Innovation

Compliance and the Adjacent Possible #IMBC

In the intro to the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes:

“The structure and type of learning that happens in many schools does not fulfill the needs of the twenty-first-century marketplace. When students graduate, many of them are good at one thing: school. They have mastered rubrics, they know how to ace tests, and they have figured out how to wor with specific parameters. But the world is not a series of rubrics! To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations. And although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance.”

I think this statement clearly shows the great divide that has opened up between the learning experiences that happen in school (formal educational setting) and the learning experiences that we can engage in if we are self-directed and motivated. Information and knowledge are available on our networks, and the internet has blown up the “learning box.” There is no box, after all. Go find a video tutorial on YouTube, enroll in a MOOC for free, post a question on your Twitter feed and get answers from people who are experts in many fields of knowledge, go to a Maker Space and take a carpentry workshop, you name it. Learn how to navigate the networks of knowledge and people, and in the process you lapidate your lifelong learning skills.

Informal learning prompts the kind of behaviors and actions that help shape lifelong learner mindsets. It pushes you to acquire skills that you will need to solve problems, to pose new questions, to investigate and be able to collaborate to finding or building solutions to complex problems. Schooling or traditional, formal learning experiences prompts compliance. It needs to standardize, control and measure. I don’t mean to say that formal learning experiences are fundamentally bad in all its aspects. There is a lot of value in direct instruction or in a good lecture from a competent teacher or expert. But that’s not all there is to it, to learning. There are a million other ways we can “measure” learning that do not involve a room full of people sitting in rows and silently taking a test which will amount to a numerical score.

How might we approximate the traditional, formal learning experiences to the informal learning experiences? How might we strike a balance there? What does that blend look like in the classrom? What does it do to the traditional school roles that presuppose authority, power and hierarchy?

George cites Steven Johnson on the concept of the “adjacent possible.” I find it very powerful because it means that the collective journey to exploring possible answers to the questions above within one’s community is where the transformation lies – it IS the transformation. Steven Johnson states (as cited by George Couros):

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a rom with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.”

There is no recipe for innovation in education. What there should be is a predisposition to listening rather than telling, to working together rather than alone. To being vulnerable and saying “hey, I don’t know where this road will take us but I’m open to finding that out together, as a community, and with a focus on our learners.”

For our book club folks, George Couros poses this question for the introduction read:

Why do you believe that schools need to change, and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?