Sir Ken Robinson: The Learning Revolution continues …

“The reason I think we need a revolution [in education] is really captured in a phrase you hear politicians often misuse. They talk about the need to ‘get back to basics’ in education; and, I think, we should. The problem, I think, is that many politicians, when they say “get back to basics”, seem to believe the basics are a group of subjects that they did when they were at school; and in particular, they tend to emphasise literacy and numeracy and science. Well, of course, they are fantastically important; but the basics of education are not a group of subjects. The basics in education are fundamental purposes …”

“I find it interesting; people can talk all day about education, but never mention ‘learning’. And, therefore, what I’m arguing is that the education revolution has to be based on a radical commitment to improving learning, however that happens”.

Sir Ken Robinson
September 17, 2011


In his latest talk, Sir Ken not only identifies the basics in education as “fundamental purposes” that manifest in economics, culture and personal realities; he markedly identifies specific core principles that would radically improve learning:

  1. Personalisation:
    “Education is not a mechanistic process; it is a process that depends upon the imaginations and interests of students being properly engaged. So, at the root of my call for a revolution is the need to personalise education”.“Every student has their own story; every student has their own menu of interests and of talents; it has to be about them. It has to be about improving the motivation and opportunities for creativity of teachers. Teaching is an art form; it’s not just a delivery system. Great teachers are people who know how to mediate their material in a way that really does inspire the imaginations and ignite the creativity of their students”.
  2. Customisation:
    “Wherever students learn, that is the education system for them. It’s not the committee rooms of our parliament buildings, it is not the boardrooms of our examinations boards; education happens in the schools or learning communities that students attend, and that for them is ‘the system. So, customising education to those students, to this place, these needs, this community, is absolutely critical”.
  3. Diversity:
    “Our current drive towards standardisation offends the principle of diversity on which human life depends and flourishes … human life is inherently diverse and we need to celebrate that in our school systems. Instead, too often, we subscribe to a rather bland menu of conformity.”
  4. Partnerships:
    “Education isn’t just what happens in formal school buildings; it should involve great institutions … like our great museums, our great science institutions; it should be a genuine partnership with the community more generally”.

Sir Ken maintains that these principles underpin the debate for revolutionising education and for moving beyond curricula per se; they provide the impetus to making education deeply personal by improving the quality of the learning.

Watch the video of Sir Ken’s inspirational introduction at TEDx, London; or download the transcript:

Direct download:
Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

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Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

Welcome to the iGeneration (Part 2): The Simple Revolution

Allowing students to achieve identified learning outcomes in a manner most suitable to them, while providing them with the opportunities to determine when, how and with what they choose to learn, are probably the most fundamental issues in establishing a meaningful and authentic learning experience.  It should come as no surprise that these concepts flow quite naturally from the three components of an authentic learning experience (quoted from the previous post):

  1. engagement (meaningful brain activity, not to be confused with entertainment),
  2. relevant and compelling assignments (requiring calculation, manipulation and
    synthesis; not merely searching and finding basic information), and
  3. a high level of personalisation (allowing for immediate individualised feedback, choice of application and ensuring that learning is at an appropriate level).

This understanding is not new; in fact, most adults will acknowledge that these three components are timeless (as Chickering and Gamson have pointed out, and as will be discussed in a future posting).  Yet, after decades of boring and uninspiring education, there is little evidence that we are actually implementing any of the three components of authentic learning in our classrooms.  Technologically, platform-independent  schools1. are few and far between, and students are still required to use whatever technology the school chooses to permit/favour at any given time.  This is not natural; it is not organic.  It is artificial beyond belief.

A great way to start changing the learning environment in a meaningful way is as simple as welcoming the technology that students wish to bring to their learning.  This will initiate a subtle learning revolution that will be evolutionary in its effect.   Not only will this foster engagement, independence and personalisation; it will certainly go a long way to make learning much more relevant and compelling.  As Sir Ken Robinson so convincingly says: “Bring on the revolution!”

Eddie de Beer


1. For the purpose of this post, “platform independence” refers to the use of multiple, portable technology devices in schools: PC (laptop and tablet computers), Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac computers), Android and Blackberry (tablets, cell and smart phones) devices; as well as software/web-based technologies that can run on these multiple hardware platforms.

A better way of learning …

Research clearly indicates that students learn best when the interaction in the classroom setting shifts, purposefully, from ‘teacher-the-sage lectures’ to one of ‘collaboration and independent practice’.  This is not surprising, as anyone who has ever sat through a boring lecture will tell you!

There will probably, therefore, be general agreement that a number of fundamental issues underlie meaningful learning.  These educational building blocks include, inter alia:
1) Freedom and choice,
2) Ability to customise and personalise,
3) Ability to analyse and receive immediate feedback for improvement,
4) ‘Collaboration’, ‘serious play’ (project-based, real-life experiences in learning) and
‘engagement’ (i.e. brains actively involved in learning; not to be confused with ‘fun’),
5) Ability to innovate constantly and move quickly (i.e. at the student’s own pace), and
6) Independence of practice, application and reflection.
‘Ideals’ they might well be; but they form the basis of the “Learning Revolution” that is taking hold around the world.  It might be surprising to know that, despite popular belief, these are far from being new revolutionary thoughts!  In fact, these common-sense necessities have been around for a long, long time and were most notably raised in a longitudinal study 25 years ago by Chickering and Gamson (1986, pertaining to undergraduate study).

Most educators would surely agree that those self-same principles apply to more than just undergraduate study; they are essential to all situations of learning.  Following those principals, the guidelines mentioned below encompass a number of the now-popular “21st Century Learning Skills”:
1) An individualised approach to learning is essential.
2) Schools need to be redesigned, comprehensively; not necessarily in a physical sense,
but as closely as possible using technology and inquiry-based models of learning.
3) Education needs to be relevant and outcome-based; i.e. meaningful within a global
4) Education should foster life-long learning, global citizenship and support a common
5) Teaching practice should facilitate creative, right-brain thinking as compared to
focusing primarily on developing analytical, left-brain processes.
6) Education needs to be expanded to involve all relevant stakeholders and experts
(not only teachers in schools).

While many schools around the world are serious about bringing about meaningful change, far too few adjustments to the industrial model of learning have been implemented.   Educational change-makers, such as Sir Ken Robinson, have made this their life-task and are beginning to impact upon educational institutions/think-tanks around the world.  Please read the posting regarding Sir Ken Robinson’s visit to Mulgrave School, where he spoke passionately about the need to re-think education.

Unfortunately, change continues to be painfully slow; and our kids continue to pay the price.  There are, however, a growing number of educators who are now more committed than ever to effect meaningful change, and to do so as a matter of haste.  Over the course of the next number of postings, I hope to highlight innovative teaching practices by educators and schools that are leading the way … watch this space!
Eddie de Beer