Why Self Starter’s Guide? Why Does Education Need Changing?

Originally posted to Tumblr

In my last post [note: the one I’m referring to is only on Tumblr, as its focus is less specifically on Self Starter’s Guide] I discussed why I’m taking part in Orbital, and introduced the project I’ll be working on. But why this topic in the first place? Why my interest in the future of education? What do I want to help change or “fix” about it?

It’s not just about creating great content, or teaching specific skills. It’s not even entirely about building learning processes and communities. It’s about taking responsibility for the trajectory of the world and thinking about how we can best equip humanity to succeed. It’s about being generous and conscientious with our time and resources. It’s about leveling playing fields, removing barriers to knowledge and understanding and enabling people to unlock and leverage the resources they need to succeed. It’s about fostering creativity and a spirit of relentless curiosity, and questioning everything, including our current processes, models, and systems for teaching and learning.

Much of the substance of the average student’s learning path is just that — average. Taken for granted as a cookie-cutter, standardized thing. The model which dominates through high school (and often beyond) is the antithesis of customization, flexibility, and personal interest. Even in college, one’s sense of freedom is dampened by prescribed course requirements, and more importantly the overall structural orientation of the typical college experience, where regimented class formats (lecture or seminar, one semester, 1-3 times a week) and predictable social environs tend to dominate.

There are so many other ways in which learning can be structured — and a fundamental corollary is that there’s no one “right” or “best” one. Such structures should have as their origin the unique qualities that inform how an individual learns — interests, habits, mental models, strengths and weaknesses along vectors beyond the purely intellectual (personality, worldview, culture), goals and aspirations, life circumstances, and so much else not adequately addressed in standard educational settings.

I’m working on Self Starter’s Guide in large part because I want some way to explore and synthesize all my own interests — and obviously I’m biased, but I happen to enjoy learning about lots of things that I think are some of the most important, relevant skills and concepts for the trajectory our world/culture/economy is heading in.

I’ve read a lot about the future of education, the incipient MOOC revolution, the many ways in which software is eating the world, the flipped classroom, and more. But what’s had an even greater impact on me is reading about things like the Summerhill School, the “free school” movement and other, more humanized ways of envisioning how we can acclimate children into the complexity of the world on their own terms. Things like Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future?” which discusses how our approach to networks and value is all out of whack, how our misaligned incentive structures create extreme concentrations of wealth and power, to the detriment of the middle classes. These are big, important topics, and I’m not equipped to tackle the full force of such systemic problems — but I can make an effort to compile and share resources on the basics principles of ideas and fields I think matter enormously.

I want to at least attempt to provide information that can help people navigate some of the complexities and hurdles in designing their own education — because whether or not they’re being shunted towards obsolescence by techno-juggernauts, students are being failed by the modern schooling system when it comes to things like encouraging play and freedom and exploration. There’s always a small paradox because useful intellectual exploration and play often require certain guiding constraints — but I we can design constraints that still allow students to take the helm and test the waters and figure out through trial and error where they want to go.

A huge challenge for me is figuring out where to start — what’s the most high-leverage thing I can work on over the coming weeks in order to test these ideas out? What things are most critical for me to build and share?

My tentative two-part approach is:

Start making sections for some of the topics that seem most important — things like storytelling and media, networks and communities, creative entrepreneurship and marketing, design and process, experimentation and making — and publish relevant resource collections and introductory articles.
Create resources to help students design and implement a learning roadmap, and sustain a focused approach to learning more about these things — this could include a basic guide to education design, some exercises for students to do, interviews, and more.
I want to keep this fairly open ended; it could be something like a “21st century skills playbook”, but mostly I want to figure out how to narrow the aims of this down to something that could be reasonably launched in a few weeks.

I’m thinking of starting with an initial “vertical” around storytelling, since I already have a lot of content for that written and outlined. I’d like to interview some of the creative visionaries and leaders I most admire, compile case studies for interesting ways to learn, and accommodate a variety of learning preferences — but most of this, I think, can come later. For now, I want to work quickly to establish a functional structure and collection of useful content — however limited it may be at first — and work on getting feedback as soon as possible.

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