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EdTech Fast 5 - Marc Prensky on the Difference Between Learning and Education

August 23, 2018

Marc is an award-winning author, speaker, and educational visionary. He’s taught at elementary and college levels, founded a game development company, and acted on Broadway. His writing has been translated into 11 languages and in 2016 he won the Foreword Indies Book of the Year gold prize for education.

1. What’s the most overrated topic in education right now?

This may sound strange, but by far the most overrated topic in education right now is learning.

We don't need apps for ‘lifelong learning’, although many are rushing to provide them. What we need—and don't yet have—are tools for life-long accomplishment.  Far too many educators consider themselves in the learning business, which messes up education tremendously since learning and education are not the same.

Learning is a means to an education, whose end goal is producing good, empowered, world-improving people. People learn almost automatically about things that interest them, and they quickly forget anything they may have been taught that isn't of personal interest.  It would be so much more beneficial to all our young people and students if we based their education on the real-world accomplishment of projects of their own choosing, a paradigm for education that is now emerging, bottom-up, in the world.

2. Does technology motivate creativity?

I'm not sure that I or anyone else can definitively answer that in general, although there are almost certainly cases in which it has. I think though that it mainly works the other way: creative people discover new things in technology which they can use to apply their ideas.  Creative people will see possibilities in technologies where others may see only a negative or a nothing.

3. What app can’t you live without?

My brain is still app #1—I'd have a hard time living without it.  

Tech extensions to that app that I use frequently include:

  • GPS navigation (I recently moved to California from NY and would have been literally lost without it)
  • Kindle for reading (I do all my reading on my phone)
  • Siri for quick lookups (although it's often frustrating)
  • Messaging, email and phone for connections, and Skype for long-distance

4. What events from your own experience as a learner have informed your approach to your work in education?

My work in education now focuses on empowering kids to better their world and help each one become unique, so they won't be easily replaced by machines.  My experience is that the academic approach of learning content in advance doesn't get one very far—you have to go out and do, and accomplish, from the start.

Our kids are now empowered by technology to do this in ways they never could in history, and I believe a good education should give kids much more opportunity in this area. In my view, the accomplishment of projects that have a measurable positive impact on their world should be the primary education experience for students.

Additionally, in my 20+ years of school, almost no one paid particular attention to how I was unique in the world. Almost everyone I encountered in my education offered a pre-set program for me to follow. I now believe that NOT paying attention to our kids as individuals—and to their individual dreams—is both harmful and destructive to them. Almost equally hurtful and destructive are numerical "rankings" of students. The only assessment we ever need, in any domain, is either okay, not ready, or exceptional.

5. Which actor would play you in the movie about your life?

Sir John Gielgud. He was one of the best, although we would have to resurrect him. For a living actor I'd pick Benedict Cumberbatch. Wish me luck!

To read more of Marc’s thoughts on education, you can read his blog or connect with him on Twitter.