The future of education: Memorize or analyse?

The future of education: Memorize or analyse?

Summary: Where do technology and teaching methods fit in a digital world?

TOPICS: Google

Beset by a changing economy, increased reliance on technology, and arguably the different mindset of younger generations, educational establishments are beginning to shift in line to cater for different global economic demands -- but what will the future hold for teaching methods?

High schools are ideally built to equip the younger generation with the skills they require for the 'real world'. In reality, this is generally not the case -- trying to modernize school programs to relate to a job industry that is continually changing can be nigh on impossible.

Politics, budgetary restrictions, a lack of appropriate resources and a shortage of trained staff are just some of the issues that the educational sector has to cope with -- and often this means that learning programs fall behind in relation to what the global economy requires.

The labor force is not static, and yet, often education seems to lag behind. We often hear of complaints by corporations that students are leaving school and university without basic skills they require; let alone any kinds of specialisation to make a potential employee stand out from the crowd.

That's where experience and additional training comes in -- but within the current global economy, the funding to support and train staff is restricted and hard to come by.

If we did tailor our education system to reflect the transition of society's needs and reform our learning processes to the next generation of students, what changes could be implemented in the future for the benefit of both relevant education and the economy?

Greater emphasis on process instead of memorization.

Whether right or wrong, information is now at our fingertips. Want to know the population of Australia, or calculate how much you owe on your tax return? Google it. 'Googling' something, as a process of seeking information in the same way as 'read about it' has become an element of daily language. This, in itself, shows how we don't rely fully on memorization any more.

Instead of having to memorize a poem to have access to a copy, information is immediately available through digital networks -- a far cry from Greek oral tradition or learning facts by rote.

Considering this shift, more emphasis should be placed on analyzing the data at our fingertips, instead of simply remembering it. It is unlikely there will be a data blackout any time soon, so educators should train students in critical, analytical thinking and information processes instead of focusing on drilling facts and figures into memory.

Memorization has its place, and is more valuable than simply learning how to regurgitate facts when the exams season rears its ugly head. However, by simply focusing on spoon-feeding facts that the average Gen-Y or younger now can scan Google or use an app to find, you are not giving a student the tools to apply the knowledge they have.

In a generation that prefers business studies and entrepreneurship to stagnation and routine, critical thinking is an essential skill. As global competition increases, the need to be able to do more than simply regurgitate facts and figures to be an attractive prospect for future employers -- or to be able to strike out on their own.

E-classrooms, online platforms and webinars.

In the past, passive learning was the most common method of teaching. Students listened or read, and then evaluate content through exercises or tasks. There was very little need to actively use the information they were asked to remember.

However, active learning classrooms -- that are often used in secondary language learning -- are becoming more popular. As an extension of a teaching method which involves the integration of technology and media, online platforms are likely to become a fully integrated learning tool.

Instead of being viewed with trepidation or as a novelty, online content systems, social networks, distance-based classrooms and webinars are likely to become commonplace. By using such tools, students can begin to grasp the mechanics of data, independent study and analysis -- skills that we should be focusing on to prepare them for a technology and data-reliant working economy.

Shortening concentration spans

The immediate accessibility of information is not necessarily a completely positive change. There are many cases of academic studies that have suggested this influx of data has resulted in a shift of thought -- to be specific, a shortening of concentration spans within the younger generation.

Whether it is actually the case that the iGeneration, immersed in a digital world from a young age, does possess a shorter concentration span than older counterparts is debatable. However, several trends often emerge as characteristic of the Gen-Y :

  • Living in a 24/7 culture, Gen-Y like to receive information immediately and from different multimedia sources.
  • They are portrayed as more interested in problem based learning than accumulating knowledge.
  • They also possess a low boredom threshold.

Taking this into consideration, Gen-Y expect to be connected, and to be presented with challenges in order to prevent boredom. However, current employers more often expect this kind of flexibility from employees -- checking work email on mobile devices, for example -- and so the Gen-Y demand it in return.

Whereas previous generations were taught and maintained more linear thought processes, this generation is has to become adept at blending connections in work, personal and social lives.

Memorization is a critical skill. However, in a technologically-reliant and data-saturated environment, other skills are now required in both personal and professional lives.

The education system of the future needs to:

  • Cater to a different kind of learning emphasis. When information is so readily available, shouldn't we shift to educating the next generation about how to interpret this information flow, instead of simply remembering it?
  • Prepare students for a technology-reliant economy. We do students a disservice by not keeping school curriculums up-to-date with the skills that are in demand within the labor force. Don't just show them how to use Word -- expand this learning in relation to the skills and knowledge that are already valuable to employers. An understanding of networks, programming, Internet research and project collaboration -- there must be more emphasis placed on these skill sets.
  • Adapt to a different mode of thinking. Shorter concentration spans or not, Generation Y are known as multitasking job-hoppers, demanding flexibility in their daily lives. As such, if you plan to keep your Gen-Y employee, give them a few challenges and targets to keep them happy.

Image credit: Debarshi Ray


Topic: Google

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  • Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking has always been and will continue to be the single best (survival) skill. The problem with today's education (at least in the USA) is that it is geared to standized tests. This is great if life had standardized questions and answers. Unfortunately, life is not standardized. Critical thinking enables the person to draw upon their experience and knowledge (memorization) to solve new problems.

    The problem goes further than those currently in the educational system or recent graduates. A lot of "grown ups" in society (USA) couldn't think their way out of a wet paper bag. Instead, they depend on their "right" to have someone fix the problem for them.

    Critical thinking guides you to what you need to learn, how to apply it, and how to extend it to meet new challenges.
    • Agree, but......

      At least part of the problem is the role religion seems to play in American society. Religion is the very antithesis to critical thinking. How can you teach critical thinking in one part of a child's life, while at the same time brain washing/indoctrinating them with dogma that require them to just accept and obey?

      Just like Islam seems to paralyze critical thinking in many of its followers, I am afraid fundamentalist religious attitudes in the US are having precisely the same effect there. Not a simple problem to fix.

      Edit: I was just rated a "minus" by someone who must clearly have critical thinking issues. Kind of proves my point however.
      • Weak Hypothesis

        Critical thinking can be stifled by religion, cults, or standized tests. That said, American education seemed to do pretty good up through say the '60s. And the same religions exist now as they did then. In fact, today the general concensus is that religion plays less of a role in American life. Therefore, the hypothesis that religion is causing the demise of critical thinking needs refinement.

        My opinion is that aside from standardized tests, that students fall into one of the following:
        a) they think that they will be a star in the sports/entertainment business and therefore don't need to think
        b) the business system is so screwed up it makes no sense to try to learn anything since they won't get ahead

        Bottom line, it is a significant mess!
      • Weak analysis

        Critical thinking was much less of a requirement in simpler times, therefore the "decline" is probably an illusion. The current situation is more likely a failure to improve critical thinking skills commensurate with the increasing complexity of both science and society.

        There seems to be a fairly strong negative correlation between good, effective and stable government and the role religion plays in a society. Outliers do not invalidate this hypothesis. In addition, the distinction between between religions and cults is quite artificial and a matter of degree only. All religions try to control the behavior of their followers. Cults just seem stricter and at times "offensive", but the principles and objectives are the same: to control others for personal gain.

        Standardized tests can include critical thinking components, therefore I believe this is mostly a red herring, and in particular when a significant part of a persons critical thinking skills should come from the home. If Americans' ability to think critically were better a few decades ago, why did these "superior critical thinkers" fail to recognize the importance of passing this skill on to their children and grandchildren? You would think that should be the most obvious lesson of all.
      • Achieving a balance of belief and intellectual endeavor

        I agree that quite a number of religious organizations go overboard on belief in things which cannot be directly proven; but likewise, many advocates of critical thinking, neglect the fact, that every intellectual effort is actually an act of faith. E.g. if a person goes to a psychiatrist, and says he saw an alien creature from another planet, the psychiatrist will likely diagnose him with schizophrenia. Can the psychiatrist prove his patient didn't actually see an alien? No. But based on the psychiatrist's belief that aliens do not exist, he formred his diagnosis. Therefore the psychiatrist's diagnosis is based on a mixture of critical thinking, and belief or faith. The same is true throughout science, and forms the foundation of all our other thought processes. In lieu of our stark ignorance about the world around us, we create models of our world based on guesses / hypotheses, and try to establish logical relationships among its elements - and see if they correspond with observation. It is crucial for us to realize, that in every field, we cannot intellecutally scrutize something without filling in the blanks via belief. (There have been one or more exchanges between Captain Kirk and Spock on Star Trek, to that effect.)

        Therefore while we should admonish others to refrain from having blind faith (which the Christian Bible warns against as well) we should appreciate that belief or faith is also intricate to the intellectual process, and people need need to strike a balance between the two. I think Ronald Reagan made this point best when he said, "Trust, but verify."
        P. Douglas
  • Recent Interesting Discussion

    I had at a recent school meeting. It was more of a round table discussion on issues at the school.
    I led with the point that lack of emphasis on teaching and add teaching to standardized testing is eroding the useful skills children take with them from their grade/high school experience.
    Oh the responses :O Can we say "wow"!
    These broke down into two major buckets:
    1: we need more money to allow us to teach effectively (staff and parents) - yes the good old money will fix everything card
    2: it is difficult to teach effectively when all is being tied to testing and public perception - our hands are tied card
    There were a few teachers who felt they could teach better but lacked the flexibility to do so - constrained by the current system
    No easy answers but it was eye-opening on the division

    The topics later varied into tools for the students and the access to the internet for "research". Most teachers were against this while most parents were for it. I asked how is the internet different from an electronic edition of all encyclopedias? Most teachers said the books were more accurate even if they were out of date. What I did like was that some teachers actually came out and said they prefer students use the internet as it teaches the newer research skills and how to determine "good" from "bad" information - skills they can use going forward.

    This is a tough topic and I currently see no easy or even semi-easy answer.
  • Gen-Y workers

    Our company is trending towards gamification, pair-programming, etc. to make the work place "fun" so as to attract more younger workers. The newer college grads are educated with "games" and technology, and therefore their work ethic has become "if it is not fun then change jobs".

    We relayed the new work place culture to our Asian offices, and they were confused because the Asians still accept work as work, and most feel lucky to even have a job at lower wages than the western office counterparts.

    No wonder the Asian countries are growing faster than the Western countries.

    The problem is not about memorization vs critical thinking. The problem is more about discipline and work ethics because both memorization or critical thinking can be achieved with discipline and work ethics. Since the subsequent generations seem to have less discipline and work ethics, then they believe you can only have one or the other? And spend the extra time playing games or texting "LOL" on their friend's Facebook page?