Does education really need to change?

By AJ Juliani, 19 comments

Note: This is the first post in a four-part series. You can read the second, third, and fourth articles in the series here.

The year was 2007. I was a relatively new teacher and even “newer” to the online world of learning.

I was not tweeting or blogging.

I was googling. In fact, I was a ferocious googler of information at this time, always trying to get resources and ideas for my classroom that would inspire and challenge my students.

I was also naive. And still believe I’m naive today (more on that later), but had no real idea of what the world of information and learning looked like beyond my own experiences. This was before I had read any books about learning/education/teaching, and way before I was reading blogs and articles from colleagues and teachers online.

And then it happened. I’m not sure how it happened, or how I stumbled across this video. My best guess is a series of Google searches that led me to a rabbit hole of hyperlinks through the web until I was stopped cold in my tracks.

I clicked the video and could not stop watching.

My mouth grew wider and wider with each passing clip. And in my head I could only think, holy crap…what is going on??? Literally I was mindblown (this is what happened as I watched).


The video was “Did You Know; Shift Happens” was created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod. I’m sure many of you have seen either this original or one of the other versions (version 2.0, version 3.0,version 4.0, version 5). And it was this video that changed me.

How it changed me…

It’s funny to say that a video changed me, but it did. It changed my perspective on what was happening all around me. It changed my perspective on what was important to my students. But most of all, it changed my perspective on what my job was as a teacher.

The video sparked my curiosity and led me to:

  • Get my Master’s in Global and International Education
  • Read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman and join the “Flat Classroom Project” with my students
  • Create Project: Global Inform with students and the 2030Schools projects
  • Spend a ton of time connecting with teachers online from around the world
  • Read, read, and read some more about what is happening in our world

This quote from the video really hit home on figuring out not only what my role was as a teacher, but also what our role is as educational institutions:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” – Karl Fisch

I asked the question: If we don’t know what the future is going to look like, then how can we possibly “prepare” students for something?

This is apparent in my own life. My last job (K-12 Technology Staff Developer) and my current job (Education and Technology Innovation Specialist) did not exist when I was in High School. My teachers could not have possibly “prepared” me for these roles. None of my formal education had anything to do with “technology” either, it was all embedded into what I was doing in my daily life and classroom.

And then I had kids…

My interest in the future of learning grew exponentially when I had kids. When you look at your own children and realize that you have no idea what the world will look like in 10 years, it can give you serious anxiety and heartburn (we call this “agita” in my house).

Now, 8 years later, I’m asking the same questions.

How much has changed? How much will change? And what does it mean for us as teachers and learners?

What if we were living in a world where…

Put on your daydreaming cap (hat maybe?) for a moment.

Think about living in a world where…

Researchers created a system that can learn to play and master old Atari games without directions. Computers describe images to blind people; online video conferencing systems can automatically translate from one language to another, and a researcher could teach a computer how to paint faces using its own sort of imagination. 1

How about living in a world where…

You could have a front row seat experience at the Super Bowl, or concert, or Presidential debate…without having to leave your house. Navigate Mars and attempt tasks to stay alive, getting to experience zero gravity in space and drive the rover on Mars (all while being safely here on Earth). 2

And what about a world where…

You can cut and past DNA like moving a paragraph on Microsoft Word. Use nanobots to heal specific parts of your body. And be close to connecting the power of the internet straight to our brains (without the phone or computer interface). 3

I’ve got news for you. This is the world we are living in. This is not the future, this is what’s happening right now.

Just look at how business has been transformed by companies in the past five years:

Something interesting is happening

Something interesting is happening. It has been happening. And it is going to continue happening. How this exponential change is impacting learning is what I’m really interested about looking at and diving into as a topic. But this is going to be a tough task, and I’m going to need your help.

The Problem With Most Future of Education and Education Reform Articles/Posts

They start with analogies instead of with the first principles. Elon Musk describes first principles thinking: 4

“I think it is important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [When reasoning by analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done or it is like what other people are doing — slight iterations on a theme.

First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “What are we sure is true?” … and then reason up from there.

Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”

With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”

It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”

It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

—Elon Musk

In thinking about how we can learn better and how we can educate better (or differently) I see a lot of people attacking the questions from their own experiences, what companies are doing to be innovative, and what technologies have disrupted other fields and sectors.

Ask yourself this question: What is the last invention that was created solely for the purpose of learning? The last invention that was made for education?

It’s hard to answer. Many of the innovative technologies 5we see in schools today were created for business or some other field and then transferred into education for learning/teaching purposes.

First principles brings us back to asking questions like:

  • How do we learn best?
  • Why do we learn?
  • How is learning changing? Why does it need to change?
  • How can we teach and guide the learning process in the best possible way?

That is where we need to start. It’s where I need to start to fully immerse myself in the question of whether or not education needs to change.

In the next few weeks I’m going to be exploring these questions on my blog through a series of articles centered on answering these questions:

  • Do we need to educate better?
  • Do we need to educate differently?
  • Do we need education (in it’s current form) at all?

To answer these questions I’m diving into three specific topics, that will each have a long-form post to go with it 6:

1. Why We Learn (and how it is changing)

2. How We Learn (and why it is changing)

3. Our Future and The Purpose of Schooling

I do not have the answers. But I want to explore the possibilities. I want to look at the research, trends, and ideas that are disrupting learning right now, and potentially impacting our educational system for years to come.

I believe we need to take a first principles approach to discussing our current educational system and how we can learn better, not only in the future, but also right now.

Sign up below if you want to be notified of the new posts in this series. Also, if you are interested in seeing the article in draft format and giving me some feedback before the post goes live on the blog, send me an email at I need all the help I can get!

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  4. This is from an amazing interview with Kevin Rose that you can watch on Youtube here.

  5. I say this with a hint of sarcasm.

  6. These posts have been inspired from my favorite blog online right now: – you should definitely check it out if you are into thorough blog posts!