Al Meyers

social enterprenuer, community activist, inventor, artist, peop, AICPA


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What if the TED Community worked together to build the model 21st century learning environment? What would it look like?

The TED Community has some of the most innovative minds in the world. This goes beyond TED-ED. We have digital media experts, researchers, educators, public policy experts, politicians and entrepreneurs. The community has all of the tools and resources in it to become the ultimate disruptive innovator in education. What about adding a new type of fellow: a TED-ED Fellow, and have them work together on a project to design a new learning environment, and one that can be scalable. Then take the "idea" and use the financial resources of TED to turn it into an "idea worth doing."

The model would need to account for teacher training, compensation and evaluation; curriculum standards, learning pedagogy, and funding sources, to name a few factors that need to be accounted for.

I believe there's no better brain trust in the world to tackle this project than an open-source TED collaboration.

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    Jun 6 2011: This question has been on my mind so much in the past few years. Recently I've seen some exciting things happen!

    First, SF Brightworks announced its existence, it's space, and more. Brightworks is a totally different take on the education model - different subjects are quite integrated and the kids direct the flow of things with their passion. Here's a link to their website linking to one of their TEDx talks:
    I almost thought such a radical move wasn't possible because I hadn't seen it happen. Thumbs up to the "Game School" Quest to Learn, where game designers are behind the curriculum again hoping to get kids passionate about learning. (I see the tag "games as educational tools up there".)

    The other thing is an upcoming TEDx conference in the Bay Area, California. I'm doing some social media marketing for them, and in the process learning a lot about ways people are trying to integrate compassion into education - a topic we focused on this week in fact on our Facebook page (which I have to link to, since I'm doing social media marketing: ). One of my favourites is the Roots of Empathy program which brings infants and mothers into the classroom periodically over the school year, allowing the students to connect with this tiny being that needs their care, and thus to participate in the rapid development. This idea is just so far out of the box of current school systems, it blew me away.

    I'm looking forward to getting in depth with this and many other ideas about incorporating emotional and social learning into education. The TEDx GoldenGate ED conference is coming up in just a week, and I believe it will be webcast - stay tuned to for info on that if you're interested. I look forward to this conversation developing!
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      Jun 6 2011: Albert,

      Thanks for sharing so much information about such great learning initiatives. Are there any real barriers to creating initiatives like these in other parts of the U.S. and the world? I think the success of each of these ideas shows that there is a business model that can support "out of the box" learning initiatives.
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        Jun 8 2011: Yes, I think it's a daunting task, but if there are people in the community ready to support such an endeavour, it can happen, with no shortage of hard work. Of course there are the very real barriers of finding that support, both people-wise and financially, but these are not insurmountable.

        Finances I can't speak too, but I would like to say this about people: the fear I would have is that parents would not want to risk their children's future, gambling them in some untested, non-traditional form of education. I imagine parents asking questions such as "Will the kids learn all that is important?" and "Will they be able to function at the next level of schooling?". As it turns out, (in the case of the communities where these schools/programs exist) there are plenty of parents who feel as we do, that the existing educational system is broken and they are looking for one of these out-of-the-box initiatives. So as long as the parents and the new-school school connect, people are no problem.
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          Jun 9 2011: Yes, parents rightfully do fear (in many cases) that non-traditional forms of education will be inadequate -- even compared to the current system. However, Gever Tully's SF Brightworks school is helping to solve that issue. The Brightworks school is working to build relationships with universities to ensure graduates have plenty of higher ed access (
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    Jun 21 2011: To me, to design the education of the future, one trend must be absolutely broken, and that is the idea that all education must be commercially "useful" and "marketable". The education of the future must be open to fundamental science (inherently "useless"), to poetry, to art, to the highly abstract and the slightly absurd. To dreams. Moreover, all senses must be cultivated (currently, there is too much Cartesian focus on the brain, whereas our entire body is a source of knowledge and guides the brain; the role of the computer and internet should therefor not be exaggerated, the body as such is a seriously powerful sensory computer that is often neglected).

    If these uttterly "useless" features are not included, and if the body gets neglected, we will create a dull world of technocrats, bureaucrats and marketeers - an utter disaster for mankind.

    On another note, and referring to your title: perhaps a single striking feature of the future "model" will be that there is exactly no single "model" at all, but rather loose open-source structures that can be molded and adapted to myriad needs (or better: desires). The education of the future might be at once highly individualized (catering to specific desires) and highly collective (networked, peer-based, socially relevant).
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      Jun 25 2011: Laurens,
      Yes. You indicate a good direction for educational systems. (180 degrees from the industrial model!)
      Always, the question remains: what will this look like?

      Poetry, music, dance, basic science and many other areas of learning and living expand the concept of "useful"--as they should. This usefulness or value is beyond commercial or monetary. How about quality of life? Maybe we need metrics to help us measure the benefit of experiences that are not defined by profit margins.

      For example, my quality of life is only partially defined by my income level. I think that revolutionizing education in the best possible ways will include revolutionizing our thinking about our larger contexts as well. As for the "open-source" aspect, my best guess is that it would be most effective to look at the human developmental windows for learning and a child's growing ability to make valid choices about what to learn.

      In order to develop the best model, given what we now know, expertise would be needed from many different areas of study.

      I'm so sorry I can't tell you what this would look like, but your "open-endedness"
      and, to quote Michelle Holliday: "So that's the pattern: mix together divergent parts, convergent wholeness, dynamic relationships, and then let life do its self-integrating thing."

      divergent parts = input from research, business, artists, game developers
      convergent wholeness = it's all about tomorrow's child being ready to live a full life
      dynamic relationships = among students as well as global networking
      self-integrating = freedom to grow rather than micro-managed structured schedules

      Thank you for sharing,
    • Jul 1 2011: I agree. Like there is no one perfect spaghetti sauce there is no one perfect education system. Every kid has their own way to study and learn. Today's schools only cater to one kind of student. The student with the most structured, focused minds. Perfect to plug and play in today's world of industry and commerce.
  • Jun 18 2011: It would look like an R,P,G, (not rocket propelled grenade). A game of me. I chose my character then i gain exp in each skill class. As i advance up, something else might catch my interest. Dual class here i come baby.... I would have the freedom to study whatever interests me while at the same time following my main interest. We would no longer have to study unrelated, dictated subjects ordained by a tie in a suit in a stuffy office. So long as my character achieves the experience to level up there should be no interference. I would be able to study at my pace with flexibility to switch and chase other options. An online environment where i can search for the best teachers / mentors world wide and participate in projects that could change the world even from elementary school. That is what i call an education.
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    Jun 11 2011: What a terrific conversation to initiate for purposes of creating a 21 century learning environment. This is a topic of constant concern to me. In particular I am working on a paper with fellow colleagues to look at converging and parallel themes found in literature about learning, innovative schools around the world, coaching principles and approaches, and success research looking at the predictors and factors of success for folks with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. With an eye for outcome and commonality, I wonder if one could not combine principles/approach that are basic enough to rather than "prescribe" a solution sketch it out with basic elements that must be tailored to a specific context.

    And what if the actual process of designing such a sketch becomes itself a learning environment? For I believe for us as humans to continue to reinvent what is best and needed requires a process of ongoing exploration with a mindful eye to response, outcome, shifts, needs, etc. as an approach built into the environment and learning effort. With today, we have technology as a great resource.

    Resources/thinkers about learning communities are:
    Ellen Langer - The Power of Mindful Learning
    Sir Ken Robinson of course
    Peter Senge et al - "Schools that learn"
    Ricardo Semler's work "lumiar educational institute"
    Parker Palmer's perspectives of learning
    Learning and the Brain conferences
    Adele DIamond - neuroscientist specializing in learning
    Marva Collins

    to name a few...
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    Jun 9 2011: Thanks to everyone who has commented to date. Some great examples here. I am very familiar with Katie Salen's "Quest to Learn" initiative in NYC. She is a colleague of mine. While I am a believer in using game-based learning in the classroom, I believe that video games is only one of many digital elements that needs to be threaded into the learning environment. I'm a big fan of "blended learning," and what is most critical is that a new "model school" design can be crafted by this community that is scalable. That's the current challenge facing education reform in the United States.

    And to address one of the comments herein, the focus of this "idea" is K-12. The formative years provide the foundation for everything else.

    Regarding Gina's questions about barriers in other countries, I suggest you read the whitepaper I alluded to previously. The difference is that in the leading countries (Singapore, Finland, Korea, etc.), they have made education a top priority and created a flexible architecture with which to work with. We have had a very static model for hundreds of years.

    More on this soon. Keep the comments coming.

    And to Albert's point about risking children's futures, I think anything we do is far superior to what they're getting now. The key is to create a model, research its progress, and then replicate the success. In this way, you could even deploy this "disruptively," which is the name of the game. If you take on the establishment head on, you will fail every time.
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      Jun 10 2011: I agree that the current challenge is scalability. I think this requires thinking about training on the 'teachers' end of things, and the rest of the people that make up the schools infrastructure, which is something that has only recently come to my attention. Good food for thought!

      Blended learning does seem to be the way to go here, mixing not only academic subjects, but also emotional and social learning. It's a major shift to our normal, categorization-focused approach, and will take some work to re-orient the thinking of the staff of such a school. I think one key thing is to treat children as capable and intelligent, with ideas worth listening to, not just kids who will sit there and learn what one has to say. Not having a system with right and wrong answers, and with set grades, etc, with a focus on book-academic-intelligence is a big change too, but I think it's the way to go as well. It requires teachers to be really engaged: they can't just phone it in with a lesson plan from 4 years ago, instead they have to actively engage and be engaged by the students, constantly adapting to the children around them.

      Also, I totally agree that our system stinks and anything we do will be better; that fear is not my own, but one I suspect some parents will have. However, I have seen that there are enough parents who agree with our view to make these 'new schools' work. And once others see their success, any fear will be dissuaded. Oh, and 'disruptive' deployment is almost certainly the way to go. Of course, as we have said, he problem is replicating the success...

      Finally, I'm sure many of you ave seen it, but this RSAnimate, based on a talk by Sir Ken Robinson, was, and still is, a major inspiration for me:
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    Jun 7 2011: Delivering an explicit curriculum is the problem - immediate question: who decides on the content?

    Probably not the learner sitting in the classroom.

    There's no need to be concerned over IT. Combined with the human natural ability to learn, its self-teaching.

    We obviously need to supervise and guide this process, but I wouldn't get bogged down in drawing models and flow-charts to best optimise what kids do perfectly anyway.

    Ultimately, it will be the same as ever - we'll need teachers with good people and communication skills, to foster excitement and inquisitive minds.
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      Jun 11 2011: Being an educator, I totally agree with you as far as who would make this curriculum, for we have a hard time doing it even in our county, much less the entire USA. And for those who think that the learner is the one to drive it (and there was another discussion on this), I am sorry, but I would not want children deciding that for we DO teach, for what is their scope of knowledge based upon? They do not have life experience that is often the driving force of what is to be taught. I know I always have students who want to know WHY DO WE HAVE TO KNOW THIS; yet they come back years later telling me that they DID need to know that!!!
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        Jun 14 2011: What I wonder, though is whether the curriculum can be a bit flexible and responsive to the individuals learning - rather than completely defined in terms of time it should take and content delivered from the onset. That it becomes more conversational and reciprocal a bit. That is to say teacher learn - everyone learns along the way. Or, can the students have some input in how the curriculum is designed. For example, one program called brain targeted teaching offer an approach in which the students help to design the overall month's plan which has some loose overall rubricks
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          Jun 24 2011: That's known in New Zealand as authentic context.

          Easily solved if governments funnel the money the spend on warfare into education.

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        Jun 20 2011: Linda I am sorry to disagree with a fellow English teacher. By analogy if torture occasionally works according to anecdotal evidence does that justify torture always? Where is the limit? If you can dictate what, when and how anyone must learn English because you and I agree that it is fundamental why not all possible subjects? Every Rocket scientist and inorganic chemist and entomologist thinks his subject important and they are, up to a point. We do need these specialties after all. Then the slippery slope leads us to "modernize" mathematics and require that everyone be exposed to Rocket science to ensure that the Russians don't get ahead of us. Yes everyone can use communication skills and you and I think they NEED them. But once anyone assumes the right to dictate learning you will rapidly end up with another version of the failed systems we have now. We must trust the natural learning desire of kids. It is there as Ken Robinson points out in kindergarten but seems to evaporate by eighth grade in our unnatural hot house forced learning environments.
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          Jun 24 2011: Kids are natural learners but we've moved beyond trial and error as an efficient way to learn.

          Also, schools are not completely useless - wider society is just as illogical and thick-headed as the ed-systems that feed into them therefore, schools have been doing a great job.

          The thing is, nowadays, EVERYTHING is changing, not just education.

          Given that context, schools are still doing a great job as they are now attempting to make the necessary changes..
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    Jul 2 2011: You have to make kids hunger for knowledge, and equally important, wisdom from a very young age so that when their bodies have matured, their mind is mature enough so that it's not about "showing up" and "finishing their work" as much as it is about a genuine desire to learn, grow and become better citizens. We have to create as system where the students are accountable and WANT to be engaged. With the rampant brilliance at TED, I think this would be possible. Very tough, but possible. Teaching is about inspiring kids, not reading them a script. It's about passion, not robotic standardized testing.

    Simplified, education is about raising generations of well informed people with the tools to make well informed decisions. I think we've lost a lot of that along the way.
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    Jun 24 2011: If one starts by asking “How do we learn?” “What do we need to learn?” and, When is the best time to learn?”, then the structure of schools makes little sense. I believe we learn best when we’re interested in what we are learning, see a need for it, and experience direct effects of what we are learning.

    Schools are structured more like a factory than a learning environment. Putting dozens of children the same age in rooms in a building, making them sit all day and passively absorb information doesn’t make a lot of sense when we look at human nature and the needs of our world.

    It is hard to find anything in the structure of school systems that facilitates optimum learning. Decisions are top-down. School boards, administrators and Departments of Education are all far removed from the day-to-day needs and interests of individual students. Education has become a process of mass production, where it is next to impossible to be consistently responsive to the ideas, abilities, needs, and limitations of any one student. Children are herded like cattle from class to class while their personal gifts, interests, and pressing concerns are buried and sometimes lost forever.

    School systems have removed learning from the real world. Education mostly occurs behind closed doors. What is learned and how we learn it has little immediate application to daily life. Education has become an abstraction where we go away to fill our brain and then try to figure out how to apply it to what needs to be done. School systems squeeze education into a tiny, rigid frame. We need to expand that frame and rethink what learning is all about. We need to look beyond our limited concepts of schools, grades, curriculums, and teachers and recognize learning as a natural part of life. We need to use the tools now available to envision a responsive, interactive system that meets the needs of people and our world, and then figure out how to get from here to there.
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    Jun 24 2011: I once worked with a young man who had been suspended from school more than fifty times because of “behavioral difficulties.” He had been diagnosed with ADD but refused to take medication. It turned out he was intelligent, curious, and creative but had a very hard time sitting still listening to stuff he wasn’t interested in. He learned how to let go of built-up tension and acknowledged that his pattern of rebellion (although somewhat understandable) was not working to give him the freedom he desired. He decided getting into trouble wasn’t worth the cost and learned some basic tools on how to maintain physical and mental balance so he could avoid problems.

    He started the next school year doing very well but continued to be blamed every time there was trouble. He maintained balance and did not over-react but it was clear that the school had given him a label that would be hard to break. I spoke to his mother about it and she decided to try home-schooling. She started by asking him what he wanted to learn. He said “Puerto Rico!” He wrote a booklet on Puerto Rico that included history, geography, geology, marine biology and economics. He learned how to use a spreadsheet and made graphs and charts that summarized data he collected. His mother said she never had to remind him to do his work. He woke up in the morning thinking about what he would do next. He learned more in a month than he had in the previous year.
  • Jun 23 2011: When I saw this idea, I just had to join and comment.

    As a student, when I consider the education system, the first point I think of is the teachers. They are the ones implementing the system and my most frequent point of contact with the system. Now, learning is mostly exciting to kids when they are young, but then this generally lessens as they get older. Why is that? The answer is in the difference in which things are taught. I believe changing the teaching approach would also be valuable.

    When you are young, you are taught through demonstrative means - that is, teachers communicate theory to kids by showing. Think back to how you learnt to tie your laces - someone showed you the way, right? In K - 6, science and art was always the most exciting lessons because it was hands-on and we were shown theories. You were engaged in learning, understood the theory, and could see how it applied outside of school. You acquired knowledge and skills.

    At some point in 7 - 12, showing becomes telling. This is when you (and many teachers too!) become disinterested and started to really question whether what you learnt was really applicable outside of school. You were exposed to more subjects and were told theories in them. You memorised a lot of theory, but did not understand it and could not put it into practice outside of school. The theory stuck in your head up until exams, then you forgot it. You may have understood and remembered some of that theory, so that was the knowledge you acquired, but what about the skills? How much of that theory could you actually put into action? Mostly limited, I'd say.

    A demonstrative approach to classroom instruction would engage students and teachers more, and encourage understanding, not just memorising. With the wealth of classroom technologies these days, there has got to be more and better ways to educate kids other than just telling. My best teachers demonstrated by exemplifying themselves, drawing, videos, role-playing, etc.
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      Jun 24 2011: A potential solution path:

      Recently the idea of placing the burden of engagement on the teachers rather than the students was floated by me. In this approach educators design their curriculum to be as irresistibly engaging as possible, and students always have the ability to opt out and work on something they want to do. (This is in stark contrast to much of our current system,where students must force themselves to pay attention to whatever is being presented to them, or pay for it on the test.)

      This approach seems that it would reward a nice balance of theory and practice, using the 'authentic context' as Scott put it to personalize to each class and/or even every student. Student input on the path of study is important to keep them interested, and the teacher is actively building the education to match, rather than just following some set plan.

      A side note: This style may get rid of the 'base of knowledge' that we all supposedly come out of school knowing, but as long as that is acknowledged/accepted, then I don't think there is a problem (especially since it is already true).
  • Jun 19 2011: Schools hinder people. What about changing the structure? With an end goal of having students finish their education with a much higher level of knowledge. We don't need to be 19 to study higher level subjects at university.

    Passion spreads knowledge.

    The next generation of people must have all their concentration set on pushing mankind forward. So there can be a better future.

    Science. Love. Art
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      Jun 19 2011: Recently I read somewhere here on TED the word 'School' means 'creative leisure'. Let us restore that meaning :)

      3 subjects indeed, I use the same words with this meaning;
      Science = understanding material world
      Love = understanding immaterial world
      Art = understanding the connections between Science and Love
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    Jun 17 2011: Reading the comments I am surprised to find so few proposals concerning the teachers. In all sectors of society we know and have agreed that skilled and trained personal is crucial to reach aims and ends. a whole business branch developed out of this like BCG and KPMG - optimizing human capital.

    All new techniques and new tools in school (and there are brilliant ideas in the blog already) will only be as good as the skills of the teachers in each and every local school - they deserve our most attention. what a huge logistic task: training this force for the diverse and spread out. So the central question seems to me: What is the best training and learning tool for teachers to innovate and to be motivated?
    Then we can care about technological ideas.

    And finally one small easy thing to do: Best payment for the persons which have the responsibilty to lead our children in the future. At least in my country Germany teachers are under-paid.
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      Jun 18 2011: Great point. Teachers are opting out in the Netherlands as well. Next to creating educational meterial fitting the brainworld of kids,

      I am in a project in the Netherlands on the topic; How can a teacher learn to be curious to learn, it sounds probably better in German;

      "Wie lernt ein Lehrer lernen"

      We are formulating like 5 'ways' a teacher can be excited again in teaching, including having more engaged pupils.
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        Jun 19 2011: Very interesting project...and even without knowing hardly any German, I can tell the project indeed sounds better.

        As a teacher who loves learning, I'm curious to learn your 5 ways you document to work!
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      Jun 19 2011: Yes! Teachers MUST change with the times in order to better serve their students! Teachers must commit to life long learning!!!!!
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    Jun 14 2011: Who has the time and pleasure to put all the wisdom together off all the TEDconversations about the future of education? There is an enormous input. Veterans insights and digital guru visions are in there... Who is good in getting creative with putting our information in formation?
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      Jun 16 2011: Excellent point, Paul. I would like to see TED-ED incorporate this into a living Wikipedia for Education :)
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        Jun 17 2011: Let me know when you meet somebody who starts. Than I stop looking ;)
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    Jun 7 2011: Two things I would like to see:

    1) The pace should fit the child's ability rather than some preconceived, one size fits all, pace established by the legislature. We should get rid of grade levels so that those who need to move at their own pace are not humiliated, but are encouraged to do so.

    2) Education should be based on actively using words and numbers and methods rather than on memorizing facts and vocabulary. The facts and vocabulary become easiest to remember when they become useful to our skillful intellectual activities. One should always have a purpose in mind when using words, numbers, and methods. Activity is best learned as part of a project. (but the projects should not have lots of useless busy work thrown in).
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    Jun 6 2011: I am enthralled by this idea and hope very much that it comes about. I could see this generating a diversity of solutions much like Cameron Sinclair's open source architecture. Then communities could choose among many solutions, hybridize the ones that speak to their issues, and grow the learning environment that is precisely perfect for them. Then buy-in and ownership would help maintain a local passion and commitment to unlocking the potential of human beings, and that local movement could then spread across the globe, forming a net of mutual support and collaboration. That is what I would love to see. Bravo, TED, for all the conversations on education. And bravo, Al, for pushing it where it needs to go.
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    Jun 29 2011: OK, Al Meyers, picture this: ("What would it look like?")
    A circle of interested people, mostly 7- and 8-year-olds, who are all familiar with this activity, sitting cross-legged on a carpeted floor in a large room with nice acoustics. Taking turns, different individuals sing a verse of "Darby Town" and start another round of a song-experience-game. During the game, everyone gets a turn to be a partner. Each pair visits an imaginary Darby Town and acts out the scene while singing.

    As seen by an observer, it is just a game. For the participants, especially those who become deeply engaged in the variations, it can be a language lesson even for English as a second language. With some alterations or posed questions by the leader/teacher, it may become a Math lesson (How many pairs are in our group today?), music theory (What is the SOLFA symbol for the note we sing for the word "Town"?), singing harmony (Who can sing the ostinato pattern while the rest of us sing the lyrics?), poetic rhyme and meter (Who can think of a different ending for the verse that still rhymes with "day" at the end?)
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      Jul 1 2011: Interesting, Mark. Personally, I like the idea of language learning in a virtual world or game-based learning type of construct. You can do so much with 3D visualization. You can not only teach the language, but also simulate cultural nuances. Plus, you're using a form of media that aligns with today's "digital natives."
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        Jul 1 2011: Yes! We need to use available media if the alternative is to wait for teachers to arrive or wait for scheduling opportunities.
        HOWEVER: In the case of the best window of opportunity for the infants (I mean the 6 to 8 months old variety), they do not respond to computer screens and need the one-to-one in person experience.
        For everyone else, the "older" students, yes, all of the above, and game-oriented context-embedded language learning I think is key. Yet, in looking at the best case scenarios for your dream learning environment model for the 21st century, I think nothing beats the person-to-person experience with acting, dancing, singing, and playing bundled together--when you can get it! Of course this would also depend on the comfort level of the students to make sure they were ready to participate comfortably in that kind of learning environment. (3D visualization--Hmmm)
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    Jan Wee

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    Jun 24 2011: Bring together the educators who children/students select as the most inspirational teachers. Be sure the children/students represent all spectrums - from "gifted" to challenged (special needs). Sprinkle in the best minds leading education (Sir Ken, Salmon Khan, etc.) for inspiration, modeling, partners. Develop core values, vision and mission with one outcome: empowered learning for life. (empowered needs operational definition, but to me it means the ability to adapt and contribute throughout my life to the world of work, family, gloabl community, society in a meaningful manner) Require every student to mentor another student as part of their outcomes based, hands on (PBL) based learning. Require every educator to mentor another educator in some facet of instructional skill development. Require every school to focus on one community project that improves life in a tangible, meaningful contribing facet. Require every school to focus on a global project that improves the world in a meaningful manner. (opertional definition of meaningful needed here) Require every parent to spend at least one full day per semester assisting in that project and working with children. Govern the school through a collaborative student voice, parent voice, educator led system - not a "school board." Set core values focused on global skills, cultural awareness and respect, world language, teamwork, etc. Outcomes must be aligned with a global (international baccalaureate type) education. Integrate educational technology tools in an empowering and responsible manner. Standards of excellence. Use model content as TED, Salmon Khan Academy and other high value online resources to expand and enrich learning, not just for students, but for parents, grandparents, etc. to surround child in positive learning experiences.
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    Jun 21 2011: A few months back I attended a "School of Tomorrow" seminar. Attended by the best of schools' heads, thought leaders, academics, of the speakers, Peter Senge asked the gathering "we 200 people are ideating on the School of tomorrow. The beneficiaries are going to be the children/students. I don't even find a single Child/young student in the crowd. When are we gonna change the mindset that ONLY WE can think for them?" It was a profound observation by Dr Senge. So my response - What would it look like? It will have lots of children/students/learners in it!
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      Jun 23 2011: Excellent observation indeed!

      Taking student input to direct the course of study could be the future. This guarantees the learners will be engaged with the material, since the want to learn it. Of course being the educator, knowing what you know beyond what the kids know, you can steer the inquiry to some extent, and introduce possible new avenues of study.

      The first challenge is to start with something that the learners find irresistible, that they want to start engaging with [and always allow them to opt out, to have a quiet space where they can explore something for themselves - this is a new idea I've been considering]. Once they're in, its a cooperative of leading and following [like an ouiji board, haha] between learner and educator, to find a path through whatever topic was begun.
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        Jun 30 2011: I agree. I watched the video "Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids". It explains my view very neatly. "Thinking like a child/young student" is important to make the learning materials sync with their abilities/potential. I see an enormous number of toys out there, all made by adults for kids and a significant number of them are "unintelligent" versions of bigger toys/real life models. Our presumption that "such intelligence" cannot be understood/appreciated by children is ludicrous!.

        While I say this, I also feel that among the most important criteria in creating a 21st century learning environment will be to structure it in such a way that it transcends language barriers, it is inclusive towards the poor and illiterate. Thank you.
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    Jun 19 2011: Traditional schooling fails in inculcating a sense of applicability of knowledge. A surer way of establishing a sense of the curious is to allow for hands-on methods where the learner can see how the principles are applied to create something real.

    The problem is an old one. Marcus Aurelius, Philosopher-King and Emperor of Rome in the years from 161 to 180 said in Meditations: From my grandfather's father, [I learned] to dispense with attendance at public schools, and to enjoy good teachers at home, and to recognize that on such things money should be eagerly spent.
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    Jun 18 2011: On teaching practical wisdom:

    One way to teach practical wisdom is by example, but that only goes so far. Virtues become vices when they are not limited by practical reasoning.

    Another is to use literature and movies to encite empathy. There should be a class every school day in a students life that focuses on empathy inspiring literature.

    Another is to get people to think through practical problems. Start with a premise like all people matter or treat others the way you want to be treated and work on discussing what follows in particular situations or for particular policy questions. Engage the children in learning how the facts matter, and thus, how the other discipllines are relevant for answering these questions. This class should meet just as often as any other core curriculum calss. Have the students keep a journal with regular writing assignments on such matters. Hold small group discussions of three or four students to discuss the journal entries. Have students write responses to other students journal entries.

    For the most part, these two classes would replace Language Arts. They would effectively teach writing, reading, and the analytical arts through the hands on practice of doing them.
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    Jun 14 2011: Start World Language learning in kindergarten. Have a team of students teach the language(s) after learning it well enough to create engaging lessons. Erase the age limits defined by grade level. Focus on literacy...on multiliteracy!!! Second language learning enhances first language literacy. Bilingual brains are better! Learners of all ages school wide create their own projects which teach others about academic topics that interest them. Projects are created using new technologies as guided by another student or teacher. Learners create the lessons; the curriculum is unique and shaped by each learner to reflect their passions.Take all the learner made lesson files and post them on my future Sunny Earth Academy webiste, or YouTube for the world to see and give feedback. No textbooks: teach learners how to properly navigate online resources to promote multiliteracy. Teachers must be learners too!!!

    Use global video conferencing to allow students to teach learners in other countries. People of all ages and cultures can learn from one another...and promote multicultural awareness and tolerance.
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    Jun 14 2011: love the broad concept here. I have a portal type of environment with a domain name: '' which is a way to log, assimilate and formulate ones thoughts from what a student learns. The ideas around VOICE, NETWORK, and making an IMPACT are key.
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    Jun 6 2011: Al,
    The words pedagogy, teacher, curriculum and evaluation may be inappropriate terms to use in the same paragraph as "disruptive innovator in education". True disruptive innovation will lay waste to these terms in their traditional sense (in my opinion).

    I agree with you about harnessing the diverse TED community as active participants in a disruptive innovation project. Diversity from outside traditional education models will inspire new ideas, perspectives, and collaborations.

    Incremental changes in education won't produce the kind of learners the world needs. So, employing current education lingo to a new model risks creating a new system that isn't fundamentally different from our current system.
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    Jun 6 2011: Wonderful comments thus far. Thanks, Claudette, for the kind words. To add to the discussion, I have recently come across one of the most comprehensive, thought-provoking comparative analyses ever done on the U.S. education system. Please read "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform," by the National Center on Education and the Economy ("NCEE").
  • Jun 30 2011: unschooling x TED
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    Jun 29 2011: Not to overwrite some of the previous statements, sorry friends, 70+ good ideas, too much for me to read at once. But I think that a TED learning center, should be what TED is about, Ideas worth Spreading.

    Let's close our eyes and imagine an institution. You can picture your college, or any other institution. Here we (the students) learn, and we develop. We make use of the "drop-in" Term. No signing up, no appointments. Students talk, while students listen. When a student gets an idea, he gets the time and the tools to nurture this idea. And when he thinks it's valid he announces a talk, to inspire others.
    While opening the door for investors, corporations, organizations who are looking for the next big thing. If they find an idea that they think is brilliant, they can contact the student.
    and put it into reality.
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    Jun 29 2011: Another look at learning:

    Language Acquisition, multiple language systems and their corresponding phonemic awareness:

    A permeable family room, people coming in and out for feeding, diaper changes, etc. Siblings and parents included, but the target group is 6 to 8 months old. Teachers are pre-teen to elder grandmothers, must have very positive affect and fluency in at least one language. While people are mingling and carrying on multiple conversations the learning pairs will be face to face for 3 to 6 minutes, covering a wide repertoire of language expressions of a particular language in each turn and rich sampling of the spectrum of sound in that language. Allow time for repeated exposure as the infants are rested and alert and ready for it.

    With enough exposure in a comfortable positive setting, this will give the optimum potential for multiple language acquisition. The learning objective for the group, not any individual per se, is to expand the number of possible languages acquired and used throughout life. Smiling is a prerequisite.
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    Jun 24 2011: Jon Abbott author of "The child is Father to the Man" and one of the founders of the 21st Century Learning Initiative has assembled an international group of educators and thinkers who have done a tremendous amount of groundwork on this exact topic, check it out.
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    Jun 20 2011: If tedsters created a model school it might tip the balance and save the planet! And if it didn't what harm would it do?
    Points 1. The primary source of wealth on the planet is human intelligence and empowered energy.
    2. If #1 is true then every student who does not achieve his potential is a loss to the global GDP.
    3. If #2 is true then Education should be priority #1for everyone's economic welfare.
    4. Traditional Education has failed like totalitarian forms of communism and money alone won't fix it.
    4.1 If you continue to tinker with traditional education like Gorbachev did with a planned economy you will still get only a slightly different result and are only proving your insanity ie. if you always do what...get what you got.
    5. Communism and western education share several fallacies, among the most important of these are lack of personal freedom and responsibility which destroys natural human motivation and enterprise.
    5.1 Secondly dictating labor or learning with quotas or sacred cow curriculums disrespects human dignity.
    5.2 Slavery is inefficient, coerced learning is an oxymoron. Any learning which lacks intrinsic motivation isn't.
    6. If 1>5.2 are true then the foundational requirement for any successful educational revolution must begin with respect for individual human dignity and differences in learning styles.
    7. If 6 is true then helping each student to discover1st, how they learn best and then 2nd, what their natural proclivities are will be the most efficient in determining any course of study.
    8. Self discovery as part of understanding what it means to be a human being and how we are all different and yet similar should be the only required subject. EVERYThing else should be elective. Several studies have shown that one year after graduation the "successful" students retain only 20% of required curriculum in any case.
  • Jun 18 2011: I imagine one unseen problem would be brain/creativity bloat. There would be so many ideas and so many people wanting to explore new developments that any system developed would be prone to collapse.

    For example, there would be part of the community that would want to build the educational structures in a green eco-friendly manner while others would argue that a complete green campus is unnecessarily rigid and would consume too many resources from online educational development.

    There would need to be focus. A clear picture made from the many compromises on various ideas, a consensus, would be required and I do not know if that would be possible for the entire community.

    On the other hand it could all work out great.
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    Jun 14 2011: It'd look like my vision of the Sunny Earth Academy!!!
  • Jun 14 2011: Well one thing i doubt it would include is ever changing textbooks.

    It seems odd to me that our early mathematics and reading books are constantly changing when the information is not.

    I've personally been consistently disappointed with my textbooks since as long as i could form an opinion, and many times my teachers have agreed with me.

    i remember specifically that my 8th grade math teacher held on to her old algebra textbooks until they literally fell apart because they were far superior to our modern textbooks.

    why would our textbooks be getting worse?
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      Jun 15 2011: I so agree, Zack, and I think the problem is indicative of the state of affairs in publishing overall.
      • Jun 15 2011: my theory is that publishing got the way that it did through government involvement and the licensing process. - that being said i really don't know much about the licensing process

        anyone here know the details of what it takes to get a textbook sold in a major educational institution?
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          Jun 15 2011: If you're an "adoption state," it means that subjects come up for bid every few years, depending on the state. So once you're in, you get an annuity. Some states have six year licenses. And typically, if you are able to get your textbook adopted in one of the major states (CA, FL, TX), then you are guaranteed major distribution across the rest of the country, and that means BIG profits.
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      Jun 20 2011: Zack read Richard Feynmans story about being on a committee to select science textbooks for California. Textbooks are one of the most profitable issues for the publishing industry
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    Jun 10 2011: Here's a great video that will take less than 10 minutes of your time:
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      Jun 20 2011: Carpediem certainly seems to have most the basic elements of an ideal school. Thank you for the tip Mr. Myers. I will definitely investigate further as I would like to see if they cover physical and social needs as well, and then also in depth personal self discovery.
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    Jun 10 2011: I would like to see a school where the point was to explore the implications of the principle, treat others as you want to be treated.

    This rule provides a method for approaching decision making. At first it appears to be merely a rule for conduct, but it turns out that the conduct that it identifies as most important is the conduct involved in choosing the methods for making choices. Then among those methods, it singles out as being most important the methods for evaluating the methods for making choices.

    Thus the rule moves one toward identifying the most fundamental principles of evaluation and provides a method for identifying what those principles are.

    But, of course, fundamental rules of evaluation are useless if they are not applied. Consequently, our original principle requires us to apply the fundamental principles of evaluation. The students will be lead by their project to explore the implications of those principles as applied to the infinite variety of situations that can arise.

    In applying those principles, some of the most important applications have to do with developing methods of thinking that are consistent with those principles. Thus, our student will become involved in defining the methods of the various academic and practical disciplines.

    Since the facts always matter when a principle is applied, the student’s investigations will interest them in learning from all of the academic disciplines.

    In this way, all of their studies will form a coherent and meaningful whole.
    • Jun 17 2011: While the "Golden Rule" is certainly a good start...why not take that a step even further? Why don't we treat people the way that THEY want to be treated, instead of the way WE want to be treated? People are different. People have distinct learning preferences (visual, auditory, kinetic, etc), people have different preferences when interacting/communicating with others, some people are "big picture" thinkers, while others care passionately about the details. Rather than assume that everyone is like me, wants what I want, and responds as I respond...wouldn't it be more productive to teach me to adapt my interactions with others based on trying to understand THEIR needs and not just my own?

      It requires learning a bit about them, socializing, asking questions, and generally having a less "self-centric" viewpoint...but that might not be a bad thing.

      I'm sure there are some tribal practices (such as cannibalism) in the world where it is considered an "honor" to be eaten by someone...and most people in that group would welcome that honor. While I'm not going to judge their behavior/culture, I can certainly say that it's not an honor that I would share.

      Just an observation that the Golden Rule may not be the ultimate filter through which to shape the world or to make decisions. Absent any information (or ability to get information - which is rare as long as you are willing to take the time to inquire) then the Golden Rule might serve in a pinch. But, in my opinion, it is not the highest standard to which we can aspire.

      Treating others the way YOU want to be treated results in you treating the people who are actually like you the "correct way", for everyone else it falls short of perfect. Treating others the way THEY want to be treated results in you AND everyone else being treated the way that they want to be treated.
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        Jun 21 2011: Hi Christopher,

        You agreed that the Golden Rule is a place to start and that is what I want. I want education to start with the Golden Rule because I think that is the first step in deveolping rationality. Starting there does point us toward where you want to go: taking others wants as a basis for one's own choices (That is the way I want others to make choices that effect me). As I see it, your rule is merely the Golden Rule laced with greater self understanding. My reason for wanting to have a school like this is actually so the children will actually experience how complex moral understanding develops outward from a simple method like the Golden Rule (similar to how complicated mathematics develops outward from a simple method: counting).

        Working through the different permutations that occur as one develops moral understanding by trying to apply the Golden Rule in varied circumstances helps show that we have a much more shared system of moral thinking than we often think we do which puts us in a better place to understand and respect each other.
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    Jun 10 2011: The NCEE called for standing on the shoulders of giants. The US has a gross national income of over $14 trillion and we're hemming and hawing over how to fund a reform. Finland's GNI? $180 billion. Yet Finland is the one with the state-of-the-art educational system. The question is, how do we stand on the shoulders of a very erudite little troll? Suomi on mahtava maa.
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      Jun 11 2011: But one has to keep in mind FIRST the size of Finland and then its economic and social makeup as well as its attitude towards education and reading as it is NOT like America's at all, and that makes a heck of a difference. But besides this, I have been following the PISA test for a few years now (which measures countries and ranks Finland as #1), and it is HOW we are teaching our students to think (or not to critically think is more like it) that is another factor as to why we do so poorly on it. And then add in our MUST HAVE "extra-curricular" activities which are almost unheard of there, it is like comparing apples to oranges!

      Yes, they may be innovative when it comes to the "educating part" like nearly everyone going to Pre-K, keeping students with the same teacher and tracking them, so at age 16 they can either go a vocational school or one that offers a higher learning track (which of course are the students who are taking the high school PISA exam) and so on.

      But I know that they are not that innovative with technology compared to us which is why I freak out at times in thinking that we need to totally change for these "digital natives" as they still need to be taught traditionally in some areas, for that IS life. I have been in correspondence with both Finnish and Swedish teachers as they are pen-pals with mine, and they were amazed at all we offered our students here in my county and what we did with technology. What my kids take for granted like blogging and using sites like Audacity, they had never heard of. So not too sure about the role technology plays over there and their scores.
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        Jun 20 2011: Linda I have followed the Finns too. I agree their system, like democracy is not perfect, but to paraphrase Churchill, it is just better than any other country's. Still it is true to say that their society has advantages that make it unfair to compare straight across with ours. But I think we can still learn from them. The U.S. in most fields has indeed led with technology and infrastructure until recently, but in education we are approaching second world status with our results, even though we spend more. The race to innovate with technology is futile by itself. Bells and whistles are just tools and although good tools are better than bad tools it is still up to the system to support teachers so they can use them well. The first requirement for fundamental success I believe is a system that treats each student with dignity as the unique gemstone they are. Not a generic piece of ore that must be crushed and smelted and poured into preformed molds. An ideal system would empower them to choose the subjects they want to focus on as soon as possible. Is it a coincidence that so many prodigies are allowed to follow their joy at a young age? Once they have committed to a subject then a teacher still needs to be able to demonstrate relevance. If we can't then we need to reeducate ourselves.
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    Jun 7 2011: Innovative Approach?

    Ditch the paper degree - some of the best teachers I've seen are 'unqualified' in the tertiary education sense.
    Evaluation - the students should do the evaluating - not the ministry, board of trustees or council, or even the teachers.
    Curriculum Standards - removal of all standardised measurement. This must happen in order to 'free' the curriculum.
    Funding - tricky. Not sure about that one. Force a tithe on all business? Free goods and services to all schools as part of community expectations of private business?

    The curriculum is not the problem - it's the easiest to change.
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      Jun 21 2011: Scott I think you are right on with the first three points. The 4th, funding is something to which I have given a lot of thought. In an Entrepreneurial Experiential School why not have teachers and advanced students start actual businesses. The school could supply initial space and mentoring in exchange for a cut of the profits. I have long dreamed of a universal school with a well equipped shop-laboratory"skunk works" that could potentially fabricate anything a student could design. If they lacked a tool they could build it. The older or more advanced students would hire those less so (12 and older) to give them experience and wages. Our current public schools tend to function as babysitters and in part keep kids from competing with adults. Academics would be kept to 3>4 hours a day. The point is instead of grades they could see that learned skills would earn them the chance to make $. Relevance of knowledge and skills would be immediately testable in the real world. Motivation would be natural and built in. Before age twelve play and interaction and basic skills would be emphasized but in this paradigm the school could mostly pay for itself. I am of course not thinking in terms of manual labor but creative work where each student could learn to fulfill a variety of roles to help them find what fits. Bookkeeper, designer, tech, sales, advertizing in short potentially all and everything and yet nothing required but the drive to contribute and prove ones worth as a team member. Above all it should be fun and creative
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        Jun 28 2011: A great idea! An authentic context on so many levels.
    • Jun 23 2011: Hear, hear.
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    Jun 6 2011: Could you be a little more specific Al?

    In the interest of guiding conversation, are you shaping this idea on the basis of replacing or supplementing current education systems? Furthermore, are you referring to public, higher or professional education?

    In very broad terms, one might look student shaped experience based on their intended outcomes, and introducing incentives for student achievement. Honestly, such a program might look like a combination of mentorships, apprentices, and life coaching. Also, a high amount of collaboration between students and peer-instruction would be a possibility.

    Perhaps approaching your idea with both problem (fixing existing issues) and solution (new ideas) orientations would produce the best ideas and eventually, results.
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    Jun 6 2011: Good idea...

    So how should we tackle this problem?

    There are some issues to be settled first...
    - Kids have to learn certain things, as to allow them to find what they want to do when they grow up. What would that be?
    - The means: different languages, poverty, and access are to be provided: how?
    - Cultural differences (and sub-cultural ones too)

    Once we can decide on that (if we can't we'll need some research and experiments), we can unite and press forward...

    Maybe start a "charter of education"
    based upon the universal declaration of the rights of children?

    Anyway: I'm all pro, and I would like to assist. I fear it will be hard to find consensus even within the TED community

    That said...
    - Learn them critical thinking, read, write, cloud-use, morality, what it means to be human, how one can earn money and how one can find what one wants to do...
    - feed the curiosity of the child, by inserting cross-links to a lot of things that get taught
    - learning and researching can be done at home. Excersise and coaching can be done in class and in groups
    - The kids still will need to put in a lot of effort: don't take that away from them!
  • Jun 6 2011: Can't wait to see where this goes - if any group can generate possible solutions and not get mired in the name-calling blame game, it exists here.
  • Jun 6 2011: I would like to add that i recently went to a conference where they pointed out for elements important for the e-learning transformation:

    E-learning should be assosietive (individually), situative (interact with the context), constructive (task oriented), and of course connect (networked)
  • Jun 6 2011: No doubt there are challenges to achieve still on the collaborative and cooperative learning in different cultures and contexts, nevertheless the tools has to be used and be administrate by only the student as long as they don't feel alone in the process. The feedback is so important so they feel as part of the community and develop the social learning
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    Jun 6 2011: round... like the earth, with an expiration date.