If you were to design the dream e-tool for education, what would it look like?
“Any e-learning tool should be mobile, interoperable, and allow collaboration,” began Kathy Hurley, Senior Vice President at and a veteran of more than 35 years in the education industry. Hurley provided the keynote talk at this year’s SSP IN meeting:
The good news is that students are embracing social media and collaboration. The bad news is that most of this is going on outside the classroom
Most high-school students use social media and other mobile communication tools like texting on a daily basis, and yet these technologies are barred from the classroom. “There is a disconnect between the consumer market and the education market,” Hurley said.
Hurley spent much of her talk providing an overview of many of the successes of Pearson Education projects, where successes were defined in markets, users, leverage, and potential — terms that fall into the lexicon of business-speak and not of pedagogy. Strangely absent were the words that educators like to hear — retention, comprehension, synthesis, and integration.
If Hurley believes that technology is but a means to an end, it did not surface in this talk. According to Hurley, technology is a end in itself and does not require justification for its adoption. New is far superior to old established technologies (e.g., the book, the classroom, the chalkboard), whether or not they are effective or even work at all. Hurley described how a large school district purchased a few hundred thousand netbooks only to find that they wouldn’t work with a Pearson product they were purchased to run, yet the irony of this wasn’t apparent to her.
The narrative of her talk took a familiar form — factoids and trends suggesting that mobile computing devices will be nearly ubiquitous in the near future; that markets are expanding rapidly; and that the customer base is used to social media. There’s just one thing standing in the way of delivering new and exciting products to these consumers — the education system.
Indeed, one of the subliminal themes in her talk was that the education system is getting in the way of student learning. “In the 21st century,” Hurley asked rhetorically, “why are still talking about leveraging e-learning in the classroom?”
Luckily, teachers, principals, and education boards weren’t the only obstacle to student learning. Hurley points a finger straight in the eye of rights-management. “I think its a disaster,” she said. “I’m happy that I’m not in that area! It can be so daunting that most publishers will say that it isn’t worth it.”
“Just because there are challenges doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress toward the dream e-tool!” Hurley continued and briefly highlighted several tools developed by Pearson, including MyMathLab and Poptropica.
Hurley ended her talk with a four-minute infomercial prepared by her company. Accompanied by heart-warming music, close-ups of teachers extolling the merits of technology, social media, and collaboration (many of the teachers wore black turtlenecks and possessed cultured Commonwealth accents). These are the insiders, the bearded intellectuals, the renegades within, trying to kill the system that has prevented real learning. The last line of the video was reiterated by Hurley as her favorite:
The death of education is the dawn of learning
Is it possible to develop and market new e-learning tools without blaming teachers or the educational system?