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Eric Berlow

Founder, Vibrant Data Labs


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

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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!


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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 change....so 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?

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