Another dot in the blogosphere?

Not quite transformative

Posted on: August 31, 2015

According to STonline, this is an example of transformative schooling in Singapore’s Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan.

Imagine a future where each student goes home with a different set of questions for their homework, which are customised to address areas that an individual is weak in. That future could be at our doorstep over the next few years.

Using data analytics technology, teachers can easily sift through their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and assign homework based on areas they need more practice in.

This technology will also be able to generate customised worksheets and practice papers for students, such as generating more problems which students are weak at to practice on, or coming up with more challenging questions in topics they are breezing through.

It is a description of the holy grail of individualized instruction. To some, this might be transformative as we leverage on big data and more advanced analytics.

But just how transformative is the example? It certainly takes a load off teachers and leverages on what technologies can do better than people. However, it is still using words like homework, practice, and worksheets.

What would be transformative is thinking and acting outside that box. It is building on what has already started differently today instead of the all too familiar past.

For example, learners already watch YouTube videos that fuel their passions and actively pursue skills they want to develop. YouTube already has algorithms that suggest what other related videos to watch (like the way library systems might recommend books to you and Amazon recommends what you buy).

tall pine by mamaloco, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  mamaloco 

What would be transformative is a system that is learner-centric and predicts what each person wants and needs, be it curriculum-based or passion-based. But chasing curricula is going for the relatively low-hanging fruit; enabling the identification and pursuit of one’s passions is more worthwhile.

Now one might argue that ten years is not a long time to develop systems that help us climb higher up that tree. I disagree. With YouTube, we are already at the start of passion-based pursuits.

Building elaborate curriculum engines will tend to focus on content and providing it when the learner needs it. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not enough. Doing this will not necessarily create context for authentic use and help learners make meaningful connections. However, focusing on what drives learners and learning creates context and connection, and is even fueled by these two elements.

Consider Singapore’s refocus on vocational or skills-based education. Now think about how many instructional videos there are on YouTube, e.g., baking cakes, putting on makeup, playing musical instruments, building your own X, hacking your own Y, fixing your own Z, etc. The desire to learn these skills is driven by the learner. The content is sought out as a result of context and connection, not the other way around.

If we are going to use the word “transform”, then we should be using it properly. Transforming is not just doing more of the same and better. It is doing something different and more worthwhile. In education, transformational edtech should enable passion-based learning, not just more curriculum-based learning.

3 Responses to "Not quite transformative"

Kwan Tuck Soon: RT @ashley: The use & abuse of “transformation” in ed/schooling #edsg via


Trustin: RT @ashley: The use & abuse of “transformation” in ed/schooling #edsg via


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