Traditional curricula may be too linear for modern education

Stewart Hase makes a compelling case for turning the modern education curriculum on its head. Instead of working through a curriculum that is designed to be order and structured around topics, we should be learning things based on solving complex problems that may incorporate all of the subject matter that we need to address.

Typical degree programs work on theory first followed by short intense practical experiences to arrive at a final result for the student. However, that is not how we learn in the real world. Our learning comes from having to address an issue through discovery and research tied to solving a particular problem.

So, we’ll end up reading up on a subject, looking for comparative experiences and working through a problem to come up with a solution. Hase suggests that it would be better for education to work on facilitating a similar environment than delivering a very fixed curriculum. We can’t say that we disagree. If the technology revolution has taught us anything is that we can, through the application of Lean UX principles, deliver amazing solutions to the world’s problems. Education may need to play catch up like so many other industries have had to do when faced with the dynamics of tech.

Technology is changing the way we tackle information and therefore it is easy to see how education may need to adapt to take into consideration that accumulating information and knowledge are not the driving forces of education that they once for, certainly not for practical skill building. 

Before talking about linear learning, I need to firstly point out, for the uninitiated that one of the issues raised by heutagogy is that dictionary and psychological definitions of learning are a little out of date. More recent neuroscience evidence has led me to think that learning can be thought of in at least two levels. There are probably more but two will suffice for now. On the one hand is the acquisition of knowledge and skills or what are better known as competencies. On the other is deeper learning, when we make associations in our brains that lead to Ah Ha! moments or new insights.

This deeper learning means that the learner is now seeing the world in a new light and has a whole set of new questions to ask based on this learning. It changes the course of their inquiry. This learning may not happen when learning competencies or when the teacher thinks it will. It may be days, months or years later and usually occurs when the person is doing something. Competencies are essential, no question of that, but they are the first step in learning–the minimal level.

Humans have a habit of thinking in a linear fashion. It’s not hard to know why we do this. Like a lot of human mental activity, it’s a short cut that saves us effort and energy: like fast thinking that Daniel Kahneman talks about. It also simplifies a complex world. We like to think in terms of this leads to that, then that and so on.  Humans like to find causation even when phenomena are only associated by temporal proximity. Explanations are important to us and if there isn’t a convenient one at had then we find one: hence our predilection for superstition in all its various forms.