School of the Future: Deep Time > Industrial Time

A soon-to-be-college graduate noted the following about Seth Godin’s Akimbo episode “How to Get Into a Famous College”:

  1. People need lots of free time for creative production (i.e., building any sort of creative solution to a problem).

  2. Schools tend to give students very little of this time.

When school schedules include extended blocks of time, the teacher typically pre-structures them.

Let’s call this “industrial time.”  The manager (i.e., teacher) has allocated a finite resource for highly specified tasks, and the factory workers (i.e., students) have to complete those tasks before that resource runs out. To accommodate those constraints, the manager thoroughly understands the problems and has a clear standard for quality task performance. (Think fill-in-the-blank questions, multiple choice, 5-paragraph essays, etc.)

What is the opposite of industrial time?

Let’s call that “deep time.” The operative metaphor is not a factory, but perhaps an immense forest. Rather than factory hands, students are explorers. Rather than rushing to complete highly specified tasks before a bell announces the next shift, explorers lose track of time investigating things they are curious about.

What kind of work does industrial time lead to? Mimicry of models (aka “exemplars”).

Deep time, on the other hand, creates space for what innovation historian Steven Johnson calls “the adjacent possible.”

Schools may benefit from both approaches.

Industrial time is useful for practicing the skills to solve known problems with known solutions.

Deep time is essential for creating solutions to problems that matter to the learner. These problems—scientific, mathematical, historical, artistic, etc.—reflect the irreducible complexity of the world, which means that they require creative responses.

What is the ratio of deep time to industrial time in your school?


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Christian Talbot