Monday, November 06, 2006

Agile Learning

A while back I blogged about creating innovative education. Kathy Sierra, recently wrote a great post about the current state of math/science in the US.

If you studied math, science, or engineering at a four-year college in the US, much of what you learned is useless, forgotten, or obsolete. All that money, all that time, all that wasted talent. If all we lost were a few years, no big deal. But the really scary part is that we never learned what matters most to true experts in math, science, and engineering. We never really learned how to DO math, science, and engineering....

Our educational institutions--at every level--need drastic changes or we're all screwed. The generation of students we're turning out today need skills nobody really cared about 50, 40, even 20 years ago. Where we used to prepare students for a "job for life", now we must prepare students to be jobless. We must prepare them to think fast, learn faster, and unlearn even faster ....The Waterfall Model of education is failing like never before. We need Agile Learning.

Some additional thoughts on this topic:
  • In the realm of software development Agile is more about a state of mind, than a set of skills & methods, and one of the keys to Agile success is having experiences and training to allow help practitioners how to make the write decisions. How do we then teach agile learning without experience - by teaching through experience showing students how to fail quickly, and learn from mistakes.
  • Agile learning should be facilitated through learning frameworks instead of the current model of "checklists" learning. Again, like Agile software development - quality and a great end product is not ensured with a checklist - it is about embedding quality and adaptability into the process.
  • Education is about building up a tool belt to equip the student when they go out into the real world. Today we teach the theory behind a hammer, and the mechanics of swinging a hammer, but less about keeping the nail straight, when to use a screw (and screwdriver) instead, or how to select a different tool if conditions change.

I once had a case interview for a large financial services company. I was presented with a simple business problem that was dealt with in the business. Although this was a new industry segment for me, I could solve this problem by using math or business tools from my tool belt. Then as soon as i finished problem, a 'twist' was thrown in (more information, changing conditions), where I had to re-think my response. Once I finished, another twist was added. This continued in fairly rapid-fire succession. By the end of the interview, my brain was fried, and I thought I had failed miserably, but I got the job. The interview was about my ability to think creatively, react to changing conditions, and thinking on the fly, and less about whether I gave the exact right response. This to me, is the essence of business in the new economy today, what agile learning is about, and unfortunately not what we teach.

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