Information Age Education
   Issue Number 198
November, 2016   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Adding a 4th R to the 3Rs of Education

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” (Carl Rogers; American psychologist; 1902-1987.)

“Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed.” (Seymour Papert; South African/American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator; 1928-2016.)

This is the fourth in a sequence of five IAE Newsletters focusing on possible changes designed to significantly improve our educational systems. The first explored Robert Branson’s Upper Limit Hypothesis (Moursund, October, 2016a). Branson argues that it will take a major paradigm shift (most likely based on computer technology) to significantly improve educational outcomes.

The second of the newsletters explored some of the challenges of setting and improving educational goals, effectively implementing these educational goals, and developing good measures of how well we are achieving the goals (Moursund, October, 2016b). Remember, every student is unique, and education is a very complex and challenging endeavor.

The third newsletter listed and briefly discussed a number of ongoing and new changes in our world that are affecting and/or probably should be affecting education (Moursund, November, 2016). That newsletter mentions Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a yen and yang change agent—one having both positive and negative impacts.

The 4th R

Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic (math) are both disciplines of study and tools that are useful across all curriculum areas. In the early 1970s, when computers began to be widely available, Art Luehrmann and other computer-oriented educational leaders strongly recommended that all students should become Computer Literate (Moursund, 2016b). Many suggested that all students should learn some computer programming and that all should learn to make effective use of some basic computer tools.

Clearly, Computer Science is an important discipline in its own right and computers are also a powerful aid to representing and solving problems throughout the curriculum. That is, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is both a discipline of study and a broad-based tool, just as are the 3Rs.

More recently, the term Computational Thinking has come into common use (Moursund, 2016a). This term can be thought of as describing our current insights into Computer Literacy (Carnegie Mellon, n.d.):

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking is thinking in terms of abstractions, invariably multiple layers of abstraction at once. Computational thinking is about the automation of these abstractions. The automaton could be an algorithm, a Turing machine, a tangible device, a software system—or the human brain. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Computational Thinking is a “mouth full” and it seems to me it would be difficult to convince our educational systems that students should be learning the 3Rs and Computational Thinking. Hmmm. How about the 3Rs and Computational Reasoning? Aha! A 4th R!

However, lots of people have thought about adding a 4th R to the 3Rs. My 11/9/2016 Google search of the expression 4Rs in education produced more than 280,000 results. Considerable browsing led me to the conclusion that people writing about the 4Rs in education tended to be interested in variations of Responsibility, Respect, Resourcefulness, and Responsiveness. In some cases, one of these terms was added to the conventional 3Rs. These suggested changes to the 3Rs miss the point of each of the 3Rs being both a discipline of study and a fundamental cognitive tool.

The remainder of this IAE Newsletter focuses on this definition of the 4Rs.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Computer technology first became commercially available in the early 1950s. During the ensuing 65 years, the price to performance ratio of computer hardware has decreased by a factor of more than a billion. Moreover, computer software has been steadily improved. Today’s PreK-12 students take for granted such things as computerized toys and games, Smartphones, the Internet and Web, robots, and artificial intelligence. Us “older folks” can compare the world of today’s youth with the world we grew up in. In terms of ICT and other technology, a short summary is: What a difference!

We all recognize that not all of the change is for the better. Moreover, there are huge worldwide differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in terms of access to ICT.

One such change that we have all seen is an increasing worldwide competition for employment and a major change in the nature of employment. Many middle class jobs have disappeared (Moursund, April, 2014; Moursund, 10/9/2012). Moreover, many of today’s white-collar jobs require skills in using computers as an aid to solving problems, answering questions, and accomplishing tasks.

The next section looks to the future and addresses the question, “What technological developments will have the greatest impact on our future?”

Artificial Intelligence Today

Here is a recent answer from Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review (Kelly, 10/26/2016):

By far, the greatest impact in the coming decades will be due to artificial intelligence [AI]. It will equal or exceed the scale of changes brought about by the industrial revolution. That revolution was ignited by our invention of artificial power—steam power, motors, electricity—which greatly amplified and extended the natural power of muscles. Up until then, the only way to make things was to employ animal or human muscle.

Once we harnessed artificial power and delivered it as a commodity on a grid, we could build skyscrapers, railways, factories, and the entire world of modernity. This artificial power transformed everything in our lives, from business, to education, to the military, to science, and beyond.

With the coming of artificial intelligence, we are going to repeat that revolution. Instead of merely harnessing 250 virtual horses as we speed down the highway in our car, we are going to add 250 virtual minds and make it a self-driving car.

As we deliver this AI as a commodity on the grid so that anyone can purchase as much AI as they want, we will begin to cognify everything that we formerly electrified. Cheap, ubiquitous, ever-improving AI will transform everything in our lives. It will be a second industrial revolution. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Kevin Kelly emphasizes the steadily growing importance and capabilities of artificial intelligence. This is an area of research and development in which thousands of researchers are building on the previous research and development of their colleagues and previous workers in this field. I like to think of a new AI-based tool as an aid to human capabilities than can be mass produced and distributed quickly and widely.

Often it requires only a modest amount of time and effort to learn to make effective use of such new tools. For example, consider natural language translation by computer. From time to time I receive an email message written in a language that is foreign to me. I copy it, and paste it into a free service such as Google Translate. I get an immediate translation that typically serves my needs.

AI is different from “human” intelligence. Thus, humans and computers bring somewhat different cognitive abilities to solving problems and accomplishing tasks. Humans and computers working together can often out-perform either working alone.

From the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age

In terms of education, ponder the following question, “If a computer can solve or greatly help in solving a problem, answering a question, or accomplishing a task, what do we want students to learn about dealing with the problem, question, or task?”

You are aware that the same type of question can be applied to the tools developed during the Industrial Age. We have had well over two hundred years to answer this question for steam engines and subsequent inventions such as: trains and steamships; electrical power, telegraph and telephone; radio and television; gas powered and electric powered cars; airplanes and space shuttles; and worldwide trade and travel. All of these except space travel were developed before electronic digital computers first became available.

Many argue that our current PreK-12 educational systems are still best described as Industrial Age. But the world has moved on. The Information Age officially began in 1956, when the number of white-collar jobs in the United States first exceeded the number of blue-collar jobs (Moursund, 2016c). In the Information Age, a steadily increasing proportion of employment involves working with data, information, knowledge, and so on. Figure 1 explores Arthur C. Clarke’s Cognitive Understanding Scale (Clarke, n.d.).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Arthur C. Clarke’s Cognitive Understanding Scale.

As noted in the second newsletter in this IAE Newsletter series, we are now well into the Knowledge Age, which began in the early 1990s. Currently there are huge disparities among the precollege educational systems of the world in terms of how well they are taking advantage of the technology and steadily accumulating human knowledge of this new Knowledge Age (Moursund, 2016b).

Educational Change Agents

The term change agent usually applies to a person who is trying to make a change in an organization. I use the term more broadly, as I include computers and other tools as change agents.

The Knowledge Age is building on the Information Age, which built on the Industrial Age, which built on the Agricultural Age. We currently have a vast range of physical and cognitive tools, and the combined capabilities of both are rapidly increasing. Robots provide an excellent example of combining Industrial Age machinery and Knowledge Age tools.

But wait, there’s more! Consider the progress that is occurring in cognitive neuroscience, health and medicine, the behavioral sciences, and our understanding of how poverty, bullying, and social unrest affect learning. And, consider the fact that the world is facing a wide range of problems (Moursund, October, 2016b). Many of these problems, such as population pressures, lack of fresh water, and rising sea levels, are growing rapidly.

I hope it is clear to you that our educational systems need to appropriately accommodate the growing host of change agents, and that these change agents are themselves rapidly changing. I believe that the foundations of a good modern education now lie in the 4Rs described at the beginning of this newsletter. It is very important to keep in mind that the 4th R (Computational Reasoning) strongly impacts the first 3 (conventional) Rs.

Integrating the 4th R into Education

An obvious challenge to integrating the 4th R into education is the cost of the needed hardware, software, and connectivity. But, the economically developed nations are well along in meeting that challenge. The cost is modest relatively to the total costs of education in these economically developed nations.

The huge educational challenge will be integrating ICT capabilities and uses into the teaching, learning, and use of the current 3Rs. As students learn the conventional 3Rs starting in PreK or earlier, the 4th R comes into play. Their teachers need to be familiar with appropriate roles of ICT throughout the PreK curriculum as well as in the everyday life of students outside of school.

This same challenge applies to teachers at all grade levels. We expect teachers at all levels and in all subject areas to have an appropriate level of reading, writing, and arithmetic knowledge and skills. By the time a person obtains teacher certification, the person has been studying and making use of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic for about 17 or 18 years of schooling (kindergarten through a bachelor’s or master’s degree). The task of bringing all current teachers and all new teachers to this level of 4th R knowledge is indeed daunting!

Let’s use writing, one of the current 3Rs, as an example. We have long included use of graphic images as part of writing for books, magazines, and journal articles. But, “ordinary” people could not take a photograph and integrate it into their written letters and other writings. Now, children can easily accomplish this task of adding images as they write using a computer.

In writing using a word processor, one can easily take advantage of aids such as spelling and grammar checkers, a wide variety of type faces and sizes, nicely formatted tables of data, and so on. So, our educational systems now face the challenge of teaching students topics such as design, layout, use of various fonts, and use of graphics in desktop publication. Moreover, when writing for online publication, one can also make use of video, as well as touch sensitive buttons and other links. This is another huge educational challenge, and it is certainly not beyond the learning capabilities of even relatively young students.

Nowadays, tables and collections of data are generated using spreadsheet and database software. However, it is by no means easy to learn to make effective use of spreadsheets and databases. These are powerful aids to representing and solving a wide range of problems, and many people skilled in their uses make their living applying such knowledge and skills. So, this constitutes another challenge to implementing the new 4Rs.

You can see the gist of the conversation. The 4th R —which includes all aspects of the discipline of Information and Communication Technology—is both a major area of study in its own right and is a powerful change agent in each of the traditional 3Rs.

ICT-based Aids to Learning the 4Rs and Other Curriculum Content

The development of reading, writing, and arithmetic created a need for formal schooling and certainly changed the world. For the 5,200 years since these tools were first developed, our educational systems have gradually become better at teaching the 3Rs. However, as pointed out in the first newsletter of this miniseries, this progress seems to have nearly plateaued perhaps 20 years ago (Moursund, October, 2016a).

Through the work of Benjamin Bloom and others, we have long known that a knowledgeable and skilled individual tutor is a powerful aid to learning (Moursund, August/September 2000). For many years, educators have been working on developing computer-assisted learning systems that incorporate some of the characteristics of an individual tutor. We now have a growing number of Highly Interactive, Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) systems. While these have not yet reached the level of highly skilled individual tutors—they have surpassed many of the skills of teachers working with classes of 20 to 40 or more students (Moursund, 9/11/2011). We can look forward to the time that HIICAL-based units of instruction and full courses span the curriculum. Learning to learn from HIICAL systems is a key component of a modern education.

Remember that HIICAL is steadily improving. Also, HIICAL systems can make use of information stored on the Web, voice input, voice output, computerized language translation, and so on.

Moreover, good HIICAL systems are both tutor and tool. That is, the software needed in a good HIICAL system can solve or help to solve a very wide range of problems. This is a key idea, so let’s carry it a little further. We are used to the idea of learning to read and then reading to learn. We are also used to the idea of the Web as a gigantic online library that can help in solving a very wide range of problems. Thus, think of the Web as both a tool and an aid to learning, much as we think of learning to read and then reading to learn.

Final Remarks

We are well along in moving from the Information Age into the Knowledge Age. In the future, artificial intelligence and other computer-based aids to posing, representing, and solving problems will greatly supplement the physical and cognitive capabilities of humans. This ongoing change will require ongoing changes to all levels of our educational systems.

Our educational systems can be greatly improved through the thorough integration of the newly defined and expanded 4Rs of reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and reasoning. Our educational systems can also be improved (will be) by integrating the routine use of HIICAL into the curriculum at all levels.

I suspect that most people do not understand the magnitude of the staff development challenges faced by current teachers and the changes that will need to occur in our preservice teacher education programs. Our current educational systems are based on curriculum content, pedagogical processes, and assessment that are thoroughly intertwined with a three Rs-based educational system and largely ignore the 4th R.

The 4th R greatly adds to and changes the current 3Rs. In addition, it is both a large content area in its own right, and it is a major change agent in curriculum instruction, and assessment. I believe the 4th R will produce more change in education than all of the changes we have seen since the current 3Rs became such a powerful force in our educational systems many hundreds of years ago.

The magnitude of this challenge suggests we need a major change in inservice education and continuing professional development for all teachers. The task of being a professional teacher must include substantially more time and resources for staff development than our schools currently provide. Learning on the job must become a much larger part of being a professional teacher.

References and Resources

Clarke, A. (n.d.). Sir Arthur’s quotations. Arthur C. Clark Foundation. Retrieved 11/9/2016 from

Carnegie Mellon (n.d.). Center for Computational Thinking. Retrieved 11/7/2016 from

Kelly, K. (10/25/2016). This is what the future will look like. Huntington Post. Retrieved 11/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2016a). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 11/7/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2016b). Computer literacy in 1972. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 11/7/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2016c). Information Age. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 11/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (November, 2016). Ongoing and new world problems. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 11/16/2016 from

Moursund, D. (October, 2016a). Robert Branson’s upper limit hypothesis. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 11/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (October, 2016b). Striving to improve education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 11/9/2016 from

Moursund, D. (April, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 5: The first machine age. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 11/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (10/9/2012). Computerization of jobs. IAE Blog. Retrieved 11/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (9/11/2011). Intelligent computer tutor systems. IAE Blog. Retrieved 11/7/2016 from

Moursund, D. (August/September, 2000). Roles of IT in improving our educational system. Part 1: Introduction to the science of teaching and learning. Learning and Leading with Technology. Retrieved 11/7/2016 from


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and co-editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See


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