Education Versus Training


Factory training, 1941

Professional learning, often referred to as training, has been in companies for a long time.  But as a history of  training would show, that training is different from education and their evolutions have differed and crossed paths at times.

Education is instruction in more general knowledge, such as the history of the society, or mathematics. Training teaches how to do a specific task, such as building or running a machine.  As societies developed, there accumulated more knowledge than people could pick up on their own or learn informally from others.

That training history would reach back to antiquity when "On-The-Job Training" was the way people learned a job or career. In the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship was the new trend - learning from an expert while on the job. The Industrial Revolution brought about actual classrooms and factory schools with more formal training inside the company. 

I thought about this history when I was reading about the work of the Director of Learning at Slack, Kristen Swanson. Her job is to develop training for the tech company's employees and to help explain their messaging tool to customers around the globe. Swanson came to the company after an earlier career in EdTech. She started in education as an elementary school teacher, then served as a district director of technology, moved to directing a research department at BrightBytes, and then founded the Edcamp Foundation. That last role helped teachers run free, grassroots professional-development workshops. 

Directing learning at a company like Slack, must be very different, right? 

Amazon operates its own education division, Amazon Education. It currently offers products and services aimed at K-12 classrooms, such as TenMarks, an online math and writing program, and Inspire, a directory of online educational materials where teachers can find and share teaching materials. And Candace Thille, a professor of education at Stanford University, is now Amazon's Director of Learning Science and Engineering

A newish trend is for large technology companies to hire former educators to lead training and education efforts. Is professional learning outside academia becoming more like learning inside academia?

Returning to that training history, we saw that "vestibule training" emerged at the start of the 20th century blending the classroom with on-the-job training or "near-the-job" training. The training room was located close to the workplace and equipped with the same machines, equipment and technology that are used in production. The trainer was usually a skilled worker or supervisor, much like the much older apprentice model.

During and after the two world wars, there was a need to train large numbers of defense workers because of increased demand for products and a loss of workers to the military. Several shifts occurred during this period. Training was done by supervisors who were being trained how to teach. Training classes were smaller, generally 9-11 workers.

As training departments became established in many companies, so did ways of providing more efficient, less expensive methods of training. Individualized automated instruction came into play, and was the basis for CBT (computer-based training) which is still used in various forms in companies today.

Has training been learning from education, or has education been trying to include training in the curriculum?

Education Trends Are Technology Trends


I title this article "Education Trends Are Technology Trends" but I'm not sure I really agree with that statement. It does seem that way though if you look at the many articles about education trends and developments that appear at he end and beginning of years.

Reading one article by Bernard Bull about things to watch in this new year, he lists ten curricular trends to watch. But what I first noticed was how many involve technology.

Some from his list are obviously rooted in digital technologies:
AR and VR Education Software Tied to Curricular Standards
Citizenship and Digital Citizenship Curricula
Cartoon-ish and Simplistic Game-Based Learning Tied to State Testing
Increasingly Sophisticated Game-Based Curricula Across Disciplines
Reductionist Data Analysis Driving Curricular Decisions
Curricula Focused upon Non-Cognitive Skill Development
Self-Directed Learning Management Tools

I have been reading for years about how gamification and then it combined with applications of AR and VR would change education, but I still don't see it happening to any great extent. I wouldn't ignore it, but I don't believe 2018 will be dramatically different than 2017 in these areas.

But some items on his list that seem less tech-based, such as "Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning," still use tech. In writing about community-based programs, after-school programs, informal learning, self-directed projects, personal reading and experimentation, personal learning networks, and in-school and out-of-school extracurricular activities/hobbies/sports, Bull brings in things like digital badges. And the competency-based education movement, workforce development, corporate training, and continuing education are all areas that rely a great deal on digital applications.

Obviously, big data and learning analytics have made inroads into education, more at the administrative level I would say than in with individual teachers. This will expand this year. I agree with Bull that unfortunately we will pull more and more data, but still have "data-illiterate people trying to make sense of new data sources, dashboards, and incremental reports." This in the short-term will not be as useful as it could be.

Perhaps I am just old school, but I am still more interested in things like experiential education curricula and student-centered and self-directed learning projects that may not require any additional technology. What they may require is better partnerships with places that can offer students experiential education.

If you can look beyond test scores and ways to document progress based on state and national standards - and that is not easy for someone in a classroom, especially in K-12 - then self-directed learning can grow. I'm not sure that "Self-Directed Learning Management Tools" will be the reason it succeeds.

You could flip this post's title and ask if technology trends are education trends. If the new things for TV and media consumption is on-demand and streaming, will that move into education? It already has moved in. 

But who is driving the changes - technology or education? I would say it is technology, though it should be education. 

If I had to make one prediction for education in 2018, it would be: More of the Same.

Groundhogs and the Turn of the Year


groundhogToday is the anniversary for Serendipity35 which begins its thirteenth year of in existence. It's easy to remember because it is also Groundhog Day here in the U.S.

This is a rather silly celebration that is based on the notion that if the groundhog sees its shadow as it comes out of its den today, we have six weeks of winter to go. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog sees no shadow, it is a sign of coming spring and so it stays above ground. Why a cloudy day would signal an early spring and a sunny day would mean more winter has never made any sense to me.

If there is any fact or even some science to this silly day, it would be in the past. The ancient peoples and our own Native Americans knew that the behavior of animals, insects, and plants could help predict the weather. They took that to mean that these things might also be indicators of the coming and going of seasons. 

Consider it weather lore, but there are lots of ideas about how to predict the severity of winter based on natural indicators. If I want to make some leap to education here, I guess I would have to say that we do look to trends outside education (business, technology, media etc.) as ways to predict where education might be headed. I'm working on a piece for next week today about how corporate professional learning is pulling educators into top roles at companies like Amazon. Will that affect higher education?

My Groundhog Day tradition has become to watch the film, Groundhog Day, which I have seen many times (which is actually pretty meta if you know what the film is about). I believe that the film is a whole lot more than just a comedy, and I am not alone in that opinion. Connect the movie to education? Well, I have seen in my 40 years in education a lot of repeating of things with little changes in the hopes of making things better - a theme of the film. Most of the time it results in minor improvements, sometimes in worst results, but we keep trying new approaches. Sometimes we see sunshine or clouds and think it will indicate what is to come. It is a 50/50 possibility, so why not predict.

I do know that the vernal equinox will arrive on time, but even that may or may not mean that springlike weather will arrive. And I do know that the spring semester will end on time and a new one will begin whether or not we see a shadow.


Don't Fear the Singularity, Embrace the Multiplicity

HBO's Westworld, which both creates fear of singularity and points to some multiplicity

Have you heard Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk raising concerns about AI and the singularity? These are fears that others have voiced for many decades and that have filled science-fiction stories for even longer. Singularity is the term given to that point when machines will surpass us.

That point will arrive, though no predictions have so far been correct on when it will occur. A more reasonable approach seem to me to be what some have called the "multiplicity."  That is a way of viewing what is coming as a time of humans working more closely with machines rather than humans versus the machines.

An article in Wired quotes C Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg as saying that the multiplicity is "something that's happening right now, and it's the idea of humans and machines working together.” 

I know all the automotive buzz is about driverless cars, but today in my car algorithms are guiding me to my destination, reminding me to stay in my lane, gently applying the brakes and steering when I am less attentive than I should be. My new car seems to be constantly flashing and beeping about something. I fear that the more it does, the more it distracts me from driving. Okay, maybe not that bad.

It is one thing to put your learning into the virtual hands of algorithms, but I am already entrusting a bit of my life protection in the car to them.

The multiplicity concept is not that new. A talk at Davos in 2015 points out that though there are now over a million robots working in factories around the world, we still don’t have them in our homes.

Hans Moravec pointed out 3 decades ago that “Tasks that are hard for humans, like precision spot welding, are easy for robots, while tasks that are easy for humans, like clearing the dinner table, are very hard for robots.”

The hospital robot that delivers drugs and linens to nurses and the ones in warehouses rolling 24/7 through the aisles scanning inventory or puling out items for orders hasn't necessarily surpassed humans in intelligence. But it is willing to work all day and night without breaks or pay. Do all robots replace humans? Much research says no, that they are more likely to enhance human workers or change what humans will do. 

But the fear of the singularity remains.

Amazon's fulfillment centers use around 100,000 robots to bring products to people who are still better at packing them for shipping. Those clever robots still have trouble with simple human tasks like picking up things with their end effectors (hands).

The word multiplicity actually makes me think of a comedy film with Michael Keaton. In that Multiplicity, an overly busy human is able to clone himself multiple times in order to get done all the things he wants to do and still have time to live a life with his family.  

An update of that 1996 film would probably change cloning to robots. 

And that has really been the ultimate goal with AI and robots - to empower humans, not replace them. But the job-killing robot scenario is a tough one to dispel and you can find examples of jobs that disappear because of automation. San Francisco is supposedly considering a tax on robots that replace human workers.

Long before robots, automation threatened and replaced some human labor. The transition to common robot and AI use in our lives will likely be more gradual.

Yes, Westworld is scary, both in how the robots interact with humans, and in how the humans treat the robots.

When the singularity does arrive, make sure you know how to power down that robot.