Eric Berlow

Pacific Ecoinformatics and Computational Ecology Lab


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Instead of narrow specialization, how can our educational system better train integrative, innovative, and adaptive problem solvers?

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Eric Berlow

The world is facing many complex problems that threaten the future of life as we know it, and governments and corporations have been ineffective at implementing real integrative solutions. One problem can cause many, but on the flip side, one creative solution can cause many. The world’s most innovative problem solvers have an uncanny ability to see the entire picture and hone in on simple leverage points with widespread positive impacts, yet we are not actively teaching our students to do the same. How can we not only training more creative thought leaders, but also create a population of voters who vote for them and support holistic solutions when they are presented?

Closing Statement from Eric Berlow

Thanks to everyone for the lively discussion!

If I had to summarize, it seems like there is general consensus that we need to better enable students to tap into their individual passions and to learn fundamental, transferable skills early on. While some highly technical jobs require very specific training (e.g., brain surgery), most jobs require the ability to learn quickly, to ask critical questions, and to apply the unique skills that we bring to the table (skills that maybe were never in the job description). Related to this concept, there were some very interesting arguments for the value of philosophy, art, and ethics as providing solid building blocks for embracing uncertainty, abstracting and mapping transferable skills, and balancing critical skepticism with creative leaps of faith.

Some felt that there is enormous potential in applying online tools for making education more modular and "remixable" to help students follow their individual passions. One model for this is Khan Academy, but its main success has been in teaching a very specific (and linear) subject matter (math) rather than broad, interdisciplinary education. Some felt that current online ed tools still don't do much to foster innovation. There is clearly much more we can do to improve online educational tools that enhance face-to-face learning - but there is potential.

A recurring, and very interesting, implementation theme was the concept of a "passion to action" curriculum that helps students tap into their passions, identify problems that map onto those passions, and execute a plan to act on them.

Thanks again for all the input!


  • Sep 21 2011: Let students solve real, relevant and actual problems instead of outdated and mostly fictional challenges. Connect with businesses and governments to form think tanks with students. Not exclusively for students in the last phase of their studies but right from the start.
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      Sep 21 2011: See Kaospilots.

      Undergraduate education.
      Year One: Think of a problem.
      Year Two: Make a plan
      Year Three: Act.
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        Sep 21 2011: James this is a powerful general framework, one that UC Berkeley almost implemented for their engineering programs in the 90s but in the end did not.

        My question: is it necessary to allocate an entire year for a body of students to think of a problem? Perhaps researching the right problem(s) to tackle is a valuable aspect of education, and as important as problem solving itself. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
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          Sep 21 2011: I haven't met too many kaospiliots, but know that there is alot of industry respect going their way, and even more respect from the proud employers that snap them up. (IDEO were almost bragging they employed one on social media.)

          It is interesting that UC Berkeley thought about it and didn't do it. In my own school, there are no grades as we are creative's, and that leads to more bold and daring designs. The ex-dean went to harvard and tries to implent the system their, but couldn't as the overall university loved the grade system too much despite people in the dept knew this other option produced better results.

          I guess I think startups for that reason are more interesting in my opinion that the traditional universities as the universities aren't willing to try much where startups jump right in.
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          Sep 21 2011: I'm curious why UCB did not implement this. It would have been really interesting. Sounds like someone did not successfully make a call to action by imagining what it could be if successful!
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        Sep 21 2011: Right on James. I might add:
        Year One: Identify what you LOVE and what are your unique skills.
        Year Two: Think of 5 very different problems that fit your passions and skills
        Year Three: Make plans for 2 of these, ideally the most different
        Year Four: Act on one but have the other as a backup plan B
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          Sep 21 2011: I believe the debate at many universities is about whether linear versus non-linear learning works best. Linear learning is the most common model (i.e. first years the foundations of physics, chemistry, calculus, followed by higher division more specialized classes). The non-linear model is centered on holistic problem solving. Here, the students learn the physics, chemistry, calculus that they need to solve the problem, and they learn them as they are needed during the process. It is exciting to know that some educational platforms (e.g. Kaospilots) are moving towards the non-linear model.
  • Sep 21 2011: Students should be inspired to ask questions, not simply learn/memorize the answers. It's the question, after all, that enlightens, and those voices a gift, yet sadly are rarely acknowledged, let alone encouraged. How can we possibly expect them to step into the world without that ability and confidence to question what's before them and inspire others to do the same? Technology can do most everything else for them, but there is no machine that replace that voice. Teach them to find it and inspire them to use it. Just imagine how many more problems would be solved, if they did.
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      Sep 21 2011: "It's the question, after all, that enlightens" -- agreed! My schooling experience, in elementary and high school and even right now in college, has focused too much on simply giving me answers -- meanwhile, I can just hop onto the internet and find all the answers myself! What I'd rather have is a school that encourages me to ask questions and teaches me about how to ask better questions.
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        Sep 21 2011: I like that "teaches me about how to ask better questions" - thanks Liz.
      • Sep 21 2011: When I was in early high school (public school) I did a 2 year internship in a USDA entomology lab. I was put in a educational scenario where I was expected to find research and learn background information on the projects I was working on. Out of this I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and my problem solving skills developed exponentially! Every student needs access to options like this. Learning first hand is incredible. I was lucky to have the mentors and opportunities I did. I managed to get second at my state science fair and get college scholarships at 14! Kids are capable of SO much if given the opportunity!
      • Sep 21 2011: There's a school called George Wythe College in Utah that is all about creating thinkers, leaders and innovators. I'd love for my kids to go there and I wish I would have gone there! They do it by having mentors, discussions, problem-solving and following their passions wherever it takes them. It's pretty awesome. It's the educational model we are very inspired by in our homeschool too. :)
  • Sep 21 2011: All of the innovations people are calling for here were brought to education decades ago by Maria Montessori. My children attend a Montessori grade school and I have never been able to understand why the methods have not been adopted more widely. If people would take a look at these schools, stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and step outside the box of rewards, standardized testing and all of the other junk that keeps kids from real learning, we could all move on to other problems.
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      Sep 21 2011: and move onto creating solutions. The Montessori environment creates the space for learning to happen successfully.
    • Sep 21 2011: I can't believe I had to scroll down this far to see Montessori mentioned! The holistic approach, freedom to make choices, and emphasis on time management, work skills and organization are unparalleled in any other approach! Montessori needs to be applied, authentically, at all levels -not just at the 3-6 year old level. I am particularly interested in the work going on at
      It's too bad that it's only truly possible in the private sector, hopefully once some Montessori Charter schools are more successful, people will see what can happen when children are empowered in their own learning.
  • Sep 21 2011: In our school district -- where I'm on the school board -- about 5 years ago we targeted bringing in the International Baccalaureate Programme ot our high school -- and after years of PD and prep -- we've introduced it this year; I find the curriculum better than AP in that it really digs deep -- and focuses on developing more holistic critical thinking skills.
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      Sep 21 2011: That's encouraging news, David - I think kids would also benefit with more interactive thinking such as the old debate team, too.
      • Sep 21 2011: yup -- started that one up 2 years ago - and it's wildly popular and successful -- all told -- we're trying to innovate within a structure (k-12 education system) that's designed for an era that doesn't exist anymore.
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          Sep 21 2011: I hear that - what I craved I think moslty got in my Catholic high school, and then my three kids craved what didn't exist anymore except in the most elite private schools. They would describe what they wished to learn, and it sounded to me like a good ol' classical education - except we lived in Canada then, and not the UK. NOow I imagine layering on that model, a circular image of the classroom, rather than all desks facing front...
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    Sep 21 2011: The homework my third grader did recently required her to read a passage in a text book and then fill in the blanks on a worksheet. Producing the right answers meant scanning the text for the exact sentence on the worksheet and inserting the missing word. There was no room in the exercise for her to consider what she just read in the context of her experience in the world and then apply her new knowledge to issue at hand. Shouldn't our children be learning how to think critically and creatively? No matter what the job market contains in ten years or twenty years, learning how to learn, apply, and interpret will be invaluable.
    • Sep 21 2011: are we really able to think critically in 3rd grade, our decisions are chocolate milk, or regular, pizza, or nachos...I agree that there needs to be creative thought, but there must be some foundation first.
      • Sep 21 2011: Yes, third graders can think critically - they just need to be taught how to do it.
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        Sep 21 2011: Indeed we are able to think critically in 3rd grade. She was in a different school for k-2 and in that environment, all the kids at each of those levels applied knowledge, solved problems, experimented with ideas, and thought critically.
    • Sep 21 2011: If educators and leaders within educational system would start with where children are at and provide a framework that is integrated in all functional areas for critical thinkings, we would be infusing critical thinking organically in everything that our students did.
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    Sep 21 2011: Love this article from Fast Design especially video on "High tech high". It deals with training creatively.
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      Sep 21 2011: GREAT article James. One critical point that emerges for me is the importance of 'play' - In my teaching experience I have found that many college students have completely lost touch with what they are *passionate* about, and they don't realize that they could actually follow their passions for a successful career. The advantage of a "passion to action" curriculum (such as programs like this ) is that it gets students focused on the broad goal of enjoying what they do, and then indirectly gets them mapping a variety of problems onto that. So rather than focusing on being "an engineer", they focus on what excites them about it, and what are their unique skills in that realm -- then they could leave school and do anything that taps into those skills and passions (even if it's not a traditional engineering job)
      • Sep 21 2011: This all goes into Positive Psychology. Csikszentmihalyi has written a lot about "Flow": the state when you're completely absorbed in the activity at hand. It means finding what you love and doing it and not just doing it, but continually getting better and challenging yourself at it. Passion is everything in life, and education seems to beat it out of students by saying, "No, you can't study that. You must study this." Worse, it sometimes lets students study what they love but in such a fashion that it completely turns students off from it. This should not be allowed to happen.
        • Sep 21 2011: He has done some research on this phenomenon in Montessori schools -where children are allowed the time and space to get into 'flow' without the external limitations of time periods and school bells interrupting their concentration.
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        Sep 21 2011: I have found some students ( go for grades and others go for their passion. Unfortunately, I rarely have seen these two mix.
        • Sep 21 2011: It's the problem of whether they view their schooling as intrinsic or extrinsic. Unfortunately, it's extrinsic for most students and that has been shown through countless studies to not be the most effect way to motivate students.
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    Sep 21 2011: years ago I proposed a course at Indiana University that was designed specifically to help students integrate what they learned across the various disciplines. They accepted the proposal but by that time I had a great job offer in Baltimore. But I haven't forgotten the issue: deep canyons of specialization fostered by most universities not to mention the job market.
    Another approach is "active learning" in which each learner becomes the teacher on a topic. I've employed it when I was asked to teach content and had no time to learn it before teaching. So the learners and I rotated responsibility for teaching specific topics. At first they objected because it wasn't the traditional approach. But by the time it was over, everyone had learned faster and more effectively than if I had been the "professor". The learners put more pressure to learn & communicate on one-another than I could have done.
    I know this is somewhat off-topic but it contains two keys to effective learning: teamwork and the need to learn & communicate to others new/ relevant information.
  • Sep 21 2011: I homeschool my children and I see my main role as teaching them how to learn and how to find and follow their passions. Someone already mentioned that so many people don't even know what they're passionate about and I believe that's true and it's due to the fact that we've all spent so many years being told what to learn and how to learn it. If we ask children what they want to learn and be open to letting kids learn in the way that they do naturally (verbally, kinesthetically, etc.), I think we'd see a lot more passion from our kids who grow into passionate adults. As it stands, the schools teach to the test. Well, my kids have to be tested every year too by MN state law. I don't teach to that test one single bit and they test 3-5 grade levels above where they currently are; they are smart kids but I wouldn't call them "gifted". The No Child Left Behind ties the hands of our teachers and gives them no autonomy. There's no time left in the day once the've covered the material they have to cover in amongst managing their rooms. It's really a tough position to be in. I see the impetus for change being the Charter School system at this point. There are some really amazing Charter Schools out there that have the same requirements and the same budgets as the main public schools but they are doing some awesome things. I don't know that the online schools like K-12 or Connections Academy are doing a whole lot for innovation. Their curriculum is just as dry as the classroom can be but the kids can be in their pajamas to do it. It's another option and I'm glad it's there but I don't think it's going to be what changes the system or creates great thinkers and innovators.
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      Sep 21 2011: Hi Krista - Amazing work. Any thoughts on how some of your home schooling approach could realistically be integrated into a more traditional ed context? One advantage of traditional schools is the potential for group learning in a larger social context.

      Also, since online tools are growing so fast, how could they better train for innovation or better fit with your model?
      • Sep 21 2011: I think having a more discussion-based learning environment is a good place to start. Asking kids "what do you think about 'x' " gets them thinking and not just regurgitating facts although I do think that there is some use for memorizing things at a young age because 1) it's what young children's brains like to do and are good at and 2) it gives a future basis for answering those "what do you think" questions. For young children, it should be so much more about play and exploration and checking things out. Touch things, see things, do things...then as they get older, those discussions can be awesome and they can have th freedom to innovate and have their voices heard.
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    Sep 21 2011: Hi Eric. One idea is to implement a new flavor of bottom-up, DIY, community-based problem solving. A great example of this model was recently introduced to me by Camilo Rodriguez-Beltran Is this along the lines of what you are envisioning?
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      Sep 21 2011: YES! thanks for the link. I think the most powerful part of this Taleo Initiative is giving people the tools to map solutions from elsewhere onto their local context. This demystification of the process of science is key.
  • Sep 21 2011: After reading some of the responses here what everyone seems to be touching on but no one seems to be grasping directly is that the role of information in our society has changed. You can get what used to be a $100,000 education now from wikipedia and google. Information itself has become less and less important, however HOW to find information has become more and more invaluable. So instead of the classic focus of teaching kids specific subjects with little to no relevance to their probable careers or every day lives. Teach them HOW to teach themselves what they need to know, the information is out there. Everything from rocket science to plumbing.
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      Sep 21 2011: Exactly. See the comment by Denise Wheeler and mine as well. We need to learn HOW to learn, how to teach ourselves, and we need to be motivated to WANT to learn.
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    Sep 21 2011: As a current college student, I cannot emphasize enough how I wish we encouraged to learn a variety of subjects rather than focus on one major which will turn us into young professionals who know a lot about too little. However, it is also a difficult task when you realize that a lot jobs that are created now are increasingly narrowed down to a subfield of a subfield of the subfield (see doctors==)surgeons==)brain surgeons). Education costs a lot, and one often cannot afford to learn as much as one wants, deterred by the debt monster.
    I find myself constantly fighting between the will to learn and the cost to learn and very often, the cost will win. Thank God for TED talks because otherwise I would be living in a bubble, studying away to become a member of the job market assembly line
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      Sep 21 2011: Hi Dany -- Really great observation. It is true that some fields do require very specific training - but I have learned that often the best training is learning how to learn quickly, and how to ask good questions when you are starting something new. Often as an outsider with slightly different training, you can offer unique perspectives to any new job.
  • Sep 21 2011: In order to do so our educational system will have to be more open to innovation and that will require some deregulation and privatization of that system.
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      Sep 21 2011: Hi Jeremy, really interesting challenge. Is there any way to 'sneak' in this innovation into the existing system? In other words, how might we align the incentive structure of the existing system with new forms of engaging students more broadly?
      • Sep 21 2011: I really don't think there is a way to do that. The public system is so rigid. It has too many standards that don't allow change to happen very easily. It is a system that will always be behind in methods and technology. Kahn Academy is one example of a system that lives outside our current system and thus is able to introduce innovation. The best way to innovate in our educational system is to privatize and deregulate. The next best way is to create outside systems that compete with the current system. Innovation within the system is next to impossible.
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          Sep 21 2011: I think what Khan Academy is doing, along with MIT OpenCourseware, Stanford OpenClassroom and Engineering Everywhere, and others surely to follow - this is the way to learn. But Khan Academy and others only work if you realized you NEED the material or for some reason want to learn it, and you know specifically what to look for. Creating interest in new material and exposing students to subjects they didn't know they should have - that's also a major role of educators, which the internet is missing thus far. As well as a human touch, which should never become absent from the learning experience.

          I *LOVE* what Stanford is doing this year with live web enrollment to a live class - homeworks and all.
        • Sep 21 2011: The system is currently stifled. Lack of funding and lowest-denominator based state-standards prevent innovative development. There are hundreds of thousands of well educated teachers in the public system nationwide capable of taking education to new levels, they just need the freedom and support to do so. I believe project-based education and contextual learning are the keys to turning our system around. Goodbye to worksheets and end of chapter questions!
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        Sep 21 2011: Teachers will do what they have to in direction they want to... so then the question is how do you incentivise administrators to incentivise teachers to add certain material. Perhaps create freedom for corporations to sponsor certain school-wide transformations or projects which create room for unconventional learning. I'm sure there are ways. What my question in response to you is - who will teach these new skills? My parents couldn't teach me about financial success because they have no idea what that means - I had to learn it elsewhere. Most teachers are not equipped to teach connection-making, true creativity (out-of-the-box thinking), or create drive and ambition in students because THEY lack these things and thus would have no idea what this stuff is made of or how to teach it. Even if given material, they would present it from the framework of their own limited view of the world. How do you fix THAT?!
    • Sep 21 2011: but privatization is making the system costly and corrupted...The institutions are always interested in earning money from students without showing any advancements towards students development
      • Sep 21 2011: You are only looking at it from the current private schools system which is still regulated and standardized by the government. You need to take a fresh perspective of what it could be like if people had more freedom to choose what type of education their child gets. For profit works better. Why? Cause schools succeed or fail based on innovation and ability to provide well for the market. It is incentive based and not just old school test scores based.
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          Sep 21 2011: Granted there is always a chance for success in any noble endeavor, but how do you secure these benefits while avoiding the corrupt systems? Is there a way to actually get past the current negative paradigm? It is a frightening world, my current Governor is trying to bypass the 1st, and 14th amendment in order to create a voucher system for education. The ethical costs of that seem far worse than the benefits of what could be done. Hope is great, but hope doesn't pay for public education when all of the children in Kansas get bussed to their Christian schools.
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        Sep 21 2011: khanacademy was developed by one guy and a camera and is arguably the most disruptive an interesting concept out there.

        Cost: $50?
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          Sep 21 2011: Khan Academy is a super interesting model - especially his concept of "Flipping the Classroom": give the students the 'lecture' for homework, and have them do homework in class where the teacher can spend more time helping them problem solve and think critically. The HUGE challenge though is that math education is very linear and progressive - so it's kind of the 'low hanging fruit' of online education. How can this approach grow to include more interdisciplinary education?
    • Sep 21 2011: Definitely agree. Our country has been standardizing education, which is admiral in the case of those who are being ignored by our educational system, but we need to put the power back in the states and the districts and ultimately the schools again. Our federal government does not have the power to make sure that all students get a worthy education, nor do they have the right to tell us what that education should be.
    • Sep 21 2011: It's already starting to go that way. With the advent of charter schools, public money is being spent on schools that are operate more like private schools. I am the leader of a private school, but I have to say I would love to see our public school system make the much needed changes to benefit all of our nation's students. Currently we are nowhere near the top of education systems in the world which does not bode well for a job market that has made the transition from local/national to international. I worry about my students and how they will fare.
      • Sep 21 2011: That is true Amanda. Unfortunately standardization still prevents schools including charter schools from innovating much more than public schools are able to do.
  • Sep 21 2011: Design for America is one interesting attempt to address this problem. It's a network of student led studios at universities in the US. It provides a network, and the design process to help students become better innovators. It looks to inspire students address messy, real world problems in their community. As a Learning Scientist, I've been working I've been working for this organization to look at how we can support this practice.

    Sadly running out of time to say more - but here is their website:

    And a more in-depth explanation of what they do:
  • Sep 21 2011: I mention BMC because it is a particular example of philosophy & art contributing to education in unexpected ways. As a philosophy professor, I may be biased, but it seems to me we need to introduce philosophy much earlier in this country than the collegiate level, which is where it is typically presented now.
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    Sep 21 2011: Wow, great conversation! Thank you Eric for leading this.

    In my work I find that good solutions are often frustrated by lack o critical, skeptical thinking. For example, many people excited about climate change adaptation operate under the premise that everyone knows what we need is more monitoring to detect change. Few of us challenge these assumptions or require our colleagues to apply logic and rigor in identifying goals, objectives, and actions. We need to train people to challenge assumptions, to require presentation of logic models, to somehow be skeptical while remaining open to leaps of faith. Not sure how we do that, but part of the problem is that we do not support a culture that shields skeptics --instead the culture supports those that go along.
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      Sep 21 2011: Interesting, Dan. It would be great in a later conversation to learn more about your work. Perhaps you can initiate a new TED conversation?
    • Sep 21 2011: Philosophical training might help- at least a logic class taught sometime before the age of 18!?
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      Sep 21 2011: Thanks for contributing Dan! One kernel in your post that is key to me is the dialectical tension between skepticism and being open to leaps of faith. Training students to be comfortable with that juxtaposition of apparent opposites is key.
      • Sep 21 2011: I've been struggling with how to bring this concept (of juxtaposing of opposites) across in a manner that can be easily understood. When it comes to being able to back away and look at something from a higher perspective, is there an age range where this should be taking place? Is there really an innate morality that is beyond culture and would it be dangerous or even wrong to give the power to a child to see that they have a choice of either behaving or misbehaving and that they are 'at choice' to do what they feel is right? Will that confuse a child to the point of depression or inaction for an inability to understand what to do? What about the kids who feel that it is right to harm others and go into a route that they gain power over others because it's what they want to do and what they enjoy? This morning I was writing about my own struggle with the dialectical tension in values and in being able to choose between two dynamic tensions. For example freedom vs. commitment. Both can be examined and seen as having lighter and darker aspects. The choice is there for anyone, but will a child be able to navigate through to do what is best for them in the future based on values as opposed to what they want to do and can children effectively choose values without having had much experience with the application of them in the world? Just looking to spark some thoughts, let me know how this settles on you. Cheers.
    • Sep 21 2011: I totally agree with Daniel. I think the biggest threat to the future of humanity is lazy, uncritical thinking that simple accepts and regurgitates conditioned ideas even when it is clear that they do not work. I am working on a book on this at the moment.

      I was very fortunate (although I did not realise it at the time) to be educated in such a way where I was taught to ask questions continuously, in addition to my natural curiosity. I did extremely well at school and then at university at Cambridge because I simply loved to use my brain to solve problems. I was the kind of kid who would find a new subject to learn during the summer holidays and study it to death, such as renaissance art or something I was unfamiliar with but would challenge me.

      My biggest struggle since leaving university 8 years ago has been operating in a world where critical thinking is generally not found and where, in the workplace in particular, you are seen as being obstructionist for asking the question why. So at 25 I decided I had to leave traditional employment and create my own path because it was the only way in which I would thrive.

      The issue with the western education system in general apart from a few schools like montessori or the ones I attended, is that it is designed to churn out good workers. Good workers are not supposed to, or are not required to in most places, think critically. So both the world f education plus the real world into which children are being sent must change.

      Critical thinking is a necessity, however, for the evolution of our species.
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    Sep 21 2011: practice & inquiry skills may be developed. we should let students ask questions, let them try, let them observe.. let them practice so that they could detect the deficiencies themselves and may develop creative solutions.
  • Sep 21 2011: This is a quote from my 17 year old's first college paper..."We mindlessly work on what is given to us, with all of our sheep eyes focused on the same symbol, the letter A."

    I feel sorry for the youth of today. The whole system is working against them. They see no way out except anarchy.
  • Sep 21 2011: It has been said that emptiness is at the seat of all creativity. I propose first training educators in the art of being truly present and mindful with their students...really listen, hold the space, and allow students to follow their individual intelligences and learning patterns. Then we incorporate mindfulness into the classroom structure. Teach students how to listen better--listen to what is presented (by educators, by peers, by books/materials), listen to themselves, and listen to the intelligence that is beyond (but not apart from) all of us as individuals.
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    Sep 21 2011: There are so many ways to attack this problem and because it's so complex and I believe there are different ways to address them from the "grass roots" level. One way will be to encourage teachers to have field trips to conferences like Maker Faire and Open Hardware Summit. These conferences are not only relatively cheap, but it allows for the introduction of complex concepts in a tangible and tactile way.
  • Sep 21 2011: I wish this was conducted through a round table video discussion. Could be done as a hangout on Google plus. What do you all think.
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    Sep 21 2011: The education system needs to focus less on giving us facts about specific subjects and more on motivating us to WANT to learn more on our own. We need to create a culture where students don't expect to BE educated, but expect to educate themselves. We need to create a culture where every student has access to useful information and WANTS to actually access it, and knows how to do so.

    The students who really excel are the ones who go the extra mile and question what their teachers tell them, and go beyond the classroom to discover more knowledge. To become "integrative, innovative, and adaptive problem solvers", students have to do some exploration on their own and take control of their own education.
  • Sep 21 2011: Our country is trying to train people for what they think the future will hold. Help students become creative by not dictating lesson plans and let them explore. Teach students to find problems and how to solve them rather than giving them not only the problems but the solutions as well. Too many companies are upset at the lack of problem-solving abilities and creativity in the people joining the workforce today. We are obsessed with with standardized testing, where this is four solutions and you have to pick the correct one by filling in a bubble. Our world is not fill-in-the-blank.
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    Sep 21 2011: My list wasn't exhaustive, but literature and music are artistic in nature. I might have listed Music first because of it's vital importance to development.
  • Sep 21 2011: The educational system needs to be less worried about narrow or broad specialization and more worried about actually teaching people how to read. Literacy is abysmal and getting worse. Math is not far behind.
  • Sep 21 2011: Students learn a lot by teacher's actions. When students see, through out their schooling, teacher teaching using handouts, powerpoint slides and other tradition forms of teaching then students barely see any innovative methods of teaching from the teachers. Whereas using modern forms or innovative ways to teach would make the students think and work in similar innovative and fun way.

    I think The Floating University's concept is heading toward the right direction in this matter.(
    I really like its core concept: Learning for the joy of learning. I think this important message is that every teacher should be capable of explain/convincing/transferring to every student in a interesting way. The dynamic media and the whole concept of this university is creative and interesting and very different from the usual university. Such creative idea will for sure inspire students find their own creativity in themsleves

    I'm a physics major students and while i love physics i hate how teacher teach them and how uninteresting class they are. On the other hand, Arts/Drama/photography classes uses a lot of creative teaching tools. I think Non arts teachers could learn a lot from those artists and teachers.
    So basically, i believe that students will be come more creative if teachers really try becoming and experimenting with creative stuffs rather than tradition methods of teaching, which is in my case, and probably still so in most of the eastern part of the world.
  • Sep 21 2011: The book "A Thomas Jefferson Education" by Oliver Van deMille is an awesome read. It completely changed the way I think of education and what it CAN be vs what it currently is. It's very inspirational and offers great solutions that can be implemented in any learning environment. It's all about creating leaders, thinkers and innovators. A very inpirational and worthy read.
  • Sep 21 2011: Forgive the mess of the grammar .. hastily getting this out in time:
    I believe getting rid of following a specific class or learning within a specific time frame (meaning: getting rid of 5 yr olds starting at kindergarten, then mandatory following your age and class). Just take classes not groups. Learn on your own level and speed. Testing on actual real life situations instead of memorizing a book and filling in answers. (Focusing how to apply the information we learn).
  • Sep 21 2011: Let's get rid of the college/university model and adopt a quasi apprenticeship model.

    College should only be for academic pursuits and not job training pursuits. It is for research and academic study only.
  • Sep 21 2011: Is anyone here familiar with Black Mountain College? It was an experimental 'happening' in education, in Black Mountain North Carolina from the 1930's to 50's. For those interested in the power of interdisciplinary learning, I recommend checking it out! Amazing things happened there- despite the lack of curriculum or testing...
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    Sep 21 2011: A few months ago, I was reading up on the ranks of various education systems around the world and noticed that Finland was much higher on the scale than I expected it to be, considering education power-houses such as China and Japan. One of the things mentioned in the article I was reading was the average acceptance rate into teaching programs in Finland. Although I do not have the article on hand, I believe that the acceptance rate was somewhere around fifteen percent. Do you think that more stringent requirements for becoming a teacher would help improve the American education system? I know the old saying is "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." - but what if we could reverse that statement?
  • Sep 21 2011: I think as private schools we have much more of an ability to innovate. It all comes down to the leadership of these schools, though, and their ability to truly step outside of the box and do the work that's involved with rebuilding and restructuring a school. I'm hopeful that with the increase in frustration directed toward standardization, more and more leaders of private institutions will step up and pave the way for school communities that are collaborative, creative and value questioning, problem-solving (without multiple-choice options) and encourage independent thought as opposed to one "right answer" solutions. Perhaps my optimism is unwarranted, but I refuse to give up hope yet. Many of the responses and posts in this conversation have added fuel to fire in my belly. I hope the same is happening with others as well.
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    Sep 21 2011: From my experience and from what I am hearing from my friends who are working as teachers we need to change teachers. In my country teachers are not innovative, they are quite opposite they work only for work sake and only what teaching program tells them. But kids are looking for inspiration for good example how to live. If teachers are not innovating how can they teach it to kids?
  • Sep 21 2011: I'm from Holland. Over here, we've focussed on teaching and practicing competences, instead of knowledge. This would enable people to acquire and apply the right knowledge and skills (just-in-time) at the right time.
    It's not really a succes. We are already talking about teaching facts again.
    • Sep 21 2011: Interesting, in Quebec Canada the primary school system has been reformed to go towards a competencies based system. The idea is interesting, putting it in practice is quite another issue. Success here is also quite limited.

      At the university level however I find the competencies view is bringing some very interesting opportunities. The traditional master vs. class is slowly changing to,I believe, a more constructive mentor and class relationship.

      What are the main reasons in Holland for the redirection to knowledge training instead of competencies ?
  • Sep 21 2011: I am working on doing a Kahn Academy style program with foreign language.
  • Sep 21 2011: How about having schools act as "Industry Consultants". Students get real life problems brought up by industry leaders and Companies get to tap into fresh new creative minds. Schools get paid by the firms seeking advice and students tuiton is free. Students leave schools with real life experience. Is this sustainable?
  • Sep 21 2011: I think that specialization and adaptive problem solving are not exclusive. Students will retain more and gain a better understanding of the world they live in if education is done within a specific context. I would suggest a simpler model of what science students experience at a graduate level. We need to start with a problem students need to solve - how can we fix something, find a measurement, understand this historical document, etc. Students will then search for these answers and in the process learn about the subject as a whole and pointed information that has a context. Only once you understand a topic can you truly be analytical. This is the major problem with simple fact retention - it does not lead to any true world "understanding" just the ability to recite. If this learning approach is applied in teams of students, then a leadership component can be developed. Suddenly, students are put in the driver's seat of their own education!
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    Sep 21 2011: We must give people the tools that will allow them to be great critical thinkers who can apply their thoughts to all manner of problems or issues, and come up with great solutions. For some reason this always seems to get lost in any equation dealing with education here in America. Why is that?
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    Sep 21 2011: Hi Eric,

    Your question implies we can "solve ourselves out of problems" that we "solved ourselves into" in the first place.

    Personally, I think if we stopped solving problems, they would "disappear." (I don't think many will grasp that idea.)

    So to provide another type of answer:

    1) Teach thinking skills - for example, Edward de Bono's stuff.
    2) Teach learning skills - for example, Tony Buzan's mind maps.
    3) Encourage "self-actualization." - When we are satisfied "within ourselves" we will be less likely to compensate for internal imbalances by trying to solve external problems.
    • Sep 21 2011: I love how you brought up self-actualization. It should be the ultimate result from our education but so often it is not. Maslow himself felt that creativity is what led to self-actualization.
    • Sep 21 2011: Certainly in some cases no course of action is the correct course of action, but that is actually quite rarely the case.

      With regard to number 3, I would say that encouraging "self-actualization" especially among an age group who aren't experienced enough to even grasp that concept is really a futile and pointless exercise. Being dissatisfied with oneself is a part of the human condition, and one which leads one to better oneself much more so than vaguely aiming at an intellectual construct. You also forgot that solving external problems is also a part of the human condition, examine the last 10,000 years of human history and you will see nothing but humans solving external problems. If we had never engaged in that pursuit we would be at peace with nature, at peace with our fellow animals, and nothing like the species we are today.
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    Sep 21 2011: In my opinion, the answer is in letting students to explore and BE! After exploring the world, there are things we like and things we don't like, and we can be very passionate about the things we like. When people feels passion, they can't stop thinking about it. In order to innovate and be a problem-solver, people, students and workers, must have free space to give ideas instead of being afraid, they must feel comfortable. If students do what they like + they are not afraid, they can turn into happy innovative problem-solvers!! The educational system should let students think by themselves, trust them, treat them with respect, not arrogance, with compassion, not punishment.
  • Sep 21 2011: Here's an interesting article dealing with standardized testing
  • Sep 21 2011: Project work done by students when included in the curriculum has huge benefits. It is a great place to learn how to learn, make some errors, be responsible for the errors, fix them and learn from them.

    I am involved in engineering and industrial design education in Montreal Canada. The recent introduction of more significant and complex project work had a huge impact on the interest of students in their studies and the level at which they question what work needs to be done and why. We are now having teams of 20 students from 3 schools (engineering, industrial design and business) collaborate for 8 months on the development of future products. In this context, innovation gets very real.

    For engineering and design the CDIO initiative is an interesting forum for exchanges on education and training:
  • Sep 21 2011: Guess educational system is aiming to attend the businesses demand for specialized professionals. Hoe do you see the influence of The world economics changes we are experiencing in terms of generating professionals with a more integrative profile?.
  • Sep 21 2011: I guess I left primary and secondary school before this happened, but many classes are now "scripted". Teachers are given a set lesson plan of what they do every day of every week for the entire semester/year. This could be done with robots, which I believe Japan or China tried to do. They realized it didn't work because it doesn't allow for any deviation, which is bound to happen.
  • Sep 21 2011: One word: flexibility. Our current system of education is extremely limiting in it's structure and right now, the student is treated like a statistic with money rather than a human being. To train creative thoughtful leaders is to allow them to be fully themselves in regards to their pursuit of their education within their own definition(s).
  • Sep 21 2011: When we talk about students who are we actually talking about K-5, middle school, high school, or college?
    • Sep 21 2011: I would think K-12. College seems to be the first major place where students can get the education they want instead of the education that is forced upon them.
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    Sep 21 2011: I think it's important to have a couple different educational systems.
    1. Teach people how to learn (math, reading, science, music, writing); and
    2. Teach people how to be productive (professional education, which is ongoing).
    Item 1 s/b done primarily for younger students, but it should never stop completely.
    Item 2 is done for the rest of our lives, or it should be.
    We are currently failing many students with item 1, which is vitally important. It's important to focus on that problem in primary education (and early college education). Item 2 becomes very difficult if we continue to get item 1 wrong.
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      Sep 21 2011: what about intuitive thinking, seems very left brain orientated.
    • Sep 21 2011: My philosophy is similar. We should provide liberal schools, humanities schools, math and science schools, art schools, vocational schools, and everything you could imagine in between. It works great for college, why should it not work for at least high school if not even younger? We already have magnet schools around the country, but they can be difficult to get into.
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    Sep 21 2011: Do you see any developments in the world of online education that might help address some of the problems people are raising? Not as a replacement to traditional education, but as a way of enhancing it, enabling students to follow their passions, encouraging them to make connections among apparently disparate topics, and helping engage them in critical thinking?
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      Sep 21 2011: I helped organise TEDxLondon and theme was education revolution. Worth checking out when video's up.
    • Sep 21 2011: The Kahn Academy model is create. Teacher assisted, technology fueled, self motivated. One thing it lacks is the ability to choose what one learns about and or learning things in context. Another thing it lacks is critical thinking about how to solve problems.
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      Sep 21 2011: I think many interesting things happening examples already mentioned are khan academy or HTH.

      What is most important is a culture when I or anyone can set something up in education and through a darwinian like evolution education can evolve and react. The startup culture is particular suitable.
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        Sep 21 2011: Khan Academy is an awesome model - but I think it works well because it is tackling a very linear subject which follows a similar path for most students (e.g., algebra 1, 2, 3 etc.). Other online ed sites have more variety of topics, but then it can also be alot of noise - too many thing to pick from, and the only guide to good ones is "popularity" which may not be the best indicator of "most educational".

        Any thoughts on how to have interesting 'curricula' evolve in an online learning context?

        Also, please do send a link to the TEDxLondon videos when they are up!
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          Sep 21 2011: Khan Academy, specially when it also includes grammar and basic values education is foundational as you continue to expand into higher levels of education and learning. I think that this is what most we miss. Everything else can be learned from everyday life experiences.
    • Sep 21 2011: Part of education should be giving students the faith to pursue the things that interest them even if it isn't practical. I feel so much of education is "You can't do that. It isn't practical." That attitude kills faith and confidence and destroys creativity and critical thinking. It's a think as I do and don't think for yourself model.
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      Sep 21 2011: Free and open education = awesome. The Kahn Academy is just one example, but there are many many individuals making useful videos and articles and educational games and other things that are equally wonderful. What I'm especially excited by is seeing students teaching things to each other!
    • Sep 21 2011: The philosophy in schools program around the world does address this. In my school in Sydney every student participates in a one hour philosophy session within a community of inquiry. K to 6. All teachers are trained in this methodology in the hope that this critical and creative inquiry methodology will permeate all their teaching practice.
  • Sep 21 2011: The fundamental changes that m=need to be made in our educational system are complex and mostly philosophical. We already know what kind of environment stimulates curiosity and creativity, but we need to remove political polarization and ideology. Critical thinking is essential to survival, not just finding employment in a flat job market. When educators started focusing on "selling" education only as a means to earning power and elevated standardized testing as a way to measure progress toward that end, our whole system was reduced to aim for the bottom line. If we train educators to provide an outline or framework for students to follow while developing their individual talents and then create an objective (NOT standardized) way of measuring progress toward their established goals, we would have a nation of people capable of imagining and creating the future.
    China has figured out that their current system does not foster creativity and has mapped out a path toward changing. Perhaps we could learn from their research.
  • Sep 21 2011: Actually, I don't think our country is trying to train the students for anything other than to acquire good grades. Which, as I have always told my children, has no bearing in the real world. How many jobs actually look at one's GPA as a requisite for hiring? This is where our system really fails the students, by not instilling in them the real skills needed to step into the world and compete in the workplace. Grades are only necessary to get through school, but it's the students who learn to speak well, and write well, and motivate others in positive and inspiring ways that not only get the job, but continue to thrive. Which, in the end, is the real measure of success, not grades.
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    Sep 21 2011: I learn by having an experience, thinking about it, Talking about it with friends, making the wrong decision, having another experience, applying the thoughts from all previous lessons learned and so on each of my future decisions is better than all of my past decisions, because I'm applying my limited knowledge, which grows and enables me to make a "better" decision next time. I like the idea of Group accelerated Innovation that Chris Anderson put forward - it could speed up this process and lump many peoples "mistakes" into the tipping point decision.

    Of course this may be completely off base, in which case I'll learn from it and it will be "better" next conversation...
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    Sep 21 2011: As Jeremy says, the education system requires a more innovative solution, and perhaps it's about the packaging. Drawing from the genius of nature and modular nested components as inspiration, chunking degree modules into independant yet interrelated topics allows for a more diverse selection. Students build their skills base across disciplines aligning to their strengths and passions. Our evolving times highlight the rift between what is studied and the workplace demand to those exact skills. It is quite an exciting time to be around to observe and be a part of what emerges.
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      Sep 21 2011: Hi Marion - I love your idea of drawing from modular nested components - it makes for more flexible and dynamic options for learning. Any follow up ideas for how to implement that - either in a traditional ed context or with online tools?
  • Sep 21 2011: I think a large part of the problem is the ideal of standardized tests. Among my friends that are teachers, they tell me that the time lost to preparing and taking these "benchmark" tests could make the difference in the students actually understanding material instead of just taking necessary steps.
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    Sep 21 2011: The school system definitely needs improving in order to achieve a higher standard of education, but converning your question I think it's especially the universities that need improvement.

    In Germany you get a good, solid general education until you finish high-school and unless you switched on your own to a technical or to commercial or some other specialized high school you basically have what it takes to study anything you want.

    It's during your years at the university that the narrow specialization takes place.

    On the one hand, I agree with you, Eric, we need generalists, people who can understand the whole picture. That's why new jobs like industrial engineers appeared to fill the gap between economists and mechanical engineers. I too often miss some socio-cultural or historical classes (I study mechanical engineering btw), that's why I take a language course each semester, to have something else besides math equations and drawings.

    On the other hand, without specialists you cannot improve. We have reached such high standards in all fields of research that a generalist - even though in some cases he might be able to provide a solution to the problem from another field - will usually fail. Interdisciplinary solutions are cool, but not the rule.

    The question for me is - how to change universities in order to reach an optimal compromise between the two?
  • Sep 21 2011: In my opinion education should be much more about making decisions, regardless of their outcome and allow students to be different. Making a decision and living with the consequences forms strong characters and strong characters can adapt to change and solve problems on their own accord.
    And by "decisions" I don't mean multiple choice tests.
    Don't ask me how to get decisions into education, but i think they have to be there!
  • Sep 21 2011: What is "integrative thinking"?
  • Sep 21 2011: Hello, what are the kind of careers of the job market in 10 yrs from now?
    • Sep 21 2011: We don't know. That fact is what makes critical and integrative thinking of utmost importance. Someone who is able to use their brain to adapt to anything will be well suited to careers that are currently unknown to us.
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      Sep 21 2011: Read something (anything) by Ray Kurzweil to get an idea of how to answer this question. :-) Consider exponential growth of technological power and adaptation in our society. What does the world look like in 10 years with near-free internet in central africa and middle east... cheap smart 4G-5G phones which have the processing power of today's most expensive off-the-shelf desktops in hands of people we don't associate with tech users. ubiquitous translation, advanced medical diagnosis and personalized treatment, augmented human parts (exo- and endo-), wider adoption of 3D printing tech... What are the jobs in this world? CONNECTORS! People who understand meaning in multiple fields and know how to solve problems without a concrete specification, as well as scientific jobs that enable the underlying tech: biologists, data miners, AI engineers, social engineers, new breed of leadership which works laterally across social groups and skill sets, not hierarchically in order of line management and reporting.
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    Sep 21 2011: One huge problem is that the world is changing so rapidly it is difficult to train someone today for a job market 10 yrs from now. But that's also the good news. Educating for adaptability in the future will also train for integrative thinking today...
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      Sep 21 2011: Given the old line "give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, he eats for life." We can assume in a network both strategies will be applied, but in what ratio.
    • Sep 21 2011: Start by making education an ongoing system instead of you are in the system then out of the system and in the job market.
      • Sep 21 2011: I like this idea. Similarly, we need to think about very basic reformation in our system of education. State standards are issued as individual bullet points whereas critical/integrative thinking and adaptability is going to require the ability to clearly identify connections in learning. If teachers are looking at their job as being a check list of standards they need to teach, then students will only be absorbing a checklist of information.
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        Sep 21 2011: Top schools train their students for jobs that don't yet exist.
        "The future is already here, it is just unevenably distributed."

        Jeremy: Many services are providing this....just unevenably distributed.
      • Sep 21 2011: You're confusing schooling with education. We don't go to school for our whole lives, but the main purpose of it should be instill a love of learning that will persist even when the student leaves school.
        • Sep 21 2011: so what is more important schooling or education? What do you really get credit for?
      • Sep 21 2011: Striving to be a life long learner is something that will benefit all.
    • Sep 21 2011: i like the line saying the adapting to the i guess we have to train students ETHICALLY to adapt to change..
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        Sep 21 2011: Absolutely - In my experience teaching I realized that many students are terrified of the unknown - "what am I going to BE in 5 yrs?" - I try to teach them that UNCERTAINTY is actually VERY exciting - I still never know what I will be doing in 5 yrs, and I love that. In fact, it's alot more exciting than knowing exactly what I will be doing. The key is that I know it will be something interesting, I just don't know what. I'm still not sure how we can best help students develop this skill earlier... but I think it involves helping students abstract broad skills they are learning and give them the confidence that they can apply those skills to new situations. In fact that's how some of the greatest inventions and innovations are realized - someone has the insight to map a solution from one domain onto a problem in another...
    • Sep 21 2011: There will always be problems, and there will always be a future to worry about. Our freshest teachers are 25 or so, and that means they will be disconnected in a matter of years and continue to teach they way they were taught. How do we fix the college instructors who are teaching our college students how to be newer fresher teachers?