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    The two things wrong with education

    By Clive Young, on 9 July 2011

    “There are only two things wrong with the education system – what we teach and how we teach it.” Prof Roger Schank, CEO Socratic Arts

    Roger Schank at LKL At the London Knowledge Lab last week, Lab Roger Schank a global guru in artificial intelligence (AI), learning theory, cognitive science and virtual learning presented a powerful vision of how a story-centred curriculum could and should drive education. A self-confessed ‘radical’, he challenged the hold content-packed ‘subjects’ have in schools, colleges and universities. If students couldn’t pass last year’s exams – as was usually the case, he claimed – memorisation of content rather than deep learning had always taken place.  We were still locked into a mode of educational delivery derived from early religious studies where learning was about memorising, not challenging, a ‘revealed wisdom’. Even where subjects had developed more engaging forms of learning, the aim was still often geared to turning students into academics.   This elitist, subject driven focus cast a long shadow into schools where children, 99% of which would never become academics, were forced to study irrelevant topics which actually put them off formal education.

    Yet humans were natural informal learners. Informal learning however was rarely about acquiring facts but rather comprised endless loops of goals, active experimentation, failure and consequent explanations, interpretations or adaptations. These explanations, in the form of internal or external ‘stories’ were linked – ‘indexed’ in AI terms – to the context of the activities that spawned them.

    We were shown two ways in a activity and story-led approach could work.

    • The first was as a way of eliciting otherwise hidden corporate knowledge by videoing employees anecdotes, for example how a problem had been solved, and providing a descriptive context (derived from AI classifications of story types) to create a ‘just in time’ resource. These could be used to support staff responding to a new but related activity.
    • The second was as a radical approach to curriculum design. AI research had suggested 12 fundamental cognitive processes humans engaged in when going through the “goal, plan, experiment, explain, retry” learning cycle. The three most important are description, diagnosis and planning (the others are prediction, modelling, experimentation, evaluation, causation, judgment, negotiation, influence and teamwork). These need to be practiced, and best way to do this is via a form of case-based learning called the story-centred curriculum. He had developed an innovative MBA programme in Spain in which students explore seven cases in which all 12 cognitive processes are developed as an integrating theme, and are assessed on authentic outcomes such as business plans.

    Prof Schank unveiled his idea of an online Global Masters University which would use the story-centred curriculum as a way of developing innovative distance learning programmes. He believed there could be major commercial interest in such a practical ‘learn by doing’ programme and was currently looking for significant academic partners.

    References: has more information on most of the above and The cognitive science behind learning by doing is a recent slide set similar to the presentation above. Prof Schank’s latest book Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools is out in the autumn.

    Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools