My sons love to travel, explore and learn about different cultures. Recently, they were in central Asia. When they arrived in Kazakhstan, one of the first things they did was buy SIM cards for their iPhones. Then, they accessed a translation app that allowed them to use their devices to read signs and carry-on multi-lingual conversations with locals. Had they just beamed down onto another planet from the Starship Enterprise? No, they were in remote central Asia using a handheld device to explore new geography and interface with other human beings.
In 2023 they are functioning in a way that the majority of human beings do not know exists. They readily utilize programs that interface with machine intelligence to give them immediate access to information necessary to respond to the situation at hand.
Millennials like my sons, are able to tap into this massive information bank using foundational skills like reading, arithmetic and critical thinking that they learned in the traditional system, amplified by their own self-taught experiences. Using their devices, they no longer need to memorize data to function effectively.
Functioning, is a key word in understanding how we must design educational approaches that give students the tools necessary to partner with machine intelligence, access the data and, most importantly, assess its veracity.
My sons come from a culture with a well-defined and entrenched educational mindset. Almost nothing they learned in school was applicable to these new ways of experiential learning. The traditional method was to take courses to learn about the geography of central Asia, or to learn the languages spoken by the people, or any other disciplines that could only provide partial knowledge. Today, they would shake their heads and wonder why antiquated instructional methods are still in place.
In order to meet current and future learning challenges, there are many unresolved questions that need to be addressed. For example, can a student who has never learned to communicate with machine intelligence prosper in the years ahead? What is the advantage to a human being of having a head full of memorized partial facts? Are schools teaching kids to replicate the function of small computers? Is there an advantage to measuring student achievement by standardized tests? Do we need redundant thinkers or creative problem-solvers? What is the role of teachers? Should teachers be helping students master the skills necessary to use machine intelligence? How long will it take to adjust the system to modern times?