Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Dec 11 2017

Photo by  Bekir Dönmez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

This week's Future of Learning is all about lessons from outside of the education sector.

What can educators learn from great learning in athletics, artificial intelligence, and design?


"Elon coach Smith finding own success on sideline," by Mechelle Voepel / @mechellev, on ESPN.com


" 'The Shot' for Smith is never all that far from her mind.

"People remind her about it all the time, and she uses it as a teaching moment for her Elon players. But what she tells them is less about her making the shot and more about what came before that in facing Louisiana Tech in the final.

" 'I talk about how it's not how you start but how you finish,' Smith said. 'A lot of people don't recall this, but I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean in the first half of that game. I had zero points, and I took quite a few shots.

" 'Then I came out the second half and scored 20. And there were other ways I could contribute, like in rebounding. And dives on the floor, the hustle plays.'

"In fact, Smith finished with 23 rebounds, which remains a championship-game record. And she, along with teammate Marion Jones, went to the floor to tie up the ball just before time expired, giving the Tar Heels their last possession.

"But the lesson doesn't end there.

" 'After we tied up the ball, I remember so vividly looking up at the clock, and my heart sank," Smith said. 'I was thinking, What can you do in seven-tenths of a second? I felt like we had lost the game. I felt this deep sense of grief overcome me.'

"Smith said she was 'out of it' mentally during the first huddle, when North Carolina drew up a lob play to center Sylvia Crawley. But when inbounds passer Stephanie Lawrence saw that Louisiana Tech had that covered, she called a timeout. Again, Smith felt in a fog during that huddle. She had to ask Crawley what the play was as they returned to the court.

"Crawley told Smith, 'Charlotte, it's for you.'

"Smith was a star player, but nerves hit: 'It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.' She didn't have that much time to worry, though. She took the pass from Lawrence, launched the shot ... and secured her place in NCAA tournament history.

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

A great coach is, by definition, a great teacher. Could the reverse also be true? As we exit the "industrial age" of learning, in which the teacher was the font of all knowledge responsible for producing individual widgets (i.e., learners) in standardized fashion, the best teachers focus less on being didactic and more on being a learning coach.

In recent years, the best teacher-coaches have focused on using formative assessments (think "scrimmage") to drive instruction (think "practice") to prepare for summative assessments (think "game").

And the very best teacher-coaches know how to encourage and inspire their learners, even when those learners lack self-confidence.


“AlphaGoZero: Starting from Scratch,” video featuring David Silver, Lead Researcher for AlphaGo, on DeepMind’s YouTube Channel (2 min 13 sec)

"First of all, AlphaGoZero always has an opponent of just the right level. So it starts off extremely naive, it starts off at completely random play, and yet at every step of the learning process, it has an opponent, a sparring partner if you like, that is exactly calibrated to its current level of performance. To begin with these players are very, very weak, but over time they become progressively stronger and stronger and stronger. People tend to assume that machine learning is all about big data and massive amounts of computation, but actually what we saw in AlphaGoZero is that algorithms matter much more than either compute- or data-availability. In fact, in AlphaGoZero, we used more than an order of magnitude less of computation than in previous versions of AlphaGo, and yet it was able to perform at a much higher level due to much more principled algorithms."

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

The method for training AlphaGoZero described in this video represents a paradigm shift for AI. Instead of applying brute computational force to gargantuan data sets, the DeepMind team opted to focus on developing more “principled algorithms.” Translation? How the AI was learning mattered more than what it was learning. This same debate is being played out in bricks-and-mortar education, with advocates of standardized tests and prescribed curriculum on one side, and advocates of deep learning (project-based, inquiry-based, etc.) on the other side. Perhaps both sides can learn a lesson in pedagogy from the DeepMind team: for a learner to thrive, she needs to be met exactly where she is at, challenged to go just above that, and participate in tight feedback loops so that she can keep climbing the ladder of success.


"Why is Design a CEO matter?" by Tim Brown / @tceb62, on LinkedIn Pulse

“CEOs are charged with setting up a design-friendly culture in which the very metabolism of the organization runs faster. That means giving all levels of the company, from interns to managers to VPs, empowerment and autonomy—the permission to shift when they can see farther than you can. It means creating a safe environment in which they can fail without fear. It means telling them a compelling story about the purpose of your company and getting them invested in that story. You are working together to create something magnificent, and will walk into an unknown future side by side, together.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

Every word of this applies to school leadership. In an age of constant accelerations, school leaders of every type--Head of School, division head, teacher team leader, classroom teacher, and others--are responsible for designing environments that encourage learners to experiment, move faster, innovate, and think of new questions--all while feeling safe enough to fail, because this kind of leader has defined "failure" as "learning." And Tim Brown should know: as the CEO of IDEO, one of the world's leading design firms, he has helped his organization grow and evolve in powerful ways. (For an amazing recent example, check out IdeoCoLab.)


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Christian Talbot