Quote from A.J. Juliani in Learning By Choice

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. [footnote] Sources: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-08/why-2015-was-a-breakthrough-year-in-artificial-intelligence


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). [footnote] Sources: http://fortune.com/2015/10/07/virtual-reality-mainstream/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/arts/a-virtual-reality-revolution-coming-to-a-headset-near-you.html?_r=0 [/footnote]

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). [footnote] Source: http://www.diamandis.com/blog/plugging-into-your-brain [/footnote]

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: [footnote] This is from an amazing interview with Kevin Rose that you can watch on Youtube here. [/footnote]

“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 [footnote] I say this with a hint of sarcasm. [/footnote]we 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 [footnote]These posts have been inspired from my favorite blog online right now: WaitBuyWhy.com – you should definitely check it out if you are into thorough blog posts! [/footnote]:

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 ajjuliani@gmail.com. I need all the help I can get!

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Hi AJ, thanks so much for the post and sharing the video that inspired you. Loving the B.G. (before Google) bit! We’re getting some movement in the UK on the ‘Purpose’ of education because last month a Summit took placed ‘Politics in Education’ which included presentations from many of the UK’s most eminent thinkers in education, plus open floor discussions. The transcripts form this went to all UK Education Policy Makers & Influencers. I was commissioned to study the transcripts and create summaries which are now freely available on my website to get the incredible knowledge of the speakers and delegates out far and wide. Our Education Select Committee received this and have, in the last days, opened an enquiry calling for evidence on the ‘Purpose’ of education. This has never been done before and I’m doing all I can to open up the conversation as I believe (and there’s evidence for this based on the speaker presentations) that an open, inclusive conversation on this important -moral, social- issue does everyone involved good.

    P.S. When I was a school student this is the video that changed me (warning – some swearing, but I promise it’s not vile) – https://youtu.be/nZMwKPmsbWE

    P.P.S if you’d like to share your drafts my way, please feel free, you have my email.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Leah I need to pick your brain! What an amazing opportunity to dive into the future of learning.

      • Any time AJ. It was an incredible event and one I hope will keep going as part of this wave of questioning happening now (across the world, as we’re so connected) about the purpose of education. I got involved only by doing what I’m sharing with teens now; Apprentice Yourself to a field you care about by getting real mentors (leaders) of that field to notice you and work with you. All my summaries are on this page – http://leahkstewart.com/politicsineducation/ – the best starting point is the ‘Event Calls to Action’ 1-Page PDF below the introduction. It’s obviously UK-centric, but much of the evidence came from international comparisons.

  • Thank you, A.J. Juliani, for sharing your feelings and thoughts. You expressed exactly the same what I lived through in my learning and teaching experience when I first came to the United States and started teaching at the college level in 2000.

  • Denise Krebs says:

    This was a good reminder of my stepping into the connected world. I love your mind-blown gif. I’m looking forward to this series! Thanks.


  • Dana Murphy says:

    Just saw a keynote today by Yong Zhao, so I am eagerly anticipating your blog posts on this topic. He asked the same question, “Are we educating kids for a society that no longer exists?”

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the comment Dana! Yong Zhao has done some amazing work on this topic-lucky you were able to see him speak 🙂

  • John Bennett says:

    I’m one of the many Elon Musk ‘followers’ but had never seen his notion on the importance of first principles. I remember my first-year physics section leader insisted we always start our homework AND exam answers from first principles; of course it took longer BUT it was also in many ways easier, certainly better! It lead me writing my parents asking them to check into other colleges as I was going to fail at Lehigh. I didn’t know about the curve, actually got an ‘A’ in the course, AND always was able to refer back and apply my learning from that course to a variety of appropriate situations.

    So in my writing and facilitating my approach (called ‘Considerations’, my blog title), I too in effect point to first principles without using the term. I use ‘understanding’ which means getting to those first principles.

    But I do also include the present status. But it’s not to seek extended ways to improve things – just to understand those first principles better. Oh, for sure, very occasionally there will be obvious extending changes that have significant impact with little, if any, creativity possible! Most always, it’s the creative first-principles approach that truly improves the lot for everyone.

    I look forward to Considering your posts on changing education to improve effective learning for everyone as I too seek possible options myself. Who knows, we might even find ourselves cooperating in some ways… I do strongly believe this: One of the most important goals for all educators is to facilitate the development of the skills of effective learning; those skills optimize formal education AND are absolutely essential for the lifelong learning so critical to those career options undefined at the time of the formal education!!!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      I agree with so many of your points here John. We have to look at the present (not just the future) when we talk about why we learn and how we learn best. I also love your notion of “considerations” which I believe is something we need to do more of as an education community.

      Thanks for sharing your story as well!

  • Rob Bohanek says:

    Our school just finished a series of days with Will Richardson today and your questions correlate very much with our learning and discussion. Just getting into Wagner/Dintersmith’s Most Likely to Succeed and looking forward to your thoughts and posts as part of my readings. As our school moves to more actions that reflect our principles of learning I will look to your posts to help inform/affirm our path.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  • […] with A.J. Juliani (and Elon Musk) that these types of changes need to be thought through using first principles thinking rather than analogous thinking, I’m going to start with the latter […]

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