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An Education Revolution: Automate and Humanize!

Posted: 12/03/11 12:58 PM ET

Kids these days... all the time they spend plugged in to all those video games. Isn't it terrible?

Or is it?

While many parents and teachers lament over what a waste of time video games are, they are walking past a historic opportunity. The only thing being wasted here is the true value and potential of these technological marvels. Instead of decrying them, we could be using these high-tech "toys" to create a revolution in education and training.

"Kids these days, they have no attention span... " Oh no? These games take our kids into a highly immersive, interspatial, 3D world where they learn how to operate a breathtaking range of tools, including futuristic vehicles, complex weapons, and other machines. Take a few minutes to really watch them in one of these games. They pour hours into memorizing elaborate scenarios and developing the most sophisticated strategies and tactics to accomplish goals and win the game.

And they don't do all this alone. Often you'll find them wearing a headset, collaborating with teammates from all over the world, sometimes even using cordoned off sections of the screen to videoconference so they can collaborate face-to-face in complex real-time solutions.

How often do you do that with your colleagues?

Blending Machines and People

In 1983 I forecasted that shortly after the year 2000 we would have the tools to automate education, and at the same time humanize education, for the first time in history.

Automate and humanize? How can those two go together? Simple: automate those parts that aren't fit for humans to teach.

Anyone who has ever tried to teach a kid how to multiply knows how hard that job is. (Try teaching a child what an adverb is long enough and you'll develop a facial tic). But set the student up with an interactive, electronic game that is fun, competitive, and self-diagnostic, and suddenly teaching these basic subjects becomes both efficient and effective.

Does that make teachers obsolete? Quite the opposite: it frees them to teach the higher levels of the cognitive domain -- analysis, problem solving, synthesis, and creative thinking. The parts teachers normally never get around to because they're too bogged down in the basics.

Let the Xbox teach kids about the parts of speech and free the teachers to help kids learn how to put those parts of speech together into something that has depth and meaning. Let technology teach our kids how to add and subtract and do basic algebra, and then pair them with some creative human teachers to sink their teeth into using that math to solve real problems -- like how to balance our national budget.

Automate, and humanize.

Free our teachers to do what it is they got into teaching to do in the first place, instead of beating their heads against the wall at the lower cognitive levels and losing their love of teaching, or even leaving the profession altogether.

Even as we make education genuinely fun and engaging for our students, we can do the same for our teachers. In fact, we must.

Think "Both/And"

The fully-immersive, three-dimensional, fully-networked, advanced-simulation environments of gaming systems like Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii can create some amazingly powerful learning tools, not only for K-12 public education but for college-level academics and business, too.

You may be thinking, "But we don't want our kids on games all day! That's not good for them." I agree. Variety is the spice of life -- and learning.

So when you look to the future of education, don't think "either/or." Think "both/and."

"Either/or" says either it's all humans teaching or all machines teaching. "Both/and" says we can have the kids using machines sometimes, and have teachers interacting with them and taking them to the next level at other times. We need both.

Automate and humanize.

Step into the Future

What happens to our kids after they spend hours of such concentrated communication and sophisticated strategic collaboration in this advanced 3D learning environment? They unplug, shut down their machines... and head off to school.

They must feel like they're stepping into a time machine -- one that takes them backwards.

Meanwhile in India, China, and other countries with rapidly emerging economies, where millions of families are migrating from no-tech rural areas to the cities in search of opportunity, kids are taking exactly the opposite trip. When those kids enter the classroom, they feel like they're stepping from the past into a future of rich potential.

Of the two groups of kids, which do you suppose is more motivated to learn in school?

You see why we need a revolution in education?

Too often adults see video games as a negative, but that's only because of our thinking. We tend to think that "automation" means "no more human jobs," but that's not true either.

When you move past "either/or" and embrace a "both/and" mindset, you step into a future where games and education, automation and humanizing, go hand in hand and lead to real solutions to today's crisis in education and training.

And that future could be happening right now.

 
 
 

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