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Archive for the ‘Learning Technology’ Category


According to analyst Josh Bersin, US companies spent well over $70 Billion for employee training in 2013. Analysts predict that amount is will be significantly greater in 2015.

These are the kinds of statistics one might expect C-suite executives to pay attention to. So it’s odd that they seem not to be paying much attention to the ROI for corporate training.

It’s abysmal.

PHOTO elephant in room

Leading experts have studied the subject at length; the statistics they provide differ. Some say there are too many variables to allow for “one-size-fits-all” statements about how much training is retained, and how quickly it is forgotten. They note the  variety of training goals and audiences receiving the training, as well as differences in training delivery methods.

Having said this, there is general agreement among experts in the field that that corporate training’s success rate is, shall I say, “poor.”

One of these experts is Dr. Art Kohn, who has done a great deal of work on “the forgetting curve” and its effect on training retention. He’s also the recipient of not one but two Fulbright Fellowships for work in Cognitive Psychology and Educational Technology. In a recent article in Learning Solutions, he wrote the following:

It is the dirty secret of corporate training: no matter how much you invest into training and development, nearly everything you teach to your employees will be forgotten…this investment is like pumping gas into a car that has a hole in the tank. All of your hard work simply drains away.

The fact is that this “dirty secret” is really not secret at all.

The research and resulting articles about this have been out there for years. Yet there’s not much evidence that corporae executives are acting upon it, despite its its obvious and critical importance to the bottom line.

Bersin’s research also shows an explosive growth in technology-driven training, including self-authored video, online communication channels, virtual learning, and MOOCs. Worldwide, formal classroom education, now accounts for less than half the total training “hours.”

According to Bersin, mobile devices are now used to deliver as much as 18% of all training among what he calls “highly advanced companies.”

Does this mean that employees are using their iPads to access Udemy courses? If so, is there a significant difference in retention rate for employees who have information presented by a live trainer while sitting in a room with 20 fellow workers… versus those who receive it on mobile phone the subway on the way home at night… compared to someone being trained via  iPad while sitting in the living room after the kids have been put to bed?

We won’t have statistics to provide answers to those questions for some time.

But corporations should be watching closely to see if new methods of delivering training result in a dramatic increase in retention among employees once they’re on the job — because if Kohn is right, even achieving a whopping 400% increase in retention will mean that after just one week, the average employee will still be retaining only about half of what is needed on-the-job.

That’s hardly a stunning success rate.

Research has made it abundantly clear that the basic premise that drives corporate training is fatally flawed.

It’s abundantly clear that the training corporations are currently providing to their employees  is not succeeding in providing them with the information they need to do their jobs properly the first time. So why does corporate America keep throwing good money after bad, trying to find a “patch” or download an “updated version”?

It’s as if a purple elephant with pink toenails is standing next to the coffee table and corporations are only willing to acknowledge that there’s an “unusual scent in the air.”

My next blog will give more compelling facts to show why a major change in corporate training is needed.

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UPDATE: As bandwidth articles appear and the question start to gain traction, I will add the articles here for those of you who are interested in seeing if America catches up to the rest of the world or continues to fall behind. The article details the importance to the growth of our economy and the strength of our security. Bandwidth is as much a national issue as any other that has been raised, and is even overlooked more than climate change. Increased free or low cost high bandwidth will be the Great Divide between the nations that are pulling ahead and succeeding in the 21st century and those who are not. Today, compared to other countries that are providing the digital pipes for their citizens, we are falling further and further behind.  

This newest piece of the puzzle is from Huffington Post by Robert Pepper, Vice President, Global Technology Policy, Cisco. It supports and takes the premise many steps further.

Two Asian nations — Korea and Singapore — have managed to leapfrog multiple stages of economic development and have transformed into economic miracles. This comes as no accident, in part, because both have taken a planned approach to technological development, starting with national broadband plans, which has led to increased broadband adoption, and successive waves of economic growth.

A new report by the UN Broadband Commission and Cisco shows that Korea and Singapore are the most notable examples of a statistically significant trend; Countries that embrace national broadband plans have increased broadband adoption. The data show that the introduction of a broadband plan accounts for 2.5 percent higher fixed broadband penetration and 7.4 percent higher mobile broadband penetration. This is based on a thorough examination of broadband adoption data from 2001 through 2011.

For developing countries, 2.5 percent is nearly half of current fixed broadband penetration (6 percent). This is a significant impact and at the global level translates into over 175 million more broadband connections. In most cases, a single fixed connection serves multiple people, meaning more than half a billion more people onto broadband.
The report also demonstrates that a competitive market results in higher broadband penetration, with a particularly strong impact for mobile broadband. Competitive mobile broadband markets have 26.5 percent higher penetration on average.

Now why is this important?

Because, as we know, higher broadband penetration drives economic growth and helps nation achieve social goals, such as improved education and health care outcomes.

In the Republic of Korea, for example, the Government instituted a series of IT master plans since the mid-1990s, and the nation has since become a world leader in the utilization and production of IT. Over the last two decades, its nominal GDP per capita has more than doubled from under $12,000 in 1995 to over $25,000 in 2013 and the country consistently ranks in the top 10 countries in terms of average broadband speeds and adoption.

Similarly, in Singapore, the country has had national IT related plans in place since 1985 (starting with the National Computerisation Plan and most recently the iN2015). Over this period, the country has significantly advanced its IT environment. In 1980 Singapore was still at an early stage in IT development as it had only 22.2 fixed lines per 100 people, substantially below other countries such as Australia (32.3 fixed lines per 100 people) and New Zealand (36.1 fixed line per 100 people). But today, Singapore stands atop several measures of IT and broadband adoption, such as the 2013 Networked Readiness Index, where Singapore ranks second worldwide out of 144 countries.

And Korea and Singapore are just two examples; the same trend holds true for Chile, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, and several other countries, including many on the African continent.
In Nyangwete, a remote Kenyan village of 20,000 people, Community Knowledge Centers are giving citizens Internet access and, with it, connections to language and technology training, health care information, and other resources. Local farmers connect with Kenya Seed Company to buy sorghum seeds then sell back the crops. In 2010, the village’s income from agriculture increased by 34 million Kenyan shillings (almost $400,000). Roughly 10 to 15 percent of the village population has branched out into new business after the influx of money in 2010. The number of women with personal businesses grew 20 to 30 percent since 2010, and the number of women receiving a secondary education has increased by roughly 20 percent since 2010.

Broadband deployment leads to more than economic opportunity; it can help create social progress and lead to healthier communities. In Kenya, Inveneo helped a nongovernmental organization called Organic Health Response (OHR) set up a 512kbps connection on Mfangano — an island in Lake Victoria with 26,000 inhabitants, dirt roads, and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. In exchange for having HIV tests every month, residents can access the Internet for free at an OHR training center. Once the broadband link was established, word spread quickly across the island, and within a few hours all 10 computers at the center were in use. As a result, more citizens are connected to the world outside Mfangano and 2,000 of them have enrolled in HIV/AIDS-related social services offered by OHR.

For policymakers thinking about how to jumpstart their economies, there are 5 basic takeaways.

  • Develop a national broadband plan to set a strategic vision for how information technology will drive your country’s knowledge economy;
  • Get buy in from both public and private constituencies;
  • Ensure the plan is balanced between the supply of high-speed Internet and demand driving adoption;
  • Implement rules and regulations that ensure a competitive broadband market;
  • Finally, regularly monitor progress toward broadband targets and ensure implementation and follow through.

To develop a national broadband plan and drive broadband adoption, the report identifies various forms of plans, critical elements of success and builds on the framework of broadband policies we identified in April in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report.

The message to policymakers is clear: If you want to increase economic growth, focus on broadband. And to drive broadband, have an effective national broadband plan.

To read the report in full, click here.

(more…)

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Untitled

Children are the future, and their education needs to be part of that future, woven into the web of the digital world, not stuck in the rut of the industrial economy we are leaving behind. This really summed it up for me ….

“We’re still teaching our kids using a 20th-century paradigm, but many visionaries–like the ones in this video–have plans to take our advances in computing and technology and use them to explode the idea of what education can be.”

http://www.fastcoexist.com/node/1680776

 

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Image

The etextbook in 2018 will be dramatically different than the etextbook of today. It will be coupled to an app that will provide you with Content as a Service (CaaS). CaaS will include many of the following features (and more that have yet to be imagined):

  • Multimedia
  • Simulations
  • Educational Games
  • Animations
  • Pre- and post-tests
  • Formative and Summative Quizzes
  • Adaptive testing
  • Networked Social Learning
  • Study groups
  • Analytic Datasets 
  • Virtual and Flipped classes
  • Communities of Learning and Practice
  • Virtual classes.

It will be designed to make learning easier and more effective. It will replace the old print (and even current online) early prototype etextbook that still uses content as the product. By 2018, you will be purchasing the services which the CaaS app will provide. Dream with me a moment …

I am sitting at my desk in the near future, the year 2018. My Ecology etextbook is on my tablet and my elearning app helping me take notes. I read the following: “The biosphere is interconnected with three other spheres of the physical environment: the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere.” I press the ASK THE EXPERT button and an email form pops up. “What” I write “does the term Gaia have to do with all the spheres?” The answer will probably be in my inbox before I go to sleep. I watch the animation of clouds forming and rain falling and plants growing. I skip the I Dig the Earth game and decide to test myself to see if I’m getting it.

Principles-of-Biology-digital-textbook-by-Nature-Publishing-Group-pop_10779

So I touch the TEST ME button and a menu comes down asking what kind of test do I want? I say Chapter, and a test of the chapter appears. I could have asked for Page, Chapters or Book. I answer the questions, get most right, and the ones I missed are automatically turned into flashcards. I skim all the sentences I highlighted when I was reading, check the notes my friends sent about the book, answer a few questions they asked, and bookmark my place. I remember to place a yellow sticky note on the front to find my reading glasses although enlarging the type was no problem. I check the times of my remaining biology courses that week, and make sure there are no tests coming up. Taking a break from studying, I switch from the etextbook to an old Big Bang Theory TV episode I missed.

Nice fantasy? Not at all. The etextbook of the future is all about the idea of Content as a Service (CaaS). Textbooks in the not-too-distant past were a product. You wrote them, packaged them, and sold them. Period. They were a product, often a commodity that had many versions from many authors on the same topic. As textbooks moved from analog print to digital online something amazing started to happen.

They were free. Not free as in no cost although they are cheaper (and lighter). They were let out of the analog prison. Think about it for a second, even though it’s such an embedded part of our lives we take it for granted. You print and bind a textbook and that’s it. You can write in the margins or highlight a passage and that’s about it. Now take that same book and put it online. Suddenly the constraints of print are gone. You can use your tablet to enlarge the print, highlight the text, and even take notes. Okay so aside from making the font bigger it’s about the same.

Now here’s the big deal. Add an app that has been developed to help you learn. eBooks are great when you’re reading for pleasure. Reading for learning, or RFL, is an entirely different process. And the app is there to make your day. It almost magically knows you. You are connected to you to your fellow students and even students that have already passed the course. Your notes, highlights, questions and more are all collected in one place. You can ask to be tested, and what you have not yet learned is instantly turned into flashcards for later studying. The etextbook is there to serve you. To help you learn. The app transforms the etextbook of tomorrow into Content as a Service (CaaS).

Content as a Service will be the marketing and sales differentiator for the etextbook of the future. The services that you can will be able to purchase will be THE deciding factor in what publisher and/or CaaS app provider offers you the best learning services. And that is a gamechanger. The current established publishers may disappear as new digital publishers, especially those with great CaaS apps, disrupt the print textbook publishing market that has been around for hundreds of years. The printing press invention spun off the invention of the analog textbook. The perfect storm of digital etext, mobile technology, and tablets,  is at the heart of the reinvention of the new CaaS etextbook.

I recently had the opportunity to review a number of these apps. They are designed to work with students who are learning from etextbooks. Developed in response to the needs of people who read etextbooks for learning.  They’re real and they are here. And they will change the way we teach and learn. Not only for students but for authors, teachers, instructors and administrators as well. Content as a Service (CaaS) is a new paradigm for putting the “e” into the etextbook. Only this time it will mean enhanced and enabled instead of merely electronic.

For more information take a look at Brandon Hall Group Executive Summary on CaaS.

Here’s the final word on the future of the textbook as we know it today:

The “4th Annual eBook Survey of Publishers” was completed in April, 2012, and in remarks addressed to the National Press Club, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” citing a need to not only keep up with the times but also with other countries such as South Korea, whose students outperform those of the U.S. and which has set a goal to make all of its textbooks digital by 2015, excluding some grades and to allowing paper textbooks to be used alongside digital etextbooks while paper books are phased out.  “The world is changing,” Duncan said. “This has to be where we go as a country.”[1]

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Here’s my daily reading list from which I pick and chose every day. The represent the best minds in the area of learning and learning technology. Enjoy!

Aaron Silvers

Adventures in Corporate Education

aLearning

Allison Rossett

Assets

B Online Learning

Blogger in Middle-earth

Bottom-Line Performance

Bozarthzone

brave new org

Brian Dusablon

Challenge to Learn

Clark Quinn

Clive on Learning

Connect Thinking

Courseware Development

Daretoshare

Dawn of Learning

Designed for Learning

Designing Impact

Developer on Duty

Discovery Through eLearning

Dont Waste Your Time

e-bites

e-Learning Academy

E-Learning Provocateur

E-learning Uncovered

easygenerator

eCampus Blog

eLearning 24-7

eLearning Acupuncture

eLearning Blender

eLearning Brothers

eLearning Cyclops

eLearning TV

Electronic Papyrus

Element K Blog

Engaged Learning

Enspire Learning

Experiencing eLearning

Getting Down to Business

Good To Great

I Came, I Saw, I Learned

ICS Learning Group

ID Reflections

IDiot

Ignatia Webs

In the Middle of the Curve

Integrated Learnings

Interactyx Social Learning

Jay Cross

Jay Cross’s Informal Learning

Joitske Hulsebosch eLearning

Jonathan’s ID

Kapp Notes

KnowledgeStar

Lars is Learning

Latitude Learning Blog

Learn and Lead

Learnability Matters

Learnadoodledastic

Learnforever

Learning and Technology

Learning Cafe

Learning Conversations

Learning Developments

Learning in a Sandbox

Learning Journeys

Learning Next

Learning Putty

Learning Rocks

Learning Technology Learning

Learning Unbound Blog

Learning Visions

LearnNuggets

Leveraging Learning

Living in Learning

Managing eLearning

mLearning Trends

Moodle Journal

onehundredfortywords

Ontuitive

OutStart Knowledge Solutions

Performance Learning Productivity

Pragmatic eLearning

QuickThoughts

Rapid Intake

Redtray

Road to Learning

Rob Hubbard

SharePoint and Assessment

Simply Speaking

Skilful Minds

Social Enterprise Blog

Social Learning Blog

Spark Your Interest

Speak Out

Spicy Learning

Sticky Learning

Stoatly Different

Sudden Insight

Take an e-Learning Break

Tayloring it

The E-Learning Curve

The eLearning Coach

The Learned Man

The Learning Circuits Blog

The Learning Generalist

The Peformance Improvement Blog

The Writers Gateway

Thinking Cloud

Tony Karrer

Trina Rimmer

Twitterpated with Learning

Upside Learning Blog

Vikas Joshi on Interactive Learning

Web 2.0 and Learning

Wonderful Brain

Work 2.0 Blog

ZaidLearn

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Independent Learners Cannot Use A LMS

Learning has become an ongoing process and the CLS is destined to take over where the older event-driven LMS stopped.

Innovative CLS Starts Where LMS Stops

A new program, the Certify Learning System (CLS), has been developed and designed to track and reward continuous independent learning for your most talented employees who learn what they need to know to stay at the top of their field.

Learning today is an ongoing anytime and anywhere process driven by independent learners who learn what they need to know to stay at the top of their field. When learning was formal and event driven, Learning Management Systems (LMS) were developed to help track and record programs that employees were assigned to attend. That was then.Today, learning has become a continuous informal process that occurs independently whenever and wherever people need to learn. Employees can choose on their own to take a webinar, attend a conference workshop or read an important new industry whitepaper. Until now there has been no way to track and record what they are learning.

The Certify Learning System (CLS) was developed to modernize the process and pick-up where the older LMS drops off.Independent learners are often the most knowledgeable and talented people in any organization. Being able to reward them is important. Being able to identify, hire, promote and assign them to key teams is even more valuable. The old LMS cannot provide you with this information, or reward your independent learners for their efforts.The CertifyLearning System (CLS) registers employees online from any device, and records every kind of learning event from a wide variety of providers. By assigning credits to these events, the cloud-based system allows employers to maintain an up-to-date record of employee’s informal ongoing and independent learning.

“Since learning never stops or even slows down, you want to be able to identify the people who are always learning.” states David Grebow CEO, KnowledgeStar and worldwide expert in informal learning. “Highly motivated learners are the smartest employees, and CLS is like a GPS that guides you to them when you need to know who they are.”

With everything online and no software to install, CLS is quick and inexpensive to setup and maintain.  The system is designed to be customized to reflect the brand and identity of your organization.  Because the CLS records are cloud-based they are portable and follow the registered individual from company to company. This again differs from Learning Management Systems where records are kept private by a single employer. This makes CLS especially useful for people who frequently work for different employers in the same field.

The CLS has just completed a successful 3-month pilot with one of the largest educational publishers in the country and is ready to help your organization identify your knowledge stars.

If you would like a free demo, let me know so I can send you a pair of warm stockings since it will blow your socks off and I wouldn’t want you to get cold feet!

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What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

By Anu Partanen

The Atlantic

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

finnish-kids.jpg
Sergey Ivanov/Flickr
Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation’s education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.

And yet it wasn’t clear that Sahlberg’s message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.

* * *

During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather’s TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an “intriguing school-reform model.”

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

The irony of Sahlberg’s making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America’s best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend — not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg’s statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.

Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he’s become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland’s success. Sahlberg’s new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America,” Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, “parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

* * *

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

* * *

Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation’s education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

Indeed, Finland’s population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state — after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.

What’s more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.

With America’s manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. — as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down — is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn’t meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a “pamphlet of hope.”

“When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s, many said it couldn’t be done,” Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. “But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

More information

Professor Pasi Sahlberg’s website
Finnish Lessons”, by Pasi Sahlbert   
The OECD’s Better Life Index for Education
Nick Clegg speech on Social Mobility 
Roy Hattersley’s New Statesman review of “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
 
Professor John Seddon addressing California Faculty Association

“Yes, we are all in this together”, New Statesman 

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