Re-Thinking Learning and Development. Part 4: Do We Have it Backwards?

I invite you to check out the Khan Academy.  All of these learning modules are offered here and on You Tube for free.   I don’t know about you, but I think they are pretty good.  In his fascinating 20 minute TED talk, Salman Khan also argues that we are doing education backwards and it should be flipped.    We should, he argues, have students do the “classwork” at home.  (they can watch the video lectures by themselves in the intimacy of their own home, in their way, and as many times as they need.)  And then. . . they should do what USED to be thought of as HOMEWORK . . . IN CLASS!

So there is an idea, do the problem sets in class under the watchful eye of a teacher so that when they stumble or are confused, they can be redirected. Students can learn from each other in a much more humanized environment.

What a different idea about how to leverage e-learning not as a way to drive down the denominator of the ROI calculation, but to make the LIVE learning experience much more impactful!

Changing Educational Paradigms

To further this thought, watch this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about how our education system – developed during the age of enlightenment and designed to support the needs of the industrial age – must be re thought in the 21st century.  (I would argue this is relevant to us as we seek to train our adult employees, because how we prepare professional training today flows from this educational tradition.)

All too often, our current mode of teaching does perhaps nothing better than kill creativity.  This 20 minute talk explores how our innate creativity is gradually squeezed out to us as how we move through the educational process:

(If you enjoyed Robinson’s views, you might also look at this TED talk about how he believes schools kill creativity.)

To me, I think these all point to the need to ABSOLUTELY restructure our approach to educating, not only at the K-12 level but for adults as well.


  •  BE A STRUGGLE (if the answers are given too easily, then it produces superficial knowledge. We appreciate things more when we have to work at them.)
  • LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY in a HUMANIZING WAY (not solely to reduce cost.)
  • RECOGNIZE THAT IT IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT TEACHING AS IT IS ABOUT CREATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES (we are all born with the ability to learn.  Our goal as educators should not be so much about telling others what we have learned, but about creating environments within which our students can learn largely by their own labors.  That’s what makes it stick.)
  • START WITH THE IDEA THAT WE ALREADY HAVE TOO MUCH “EDUTAINMENT” OUT THERE (and there is absolutely no need to create more.)
  • START BY DEFINING NEW BEHAVIORS WE ARE SEEKING (you can’t design an effective learning strategy without considering first, how you want participants to think, feel or act differently as a result of the training.)

We (at XLC) may not have all the answers.  But this topic is vitally important to all of us who feel that we must continually to develop the abilities and patterns of thought among our workforce.

We believe that a constant spirit of experimentation is helpful if we are to create learning that sticks, and has lasting impact.

What about you? What training experiences were the most creatively engaging for you? And was the learning that resulted sustained?


Filed under Innovation

3 responses to “Re-Thinking Learning and Development. Part 4: Do We Have it Backwards?

  1. Mike Keller


    You wrote in your post:

    “All too often, our current mode of teaching does perhaps nothing better than kill creativity.”

    This is also an issue in the workplace. Check out Jason Fried’s TED talk about how he believes working in an office kills creativity.

  2. Tom

    I actually teach my college courses the way Kahn suggests and it definitely works; it just takes students some getting used to.

    What I find I have to do is explain to students exactly what I am doing so they understand what’s going on. For example, I often get accused of “not providing enough direction on assignments”, but not only does locking down every detail stifle creativity, but it also doesn’t reflect the reality of the workplace. It’s been my experience that people rarely tell you exactly what they want, and it’s up to you to ask questions and clarify details. That’s the process I want them to get used to.

    They also have to get used to the fact that I am not in class to be a “sage on the stage” – they are there to work out solutions to problems by talking them out among themselves or with me. They have access to all of the videos and resources they could ever need between what I provide them and what’s on the internet. I expect them all to be resourceful and creative in their problem solving, and while it often takes a few weeks of getting used to this, the feedback I get from students is that they become more confident in their capabilities and they learn a lot by going through the process.

    I will take Kahn’s suggestion even further and say that with today’s technology, there is absolutely no reason to be tied to a classroom in order to learn. Sure, there will always be students who need face-to-face interaction, but I make this optional. If a student wants to schedule a conference call or screenshare with me and do things that way, that is more than fine. This type of individualized treatment is way more personal, and gives advanced students a chance to shine, and struggling students a much better chance to succeed.

    I would, however, like to see a measuring stick that is not based on a student’s GPA, but their ability to learn and grow. Often, I find myself frustrated with a system where I’m forced to hand out grades of A, B, C, etc. when this doesn’t provide a true reflection of where a student started and where they finished. Unfortunately, however, most institutions are obsessed with grade inflation and grades, and don’t really support alternate forms of performance measurement by instructors.

  3. I agree with Tom, the world is messy and sometimes undefined. Students in my experience, want specific instructions because they are concerned with their grades. But the skills of defining a problem are worthy of being cultivated by us,.

    Learning SHOULD be messy, and hard. That leads to greater sustainability.

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