. While secondly, an eLearning vision needs to marry with the school’s wider vision for ‘learning’. The question then remains as to how we make a vision for learning and technology which supports the whole school with a common goal?

So what about you, what is your eLearning vision? How is it integrated within the wider school vision? As always comments are welcome.


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What Sort of Teacher Are You?

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In a recent article for The Atlantic, Alexandra Samuel suggests that when it comes to parents, there are three clear types: limiters, enablers and mentors. Limiters keep their children away from the internet meaning that they are kept out of the digital world. Enablers trust their kids online, but leave them to their own accord. Mentors on the other hand, walk hand in hand guiding producing. After reading the article, I was left wondering whether the same categories could be applied to teachers?

I know that technology is required in every classroom and many schools are full of devices, but it seems that one of the greatest variables to success is the teacher willing to embrace it. Dr. Jane Hunter has published a book about ‘high possibility classrooms’. What seems to come out of this investigation is that success is often based on the strength of the teacher. If we were to consider Samuel’s three types, many of the teachers who created high possibility classrooms could be described as mentors, teachers who stood side-by-side with students. Although on the one hand they make possible certain opportunities, they also supported students with these being wary of the challenges and consequences. An example of this is Lee Hewes’ work with Mindcraft. For without his support, the opportunities for students to be in a virtual world simply would not exist.

In contrast, the limiter grudgingly allows technology into the classroom, only to be secretly plotting its downfall the whole time. For some this is a fear that technology will leave them obsolete, while for others it is a belief that learning face-to-face should always take precedences.

On the flipside of this, there are those teachers that enable their students. They allow them to use technology, but having little idea as to what they are doing and how they are doing it. This leaves the students experimenting with little support or feedback.

Maybe this is not useful, maybe it is not the same or maybe it is just wrong? How do we support teachers with different mindsets? At different points on the innovation curve? Like Knud Illeries’ perspectives of learning, can we really change people’s ingrained beliefs about anything? And what does it mean to ‘teach’ technology, especially in a BYOD environment? Maybe we need to start with how we use it ourselves and go from there? Should every teacher be a mentor? Are there times when we simply need to enable possibilities or limit others?

I feel that I have more questions than answers, but maybe that is a part of the conversation that we need to have around any aspect of change. Like Sherry Turkle’s discussion about the place of technology, the more discussions we have the better. If you have anything to add, I would love to hear it. Feel free to comment below.

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Biggest in Education is Not Always Best

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I was in an electrical store the other day waiting to be served. Standing there I looked out across the room that was full of televisions all playing the same video in order to provide some sort of contrast. As always, the high-end models stood out with their large screens and crisp view. This is somewhat obvious, of course a store is going to work out how to promote its most expensive product the best. However, I was left wondering, as a consumer is this necessarily the most useful way to measure what is the most useful product or is there more to it than that? For example, in a different setting where space is a question, the biggest screen is not always best. Also, there are times when making big purchases we feel that we need to stick with this even though our circumstances may change.

Reflecting on this, I started thinking about education and the way in which we measure success and decide on our solutions. It is so easy to get sucked into the big picture offered by NAPLAN tests and PISA results, but it feels like something is lost with this. So often such focuses portray the wider view at the sacrifice of context and diversity.

Too often we want everything to scale. The problem is that not everything works that way, that simply isn’t how change works. Instead, we need to look at solutions and strategies with the lens of our own context and environment. This is why the Modern Learning Canvas is so useful, for it provides a way of talking. Addressing such questions as the sequence of learning, the various enablers, the role of students, the expected outcomes and the overall pedagogical beliefs. With this image created we are hopefully better able to identify the smaller steps of development.

Maybe sometimes this might mean buying the biggest and the best television on display, but more often than not it means considering what works best in the various constraints within our contexts and starting there.

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Predicting the Future Yesterday

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I recently got in a conversation with some colleagues about the future of education. It was the end of a long day and we pondering on how schooling might be different in ten years time. These are some of the ideas that were bandied around:

  • Detentions: If we have to depend upon daily detentions to maintain learning then who is really in control?
  • Workbooks: Is there really a place for endlessly answering other people’s questions?
  • Notion of Pass and Fail: If students focus is on whether they will pass or fail something then have they already failed? Maybe the focus should be on creating beautiful work?
  • Rubrics About Growth: Too often rubrics come to measure specific content and skills that are being covered at that point in time, how can these be adapted to be more growth minded? With an towards development rather than improvement?
  • Facilitators not Teachers: Instead of being the font of all knowledge, how can change the role of the teacher to being that of a facilitator, helping students find their own problems and solve them? The meddler in the middle, rather than the sage on the stage.
  • Projects not Menial Tasks: Why aren’t units of work focused on building and creating meaningful projects?

What was interesting was that all of the predictions made about the future, have already been enacted somewhere in the past. The question then is why are they not more mainstream? Why are such thoughts too often seen as the exception to the rule?

Will Richardson’s argument is that we are in need of drastic change in education. For some this means a revolution, while for others it is about support. Whatever the change is, it starts with one person trying to make a difference. Richardson suggests 10% at a time. Maybe this is bringing a new practice into the classroom, working collaboratively as a team on a problem or simply flipping the roles and becoming more of a learner. The next step after this is to scale the change and help it grow and spread.

Richard Olsen’s suggest that many of the challenges with change in education often come down to our belief about learning. Something that far too many take for granted. It is here then that the conversation needs to be had, to make visible as far as possible our thoughts, inconsistencies and beliefs. This then is part of the purpose of the Modern Learning Canvas. Not as a tool that pushes people in any specific direction, but rather helps them understand their present context and clearly plot the next iterative step forward.

As Matt Esterman highlights, we know the future is coming, next we need to seriously act on it. The first step with any change though is calling out the elephant in the room. Identifying the perceived problem and talking about the issues. However, the question remains, how might we make the changes for students today, rather than wait for another tomorrow?

For those looking for ideas and inspiration, here are a some books that have helped guide my thinking along the way:

Feel free to suggest more.

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What Could Your Leader Do?

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While taking the reigns of the #edutweetoz rotation curation recently, Paul Browning put out the question:

Although I engaged in some discussion at the time, discussing the idea of fostering the ‘hidden’ professional development, it is a question that has lingered with me ever since. How can leadership help me? Here then are three things that stand out:


I know I am lucky to have smaller class sizes. That the behaviour of my students is nothing compared to other schools. That I should be thankful that students have some access to technology. None of this actually helps to move things forward in and of itself. It reminds me of the teacher who complains to students about a failed lesson because they put hours into preparing it. I don’t want to know how good I have it, I want a vision to aspire towards, to drive me forwards.


It is one thing to be aware of what is going on in the school. However, to feel supported, I want leaders to be more than aware. I want them to ask questions? To have some understanding of the intracises involved. I do not expect them to be able to replicate everything that I do, but I would like them to have the appreciation and awareness to be able to provide meaningful feedback and advice.


I am aware that much of what schools get measured on comes back to literacy and numeracy, however this fails to recognise the importance of other learning. Actually, not ‘other’ learning, rather learning as a whole. Coming back to the question of vision, why do we do what we do. I am happy to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but what is it guaranteeing? Are subjects such as music, science, the humanities and languages important? Why? What are they trying to achieve? Content knowledge? College readiness? Citizenship? Whatever it is, how is this at the core? Richard Olsen touches on the dilemma of learning here.

So what about you? What could a leader do to support you and your professional growth? As always, comments welcome.

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Innovation, Context and Language – A Reflection on #IOIWeekend

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Last Friday night I attended the IOI Weekend Taster event providing highlighting the IOI Process. It was a great night, these are some of my thoughts and summaries …   

Teachers pose so many questions each day, the problem though is that many of the questions are often limited. They are responses to the here and now, to what is already known. How often do we ask the deep questions? Those that lead us into the unknown. Those beginning with ‘What If’ or ‘How Might We?’

One reason often provided is that of time. There just isn’t any space in the day to delve into such questions. However, as Godin points out,

“I didn’t have time”, this actually means, “it wasn’t important enough.” It wasn’t a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list.

The challenge then is how do we make such conversations important enough.

Another issue is how to go about unpacking such questions. Frustratingly, such conversations seem to quickly lead to discussion about what is and isn’t possible, with little reference to evidence or understanding about context. On the contrary, IOI Process provides a structure to not only understand the intricacies of context, but help map out a path to change and innovation.

The IOI Process is built around three tools:

  • Modern Learning Canvas (PDF): Influenced by the Business Model Canvas, the Modern Learning Canvas is split into nine sections: learner’s role, strategies, enablers, practice, culture, policies, educator’s role, learning outcomes and pedagogical beliefs. Each section adds to the perspective. What is different to other tools and models is that the canvas is pictured from the learner’s point of view.
  • Pedagogical Quality Framework (PDF): Like the Canvas, the Pedagogical Quality Framework is broken into four sections: teachers role, teacher role, student needs and compelling opportunities.  By combining these together, it provides a means for creating a definition of pedagogical quality and an innovation thesis. That is, the biggest opportunity for growth and improvement.
  • Learner Development Profile (PDF): Based on Nikolai Veresov’s General model of genetic research methodology, the profile tool is made up of four sections: characteristics, motivations, sources and results. Just like the canvas, the profile focuses on the learner, rather than simply applying some predefined topic or progression.

What is interesting about the three tools is that in many respects they are yours to make of them what you will. Whether it be laying the groundwork for what may need to change or a means for creating a vision of learning and teaching to work towards. Each of the tools provides a common ground to come back to again and again. Providing a means for identifying the intricacies of learnings and areas for further improvement.

At the end of the day though, the success of IOI Process is language. Each of the tools, the sections, the guiding questions, they help to frame the conversation. It provides a clear picture of learning and teaching as it is or could be. Often such conversations get lost in semantics about what is meant by learning. A point Will Richardson made clear in a recent post. By framing the discussion, maybe we can get closer to talking about what is and what innovation is possible in the future. The rest is up to us.

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Doing the Right Thing

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The other day, I had the opportunity to attend a session run by Department of Education and Training (DET) exploring EDUSTAR and looking at ICT planning. The program came about after a government audit found that although over time schools have been provided with adequate software and hardware, there has been little growth in regards to pedagogical practise and growth.

What was interesting was the message that there is no expectation about where schools are to be in regards to eLearning. Every school is a different context. Data and analytics is gathered through various surveys and censuses to create a unique story. The reason there is no benchmark is that technology should not be a competition, focusing on which schools have what, instead it is about what practises schools have in place. For some this might mean 1-to-1, while for others it might be something different. It all depends upon the outcomes that are trying to by achieved. For as Michael Fullan states, “pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator”. The question though is what are we driving towards?

What was interesting is that although there was no benchmark for technology, again and again reference was made to the notion of ‘best results’. It is summed up in the comment from a fellow participant who said, “if you are getting the ‘best results’ in the state, then you are doing the right thing.” This got me wondering whether technology is often canned because it does not actually cater for the results that are often focused on by schools through annual implementation plans and NAPLAN results. In a recent post, Richard Olsen’s touched on the importance of what we measure and how we do it, that ‘success’ is not always as obvious as it seems. This reminded me also of Yong Zhao’s argument that we often measure the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on such traits as creativity and entrepreneurship, we focus on prescribed content and compliance. Where this difference stood out the most is through the discussion of an eLearning vision.

The School ICT Progression Strategy is about supporting schools in generating a plan, creating a vision and setting goals. Although an improvement on before, to me there is still an elephant in the room. That of pedagogy. With every state school in Victoria supposedly mandated to have a clearly defined instructional model and continuing to use measurements associated with compliance to ascertain success, what is often overlooked is how eLearning marries with pedagogical practise. You can have as many c’s as you like in a vision, but if this is not linked with what is actually happening in the classroom then what is the point? Fine, technology has the potential to make what we have been doing more doable, as Bill Ferriter has suggested, but I question whether such processes as critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of every teacher’s practise? For some it is tests, recall and maintenance of an essentialist curriculum.

Paul Tozer once remarked to me, “what is valued by the system needs to change if what is happening in the classroom is to change.” I am not sure if that means a revolution, reform or renaissance, but something needs to change if we are really to get the best results for all learners. Although counting how many computers schools have in the classroom can be helpful for some, I am not sure if this is the right thing school’s are looking for?

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