“Are we preparing students for our past or their future?” Our assistant principal emailed this quote to me while she was listening to a presentation at a conference. It took me right back to my ancient past of about 20 years ago. I had just started a software training business. The bread and butter of software training in those days was WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. I was a successful trainer because I provided every detail of every step of every operation my clients needed to use these programs in their businesses. Each lesson also included a cheat sheet with all the steps faithfully recorded. The clients loved this. They did not have to think or understand, just faithfully follow the directions.
I believed our training program was advanced because we provided “just in time” training whereas most training companies offered generic one size fits all training. I would observe and analyze what the clients were doing at work and create a training program to meet their specific needs. This “just in time” training with explicit instructions was very popular with companies because it was quick, less expensive, and immediately effective.
About the time Microsoft Office, with its WYSIWYG interface, was becoming more popular we hired a new young trainer. He insisted that students needed to understand how programs worked so they could figure out the details of using them on their own. No step-by-step instructions or cheat sheets were included in his training. He lasted about a month. Our clients had no desire to think about or understand how these programs worked. They just wanted to know how to do exactly what they needed to do to get their jobs done with the least amount of bother possible.
Neither did we nor our clients have any idea that our young trainer was the wave of the future. Because we did not train our students to understand how programs work, every time they wanted to use a new tool or feature on a program they would have to come back for more training. Whenever there was an upgrade to a program, former students would have to come back for complete retraining. This constant retraining became frustrating for the employees and costly for the companies. Short term savings were becoming long term expenses.
We were training our students for the stable world of the past where skill sets could last a lifetime. That young trainer knew the future would be ever changing and would require the mindset of the lifelong learner. Technology is a prime example of our ever changing world. There have been twelve new releases of MS Office during the past eight years. There are thousands of Web 2.0 tools not even imagined even a few years ago. Tens of thousands of smart phone apps have been created in a matter of months.
So why are there so few training books, manuals, and classes? Our current crop of high school students learned how to operate a TV remote and play Wii games before they learned how to read or write. Between the ages of five and fifteen they have spent thousands of hours using remote controls, electronic game boxes, computers, smart phones and a variety of media players. With new equipment coming out daily simply memorizing how to operate these machines is useless. Teenagers use their knowledgebase not to constantly repeat the same operation over and over, but to analyze, problem solve and master each new piece of equipment and software release.
Memorization and repetition can no longer be the focus of education. Students must be taught how to learn, and how to learn on their own without our help. Lifelong learning is truly the most important skill set of the future. Children naturally learn through observation, imitation, exploration, play, fantasy and experimentation. Instead of building on the full range natural propensities, traditional teacher-centered schools tend to focus on observation and imitation. Observe the teacher, read the book, and imitate knowing via the almighty test. This sort of learning only reaches the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, remembering. The student-centered model of education includes the exploration, play, fantasy and experimentation; activities that encompass the higher learning skills of understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We can no longer afford to prepare students for our past. It is time to revamp our curriculum to meet the needs of their future.