Just in time foundations

by reestheskin on 01/08/2016

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Roger Schank is speaking at OEB 2016, and there is a post from him here on the OEB site.

His second sentence is:

Sorry to be a downer, but technology will change nothing if what is meant by technology is that we have new ways of delivering the same old material.

His suggestions include:

  • Eliminating all lectures. No one can listen to someone talk for an hour and get much out of it.
  • Creating a data base of stories (a minute and a half maximum length) that are the kinds of things people tell each other in natural conversations that produce recognition in the listener about the potential use of that advice.
  • Creating virtual experiences where learners get to pursue their interests in a world that reacts to what they do. If you want to be a fireman when you are ten years old, then you should get to be one (virtually) for as long as you like it. If you think you want to become a doctor, practice when you are ten on virtual patients and get advice from real doctors (in the form of video stories told just in time) when you make a mistake or ask for help.
  • Understanding that real teaching involves mentoring. When you have an idea or are trying something out, it is always a good idea to have someone available to ask a question. My daughter ran up the stairs to ask me a question when she was five. After I answered she said “I will be back when I need you again.” And she always has come back when she needs me again. Good parents are natural mentors. They never sit their kids down and give them an hour lecture. Teachers cannot be mentors typically because they have too many students to deal with at the same time and these students are typically not pursing goals they have chosen for themselves.

He goes on to argue how AI / tech can help.

I can agree with much, if not all of this (excepting the ten year old bit, if taken too literally). And building simulators of the ‘real world’ is where we need to be. But I still wrestle with what is foundational and how much preloaded material students need in order to allow them to make sense of the real world (‘preloaded material’, yes, I can hear the hackles…)

You might divide learning into ‘just-in-time’ and ‘foundational’. Foundational rightly has a bad name because most foundational learning is not foundational at all, but often reflects the prejudices of those who benefit from selling particular content. Medical degrees are stuffed full of foundational stuff that is nothing of the kind.

In medicine, you learn your craft by doing it, by seeing patients and diagnosing their ailments in the company of experts, and seeing what happens to them (supplemented by learning about what has happened to others); and by going back to the books and foundational concepts continually. But there is a framework that creates the clinical worldview, and that worldview has a language, that requires immersion.

One (and only one)  key goal of medical school is to enable to you to function in a clinical environment such that you can make sense of it, and learn from it. But that is not available to a novice, however bright, without a lot of ‘preloaded’ baggage. The question is about what the balance is between ‘preloaded’ and ‘just-in-time’. I think we obsess over the former and need to shift much more to the latter. But I do not know exactly how it will look in the end, although I know the direction of travel that is needed.

And yes, tech can help this, but not when PowerPoint is involved. He is right there, and has been for a long time.

[Alice Gopnik, in one of the John Brockman edited books (I think), remarked that although  she had spent much of her professional life studying how babies make sense of the world, little of any of these learning insights made it into how she delivered material to her university students or how they learned. Three years of lectures on cracking eggs, and then in the fourth, you get to do it.]