“One way to improve education may be to find things that work really well. Another way to improve education is to find things that take a bunch of time but have no impact on student learning. Most flipped studies and initiatives seem to be focusing on what you can add to the experience to make students learn more. Another interesting approach is to say, what can we take away that’s not working and still have students do just as well.”

“Will Flipped Classrooms Reveal the Lack of Value in Assigned Work?” (Justin Reich, Education Week)

Reich’s analysis of this recent flipped classroom study is spot on and well-argued. This point about improvements to education as being either additive or subtractive in its approach particularly caught my attention. At Pearson, as we conduct focus groups and instructor interviews, so often the discussions about digital products are framed as either adding new “interactive” components to their class or as replacing elements that aren’t working as effectively.

But Reich brings up a good point: if it’s common knowledge that the educational system is broken and a large-scale overhaul is what’s needed, are additive and replacement-oriented approaches really the most innovative or effective ways to engender meaningful change? We know that lecturing at students for several hours is not the richest learning experience we can provide them–anyone who has been a student ever can tell you that. So then, why are we trying to replace the in-person lecture with a snazzier studio-produced lecture, when it’s the approach that isn’t working in the first place?

Instead, we need to be reminding leaders in the broader education industry that rethinking the pedagogical frameworks and assumptions about teaching and learning is the very foundational first step to embark upon–before factoring in the constraints and politics. It’s just a real shame when we need to remind each other, remind every single person who’s working in this industry (the principals and teachers, yes, but also the textbook publishers, the edtech startups, the after-school nonprofits, the certification and credentialing organizations, and anyone else who is in this business of supporting the endeavor of teaching and learning), that at the end of the day, we owe it to our students to make sure that WE know a thing or two about how people learn. 

Moreover, it’s our responsibility to question industrial age assumptions about how schools are structured and courses should be taught–change in education isn’t going to come from additive or replacement-oriented solutions that aim to swap out one tiny piece of an already broken system. Change is going to come from putting pedagogy first, learning from cognitive science and education research, and reexamining our assumptions about teaching and learning.