Another dot in the blogosphere?

If you smell something, say something

Posted on: August 11, 2016

This was my short form reaction to a shared resource titled, How edtech is changing the landscape of education in Asia:

Today’s reflection is my longer form response. Alarm bells went off in what Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold) would call my crap detector.

What made the article smell bad?

  • 💩There was the non-critical and highly rhetorical use of “disruption”.
  • 💩The usual non-education suspects were used as examples of how technology influences industry.
  • 💩”Thought leaders.”
  • 💩”Deliver knowledge.”
  • 💩The numbers game.

I focus on just the last item. Here are some critical questions about the numbers game:

  • How did the main speaker come up with “ten years” and “50%” of students as the timeline and extent of change?
  • Which students was he referring to — the haves, the have-nots, both?
  • Has this claim or something like it not been made before, perhaps ten years ago?
  • Is the number of learners not higher given how we learn online already?

Numbers are seductive and they are easy to make up. But this does not make them real or true.

Take this documented example: The hoax that is the numbers in Dale’s Cone of Experience. Practically any educator or trainer would have seen this in the form of a learning pyramid.

The problem with this is the arbitrary addition of percentages which have no theoretical foundation or research-based findings.

Dale’s Cone was first proposed in 1946 and the closest modern representation with a CC license looks like this:

This model is 70 years old and it has been misrepresented and misused. The numbers are a lie because someone had an agenda in 1967:

In Molenda’s history, the learning pyramid with retention rates was first published in a magazine article in 1967, by D. G. Treichler. The author included no citations or evidence to back up the retention rates, but Molenda suspects that they probably they came from Phillips, as he distributed training materials to the industry while at UT.

The article with the “50%” and “ten years” is barely 70 hours old. If something as well-established and studied as Dale’s Cone can be manipulated, what more of unsubstantiated claims from speakers with vested interest in making the titled claim.

All this said, the sloppy writing and greedy consumption of such articles are only symptoms of a deeper problem. Everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion or wisdom on education and technology.

I would not presume to know anything about the history of French literature. That field is so specific that very few would claim expertise.

Practically everyone in the modern world has been schooled and some have even been educated. Somehow that gives them the right to have an opinion about how best to teach or learn, or to make broad claims without evidence or authority.

When declared at conferences, these become fact or reliable information that leaders base their decisions on. Very few actually question or verify what they hear.

So I take Jon Stewart’s advice in the broadcast of his final episode of The Daily Show.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

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