The Shape of Things to Come

The future of education

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Headline:   “Billionaire Pitches Cyber-U to Businesses” (in the Washington Post, B-2, 3/17/00).

Part of story:   “MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor spun his vision for a free online university to local business leaders yesterday and announced the appointment of three interim advisers who will help get the project rolling.
“His formal announcement that he will spend $100 million as a deposit toward creating the university, with more to come….”

Since then, MicroStrategy’s stocks led the rollercoaster dip that flurried through NASDEQ, and a few of Saylor’s billions evaporated, at least for the moment, before rebounding. But apparently that project is still on. Saylor’s move to create an entire university and curriculum, a total education free on the web, is a huge step toward the way things have to become. If Saylor weren’t doing this, other billionaires and other interests would be and no doubt are.

Before distance electronic learning can become truly effective, it will have to adapt methods featuring in-person student-to-student interactions, not just student-professor interactions, but that is bound to come. What is clear is this:

What’s on the way

The entire, and we mean the entire curriculum — high school, university, graduate and post-grad, plus whatever specialized community and industry/occupational courses — will be free on the web as a public utility.

Whether Internet baby billionaire Saylor’s project makes it or not, university-level education is about to become a free public utility in much the same way that the Internet already is. And many new enterprises will emerge in its context just as have happened with the net.

What’s held up Distance Learning?

The main thing preventing distance learning from taking off as yet is that no one has provided an effective system for cueing student-to-student, face-to-face interaction as per our Dynamic Format. You want students interacting on a face-to-face level for all the reasons you want them interacting with the course or program content.

Especially important:   keyboard and screen are too narrow a context to learn in. Most people cannot transfer most of what they learn there to other contexts, or generalize it. You do get that if you have several students to a terminal buzzing the key points with each other face-to-face.

These are the same advantages you get if you have well-focused buzz-grouping in well-managed interactive in-person classrooms, and almost the same advantages as if you were one-on-one in person with a Socratic instructor.

The new avalanche of enterprises

Within this new distance-learning public utility will flourish a million and one special enterprises. These will provide services such as guidance and evaluation (of students and of programs and courses). They will help or arrange logistics for in-person get-togethers of students to reinforce some of the courses and processes used. Yet others of these new firms will, of course, provide electronic instructional materials, and techniques, to various of the course providers.

They will provide a host of other conveniences and products and services beyond prediction, just as what is now on that other public utility, the Internet, would have been difficult to predict 15-20 years ago. Already, some electronic tutoring services are beginning to emerge online, the very front end of an avalanche soon upon us.

second major change coming onto education is the re-re-re-re-rediscovery that nearly all the information and understanding sought, in present educational efforts, is already within each learner, by various means and exposures, and needs merely to be Socratically drawn forth into focus.

Once that core is focused and conscious, whatever learning remains to be done can then integrate quickly and easily around that already-known core, a core of experiences and understandings which is in every one of us — even in that slacker over in the corner, and in that lout in the back row, though he wouldn’t think so either.

This is the area where most of the Project Renaissance education-related methods are currently engaged. Many more, and perhaps better, methods than those presently available will emerge from these same principles. With some of the current Project Renaissance methods, one may already acquire years of proficiency or skill in almost any given skill or topic or subject, in only days. The front end of this avalanche, also, is already here.

Further, it has become clear that we get most of our learning and nearly all of our growth from the point where we are getting back something of what we put out. Feedback. Reinforcement. Not just feedback from the environment — maybe nine-tenths of it or more is feedback directly from our own ongoing output, to which the environment is almost incidental.

New information can come in, but mostly it has to ride the feedback loop like on a carrier wave. (See the article, Feeding the Loop.) I think this theory is our most significant step in what we’re attempting to evolve. We stand on the shoulders of Montessori, Moore, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, and Marion Diamond, but in this we’re a step beyond even these.

This profoundly clarifying Feed-the-Loop model, though arrived at only in 1999, is so generative of new insights and new methods that it seems fair to characterize this model as the third hugely transformative issue now breaking upon us and upon all of education.

fourth transformative issue: — today, anyone’s reasonably competent PC has more and better access to more and better information than did even the top universities just ten years ago. How long can schools continue to try to do business-as-usual as the source and authority of knowledge over the tabula rasa students and in society generally? Schools have to redefine their roles and how to fulfill them — right now — or be blown away utterly in the next several years, even were not the other factors afoot.

Is there anyone reading this today who does not know the meaning of the word, ‘to Google’? It was just a decade ago that Google announced its objective to make all printed human knowledge available to everyone everywhere on the planet. As it nears that goal, competing search engines are seeking also to fulfill that goal or to go beyond it. You don’t need to pay $100,000 tuition to sit down online and be able to find the information you are looking for.

We no longer need the sociotectonics model, which has been tracking other factors, which predicted the sudden astonishing fall of the huge Soviet empire, to see that great socioquake coming in American institutionalized education (and perhaps in institutionalized Western education generally)!

The fifth transformative issue, of course, is how poorly schools were and are doing that job even before that role disappeared on them. They were driven to that point by certain incentives, described below.

The sixth transformative issue is a perverse incentive structure. As various levels and programs of governmental aid, funds and money are poured into those schools which do the worst job, trying to staunch their emergency, other schools, which make the mistake of improving what they are doing, get disqualified and cut off from assistance. This is the main source of the disease which has been eating away at American schools since the late 1950s.

How general incentives work, good or bad, is not on major decisions but on a host of minor decisions, cumulatively, where it’s correspondingly easier to go on in one direction than in another, over a long period of time. Individual teachers and schools may resist the general trend for a time, but the system as a whole drifts irrevocably in the directions pointed by the general incentive. We pointed ours wrong and it’s still driving us in wrong directions.

seventh transformative issue is the emergence of cardboard computers, battery-powered, with radio modems, so cheap they can be air-dropped to blanket every jungle backwater and extend not only the Internet but that free university education to every child on the planet.

One point of possible redemption

Saving grace:   there are things that classroom learning does which, for some time yet, can’t be matched by distance learning even when we do finally persuade some provider into our system of modern Socratic method. One of the things distance learning cannot provide, even with our modern Socratic methods, is the little-noticed dual plane ratification of perceptions. That dual-plane ratification process is a major factor in the emergence of the conscious mind in young children, but most people — and even most teachers — don’t even know that such a process exists. If schools don’t play to advantage the several legitimate advantages which they do have, where will they be when the crunch comes?

What’s needed right now

Urgency and scope are defined on one level by the human minds being wasted and destroyed, on another level by the fact that even before Saylor started to create the free electronic university and begin what will become a free public utility, sociotectonic theory had been predicting major socioquakes for the educational system, on much the same bases and along the same kinds of fault line that it had predicted the likewise sudden and unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union some years ago.

In any event, given the alternatives, what parent, and what taxpayer, and what legislative bodies, are going to want to continue paying for what society is now getting from its schools? At any moment — and most likely by the year 2012 or before — a sudden huge collapse will sweep away most of our schools virtually overnight. I say this in a time when schools are about as awash with money as they have ever been.

Can this collapse be prevented? I no longer think so. Individual schools may improve their work enough to be spared, but schools generally have shown no willingness to make substantive improvements. They instead use window-dressing reform to postpone pressures, with little substantive changing behind those showy windows. Thus matters have been throughout much or most of the past half century and so matters stand — precariously — today.

Can this collapse be delayed? Not even to get viable alternatives in place, though it would be very desirable to have them in place before the socioquake hit. Nor, given the ongoing human costs, do we wish to extend the status quo for very long.

Can this collapse be mitigated? That is, I think, our task.

  1. Getting individual schools to improve enough that they won’t be immediately swept away in the quake.
  2. Getting viable alternatives up and running, to which people can turn instead of totally panicking when the existing schools are swept from underfoot. The key is to ensure enough positive alternatives to prevent that panic, and to prevent the existing good in schools from getting swept away with the bad.
  3. To waste as few resources as possible in this changeover, human and material. That is why it is important to anticipate where a new system of education is headed (the pending free public utility and its swarm of new enterprises accompanying), and what it will be doing. Some cannot be anticipated, any more than could all that is now featured on the Internet have been predicted in the mid-1980s. We can, however, anticipate some particulars —
    • Economies force us toward distance learning as a major component. For that to work, though, will require such focused interactive procedures as those of Dynamic Format and Project Renaissance, with multiple participants per terminal to process, with one-another, the program contents.
    • Conceptual understanding will again become the main focus, as it did in Socratic days before rote memorization came to dominate the scene. For that reason, something like the Project Renaissance methods will be very much in use, whether or not these methods or this organization specifically are used.
    • There will be an incentive reward system for the responsible professionals tied to the rate, quality, and extent of multiply measured gains made by students. Much of the funding for such rewards will come from private corporations and reflect changing values in the world economy; foundations will have a struggle to keep up on behalf of cultural values and issues.
    • In the Information Age, we no longer can afford to leave people behind as hewers of wood, haulers of water, middle management, and cogs in the machine. We have to draw upon all that we are as human beings. That, much more than any particular method or set of methods, will transform education out of all recognition from what is there today. The sea of passive faces will disappear in favor of service to individual clients. Agencies within the new public utility context will compete to provide unique developmental services in the most supportive way possible to them, because that is what will bring them the business, just as so many innovative companies compete today in that free public utility known as the Internet.
    • During the time of the quake and for a few years afterward, there will be a tremendous release of public energy, positive or negative, constructive or destructive, in the context of education and public education. It behooves those of us in Project Renaissance, in the International Alliance of Learning, in the Dayton, Ohio, Innovation Center and in the international Schoolworld Association, and in other positive endeavors, to get as many good projects together and going as we can for that moment, to channel some of that energy into constructive work.


Depending on whether the socioquake can be mitigated, some individual schools and some individual teachers may survive. Obviously, those who survive will be those with something special to teach.

Individual teachers will need (1) personal experience of what they are teaching, and/or (2) special knowledge — in that priority order — and (3) special or unique skills.

Some teachers may be co-opted into the new electronic public utility in various capacities. Indeed, as did the Internet, the new electronic education public utility will, for a while, need to employ a tremendous number of people.

Some teachers may make it into the new system as providers of unique products and services.

A few, a very few teachers may survive where they are by virtue of their being the main reason their (surviving) current school has anything special.

Whoever survives, as a teacher or as a school, can do so in the long run only by offering what cannot be provided electronically from elsewhere in the entire resourced world.

How can the individual teacher survive the upcoming dislocations?

  1. Developing special skills, especially uniquely valuable ways of relating directly and in person to his or her students.
  2. Developing special skills and methods of teaching. For some that will mean special facility with electronic instruction media, which will let them jump into the new public electroned utility during that initial surge in employment demand.For all who survive, as in-person teachers or in the electronic utility, clear mastery of special techniques will be required. Indeed, what mainly will ignite the electromedia must be to acquire and use many of those same enhanced/accelerated learning techniques.
  3. Building a unique personal base of first-hand experience, whether relative to what one is teaching or generally. Following a curriculum guide and didactically teaching-about will no longer be an option. When you speak directly from personal, first-hand experience, you are powerful. When you have to speak from someone else’s knowledge — especially someone else’s second-hand knowledge — even all the tricks they teach in speech classes to simulate what happens from meaningful first-hand experience, will not suffice….even though most of today’s teachers are precisely stuck in that weak, ineffectual role of passing along someone else’s nth-hand information, with little personal experience relevant to draw upon.
  4. So far as we now know, basic Image Streaming is the fastest and most convenient way to build a personal, first-hand experience base and facility, followed closely by use of the Portable Memory Bank. Actual working experience in what you are teaching is certainly among the more desirable ways of obtaining first-hand experience, but alas is not always available as an option.So special personal skills with students, special teaching methods, and building a strong base of first-hand personal observation experience are what individual teachers will need in order to survive past the coming socioquake in our schools. No ifs, ands, or buts.Of course, if a lot of teachers went ahead and developed these before the great socioquake comes, much or most of that quake would be averted or mitigated. But how likely is this to develop among many of our lemmings — er, excuse me, teachers?

How can schools survive?

What must a school or school system do to survive the coming socioquake?

Simply put:   even its worst teaching must approach the quality of what is now the best teaching in the best schools.

That sounds out of reach for schools now struggling to lift their SAT scores even a point or so, but it isn’t. Nor is it expensive to do so.

First, a lot can be achieved merely by equipping its teachers with the best educational methods available (which definitely is not the same thing as the most accepted methods!) — and most of these best methods can be learned easily, with little or, in some cases, no cost.

At current reading, most of these methods are either Suggestopedic or Socratic — Suggestopedic as can be found through the International Alliance of Learning or as taught in Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota, or in some regards at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Socratic such as in most of the various educational methods of Project Renaissance.

Second, install a positive incentive system based entirely upon results with students — their actual gains, across a sufficiently broad spectrum of measurements. This can be done without taking anything away from standard and poorly-performing teachers:   outside funding for such legitimate incentive systems can be found in the private sector.

Private sources very much want to help education, but have already deeply wearied of throwing their money over the wall and hoping for something good to happen. A solid results-oriented system, based upon student gains, should attract a lot of support … so much, in fact, that such an incentive system appears to be the best vehicle for bringing the remuneration, of those who are worthy to be called educators, much closer toward their true value. (And would be even in normal times!)

The schools which will survive…

Here is what will happen to those schools which don’t get torn down or turned into office buildings, after the pending socioquake happens:

  1. Most will become appendages of the electronic public utility — glorified day care centers supervising groups of electronic learners and losing ground day by day to private operations competitively offering such services.
  2. A few will survive as schools and be models and providers in the electronic public utility.
  3. A few will develop unique and highly valued features, products and services, which can’t be had elsewhere on or off the Web, and will carry forward on that basis.
  4. Parenthetically, a special case:   university graduate schools may survive by becoming more of what they were trending toward becoming — apprentice trade schools, though it would be much better were they to cultivate more of the special features which can keep them in demand. At the same time, at the other end of the educational ladder, many or most elementary schools may survive for a time if only because of the greater need of personal supervision of their charges. These schools also, a few years later, will face some interesting problems.

Simply put, most present-day schools and school systems can’t be bothered to do these things. The vast majority of these will soon abruptly cease operating as schools. As we write this (October 2000), today’s schools seem to be at their economic and political peak, commanding more money and material resources than ever before in American history, a larger public expense on the whole even than that of national defense. To see how fragile all that is, look at the results they are getting from that enormous investment and commitment.

Even less extravagantly endowed schools, in the poorest regions of the country, will quickly follow their richer cousins into oblivion when those emerging cardboard computers can get air-dropped in saturation into any jungle to bring the Internet and the emerging free public electronic utility that education is about to become.

Flatly, the best available anywhere is going to be available everywhere, and much of it for free. It is that which schools and teachers are about to run into.

After more than 30 years of personal struggle, this writer has come to accept that most schools simply are not going to make the needed improvements, and therefore are about to go down.

How completely and abruptly they go down, and whether enough mitigating alternatives can be gotten into place in time to prevent huge or catastrophic waste of human and material resources during the now-looming socioquake, is the question before us.

For a while, we had hoped to see the charter school movement establish some viable alternatives, but too many of these have thus far been pale imitations of the regular schools (perhaps because of the review system through which their proposals get cleared). Many seem to beat to death some minor variation or innovation as the great answer while ignoring all else, even each other’s efforts, as a possible source for further genuine improvement.

A hard conclusion, with all due apologies

Most schools, and most teachers, just won’t survive coming events.

For you as a teacher to survive the coming ruptures, you’ll have to work without the material or moral support of most of those around you. But within a decade, you then will be one of the few who still have the irreplaceable satisfaction of working meaningfully as a teacher.

— Your Socrateur, Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Important References

You can find accelerated-learning courses in Win Wenger’s book, Beyond Teaching And Learning.

Project Renaissance’s orientation, as reflected in this book, is on understanding and not on memorization. Some of that understanding can come on pretty rapidly, because most of what you’re trying to learn is already there in your unconscious data-base, which constantly is getting reflexively associated, but whose resultant insights almost never reach consciousness.

This book and Project Renaissance feature a good many direct, pretty easy ways to bring those insights readily conscious, in context and generally. Whatever learning then remains to be done integrates readily around this already-known core.

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