Information Age Education
   Issue Number 16
April, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

"They know enough who know how to learn." (Henry B. Adams; American novelist, journalist, and historian 1838–1918.)

If you spend a day in a typical elementary or secondary school, you will see that the time is blocked into a number of courses or areas of study. In elementary school, the students tend to stay in one room, and the teacher changes discipline hats from time to time. This is conducive to facilitating transfer of learning among the various disciplines being studied.

In secondary school, students move from room to room, and a teacher may well wear the same discipline hat all day. This setting is more challenging to both teachers and students in terms of teaching and learning for transfer of learning.

Looking Back

HistoryThe development of written language necessitated a major change in education. Few students readily learn a written symbolic representation of their oral language and math. (Of course, Tarzan of the Apes was able to do it—but we all know he was truly exceptional!)

Thus, the original schools were set up to help a very select group of students learn the rudiments of written symbolic representation of spoken language.

Thomas Jefferson was a strong supporter of children receiving a free public education up through the third grade. He felt that this level of introduction to reading, writing, and arithmetic was essential to becoming a responsible adult citizen in the United States’ democratic form of government.

Although Jefferson did not talk about “transfer of learning,” what he expected was that students would take their rudimentary knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and do two things with it:
  1. Apply it (via transfer of learning) to all problems areas that the student encounters as he or she moves toward adulthood and then functions as a responsible adult citizen.
  2. Uses the foundational knowledge and skills as a basis for continue learning, either in school or outside of school.
Jefferson believed in students learning to learn on their own. In the quote given below, he provided advice to a person who wanted to study for the law (become a lawyer):

"All that is necessary for a student is access to a library, and directions in what order the books are to be read. This [list] I will take the liberty of suggesting to you, …”

Looking at More Current Times

CurrentI think that Thomas Jefferson would be pleased by the progress we have made in the first three grades of schooling helping students to learn the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and free public education for all.

Our educational system well understands the idea of learning to read well enough so that one can read to learn. This transition in emphasis tends to begin about the fourth grade and it is expected that by the end of the seventh grade students will be relatively good at reading to learn.

However, reading to learn is a major challenge to many students. Thus, multimedia aids have been welcomed into our educational system. Moreover, an “oral tradition” approach to education continues to play a major role—in some disciplines more than others. For example, relatively few of today’s high school students have learned to read math well enough so that they can learn math by reading. My personal feeling is that this represents a major flaw in our math education system.

Today’s multimedia world also has brought us the Web, a huge and rapidly growing global virtual library. While significant parts of this library charge for access, there is a huge amount of free material available. See, for example, http://iae-pedia.org/Open_Content_Libraries and http://iae-pedia.org/Open_Source_Textbooks. You also might find the following article to be of interest: Universities will be 'irrelevant' by 2020, professor says. See http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705298649/Universities-will-be-irrelevant.html.

The latter article describes the situation of the detailed content (for example, via video recordings of classroom lectures) of more and more courses being made available free on the Web.

And, of course, distance learning courses and programs of study are available for all levels of schooling. Gradually, high quality computer-assisted learning materials are being developed that can make significant contributions to such “traditional” coursework. Already, students can make use of distance learning and CAL to earn a high school diploma, an undergraduate college degree, and a variety of master’s and doctoral degrees.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureThere are many reasons why our current educational system is what it is. A traditional school is a place where students, human resources, library resources, and other resources are brought together in one place. In that place, students can readily interact with each other, with their teachers, and with the resources.

Now, many of the resources are online. Students and faculty can communicate with each other online. Many different resources can be shared via connectivity over the Internet. For example, it is now possible for research scientists and a growing number of students to access and control research equipment at a distance. It is now routine for teams of researchers (consisting of people, computers, and a variety of pieces of research equipment) to be located throughout the world, but to be working together on a problem or task.

A modern education system can prepare students for the lifelong learning challenges they will face as they continue in school after they leave school. Right now, this poses a major and largely unmet challenge to most school systems.

This is an educational problem that lends itself to both a top down and a bottom up approach. Each individual person can help address this educational challenge. You can address this challenge in your own ongoing lifelong education, and you can help the people (including students) that you interact with.


About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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