While my trip to Australia this last week and a half was primarily pleasure with my family, I did get a few days to work with teachers in Brisbane and throughout Victoria (a la our PLP cohort there), and I had some great conversations about the state of the education world with some good friends. Since the trip also came on the heels of my annual two-day visit to Skywalker Ranch as a GLEF board member, these last couple of weeks have provided a lot to think about, but between travel and exorbitant internet fees and surfing expeditions, not a lot of time to write. (As usual, these days.)

One thread that seemed to pop up almost regularly throughout those conversations was the idea of “getting it,” as in how do we help school leaders or teachers or parents “get it” when it comes to understanding the shifts that social learning technologies are bringing about, and which group needs to “get it” most, etc. And while there is no doubt that there are still a lot of folks out there who haven’t wrapped their brains around what’s changing and what going to change when it comes to learning and education, what I’ve noticed is different definitions of what “getting it” mean depending on the conversation.

Level 1 seems to be “getting” that there are all these new tools and technologies out there and that we can now publish all sorts of content really easily. And that kids are already using social networks and that these tools are cropping up more and more in classrooms around the world. When I hear the question “How do we help other teachers to “get it?” I think this is what most people are asking. How can they get their colleagues to start incorporating some of these tools in the classroom?

Level 2 takes it a step further and implies that “getting it” means that there is some real change involved in what’s happening right now, that it’s not just about tools, but about connections and building learning networks for ourselves and for our students. I hear this most often in the context of leadership and vision, that the people steering the ship need to “get” that this is more than budgeting for a few more computers and revising the AUP.

Those two levels account for about 95% of the “getting it” conversations I hear. But I wonder if that’s what “getting it” really means? I’m not in any way suggesting that I completely “get it” myself, but there is much to suggest that the talk about tools and even learning networks is not really the end game here at all. That to really “get” what the implications of all of this might be, you have to really be willing to really think differently. That Level 3 is not so much about what happens in our practice or in our classrooms but what happens to our schools. That at a time when learning can be individualized and where creativity and passion are just as important as reading and math, our expectations for the roles of schools in educating our kids have to be more than just playing on the edges.

Each year at the GLEF meeting, George Lucas spends about 45 minutes with us talking about education and answering our questions. What he said this year was in that Level 3 area. To paraphrase, schools as we know them are going away. Not that we won’t still have physical spaces and teachers, but that the way we do school is going to have to change, will be actually forced to change by the Web and other technologies. That the questions we should be asking (and these are the ones I got listening to him talk, not words out of his mouth) are should we still be sorting kids by age or by discipline? How do we truly individualize instruction around kids’ interests and passions? How do we redefine the school day? What do we really want to assess and how do we assess it? Why should we bring kids together for physical space learning when much of what they can now learn doesn’t require it? As he describes the role of Edutopia.org in that context, the whole point is to keep finding schools who are grappling with those types of questions and share their stories with the world.

All of which leads me to wonder, when we talk about leaders and parents and teachers “getting it,” what are we really talking about when it comes to social learning technologies? What should we be talking about?