The half-life of knowledge and the shape of education
We do find ourselves in challenging times. Our economy is changing rapidly. From agrarian to industrial to service-oriented to information-oriented all in just over a century. And what of this information?
Technology is placing unique requirements on people in the workplace, compelling a sharp focus on training and education. One of the most persuasive factors is the shrinking half-life of knowledge. The “half-life of knowledge” is the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete. Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD). Benchmarks Online
How do we prepare our children for a world in which the need for information is expanding so rapidly, and in which the knowledge we are presenting them with today may well be obsolete by the time they graduate? How do we structure our education system to meet these challenges? And how do we overcome them in our homeschools?

While preparing students for the 21st century may be one of the stated goals of No Child Left Behind, I doubt that increased standardized tests and the increasingly standardized curriculum are going to meet the needs of an increasingly diversified economy. George Siemens challenges the dominant learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism with an interesting alternative: connectivism. I think I agree with Professor Verhagen that what he proposes is more of a pedagogical view than a learning theory, but that isn't what I want to explore. I think the quote he shares summarizes the view pretty well:
Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).
In essence, what he appears to be arguing is that we no longer need to know how and why, but where and whom. It is of little importance what we know, but that we know where to go to get the information when it is needed. It is an alluring theory.

But I'm not sure that I wholly accept the basis, yet. The amount of knowledge set before us is a bit overwhelming and beyond the capability of any single human to process. Networks of systems and people are vital for processing even the minimum required for a small business. But if all you had were the network and the knowledge of how to use that network, would you be educated? Would you be suited for any station in life? Without some depth of understanding, are you really able to process the information, much less contribute anything new?

It reminds me of the superficiality of knowledge D.H. Lawrence discusses in his essay, perhaps intensified by the use of technology, but still relevant. We may know more superficially, but this seems at the expense of actually understanding anything. And how are we of value if all we can do is connect with others? Each member of the network needs to possess an area of expertise, something to contribute to that network. Each needs to know something deeply.

There was another time in our history when we stood at the threshold of a radically different world. How were we to prepare for it? How did the education of our founding fathers prepare them to invent that new world? And what gave rise to this booming information-oriented economy in the first place?

It wasn't a centralized education system focused on giving every child the same education. As Noah Webster writes in his essay, On the Education of Youth in America,
Artificial wants multiply the number of occupations, and these require a great diversity in the mode of education.
If we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century, now more than ever we need a diversified education system. Local control, not centralized control, will keep us competitive in the 21st century.

, ,