The emperor has no clothes, but the air temperature is still good…

I’m constructing this post from memory based on recent museums I’ve attended in Austria (I’m here for a panel at Microlearning 2006). I tried searching wikipedia, but was not able to find significant information beyond standard biography.

Kaiser Maximilian was a king/emperor in the late 1400’s/early 1500’s (Innsbruck was his home base). He has been referred to as “the last knight” – an indication of the substantial change occurring during his rule. The armies of previous centuries (armed knights, hand to hand combat) were giving way to the development of a cannons and explosives. Maximilian was able to overtake enemies due to his early recognition of fundamental change. Nations unable to sense and adapt to the core changes in how war was conducted were quickly conquered. The capacity for war of these defeated nations was as significant as ever (at least as I understand it). The key change was in the technology and method through which war was conducted. The environment had changed. Some nations didn’t adapt. Failure was the outcome.

What does this have to do with learning? I believe we are at a similar cross-road. We are moving to the age of the “last teachers” (classically viewed as dispensers of information and knowledge). We are at a point where the entire space of education has been changed. The previous “hand-to-hand combat” of learning has transitioned to group-based, collaborative (wisdom of the crowds), self-organizing, end-user in control, adaptive, sometimes chaotic, and systems views of learning.

I’m tired of writing this (perhaps not as tired as some are of reading it), but our educational structures don’t seem to understand what’s going on. I take some comfort from Will’s recent post: “If nothing else, the last two days here speaking to and with the superintendents from about 50 districts and the staff developers… made it clear that these people either get it or want to get it and will do whatever it takes to move the schools in a new direction.” Overall, I’m not convinced that this is the norm (though I can hope that it is the start).

Most frustrating for me, is that all indications (statistics in particular) support world-wide growth in formal education. A degree is a must in most fields. China, India, and other developing countries are investing significantly in their education systems. In US and Canada, trends indicate that enrolment is on the increase (as are costs). So, why am I (and people like Will Richardson and Stephen Downes) standing up and saying “the emperor has no clothes”? It appears that the system is very healthy, if gauged by enrolment.

The risk centers on the relevance of education. I’m sure the countries surrounding Austria in early 1500’s felt quite good about their knights – they were competent, protective armor was increasing in quality, and better swords were being made. It’s all good. Then Maximilian’s army arrives with a canon. Things changed fast. The problem is not that the existing system wasn’t healthy. The problem is the lack of recognition and reaction to foundational changes in the environment.

In terms of education, or existing system is healthy from an enrolment stand point. But it’s very unhealthy from a relevance standpoint. We have created our structures for stability and for one-way flow. We need to create our structures for adaptability and for maximum flexibility (i.e. responsiveness to core environment changes). This transition requires a reworking of how we organize our instructions, the types of tools we use, how we foster dialogue, how we engage each other etc. It changes everything. Instead of planning, we experiment (see Meyer and Davis’ “It’s Alive). Instead of hierarchy, we create networks. Instead of static spaces of information exchange, we foster ecologies.

As stated in the title of this post, the emperor has no clothes, but the air temperature is still good…

2 Responses to “The emperor has no clothes, but the air temperature is still good…”

  1. karyn_romeis says:

    The emperor may be stark-butt-naked, but the recruitment industry is loudest in its praise of the finery of his attire. Until they figure out an alternative way to shortlist applicants, other than the pieces of paper to each person’s name, we informally educated also-rans are forced to toe the party line, become self-employed or get used to the glass ceiling.

  2. allan says:

    It is quite interesting to read something so many need to know, and so few want to acknowledge.