‘Our Technology Is Our Ideology’: George Siemens on the Future of Digital Learning

[In this Edsurge article George Siemens looks at the future of education with a focus on the learning system. As we gather more and more data on student learning, it’s imperative to use that data to empower the learner, the teacher, the parent, and all of the elements of the learning system. Adaptive learning is not enough; we need to have adapted learners that have the capability to meet the challenges for their futures.]

By Marguerite McNeal Aug 11, 2016

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

What does it mean to be human in a digital age? Some people researching education technology might not spend their days wondering how their work fits into this existential question—but George Siemens isn’t “some people.”

“Maybe my mama hugged me extra when I was a baby.” That’s his explanation for how he thinks about the role of education in the 21st century. A researcher, theorist, educator, Siemens is the digital learning guy. He’s credited with co-teaching the first MOOC in 2008, introduced the theory of “connectivism”—the idea that knowledge is distributed across digital networks—and spearheaded research projects about the role of data and analytics in education.

Siemens’ work is on the cutting edge of what’s possible in digital learning, but he doesn’t want to discuss the latest fads in education technology. Instead he wants to talk about humanity. He’s optimistic that technology can help people achieve a higher quality of life in a future where work is increasingly automated and distributed across the globe. He just doesn’t think our current university systems and edtech solutions will get us there.

“Our technology is our ideology,” Siemens says. He’s worried that, rather than advancing our human potential, many edtech companies and universities are perpetuating the status quo. While machine learning and automation are obviating the need for learners to memorize content and develop routine skills, current edtech solutions still focus on helping learners develop these capabilities, he says. Instead, they should drive students to hone their uniquely human traits—the ones that will help them thrive in an increasingly automated world.

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