I really enjoyed Stephen Downes’ first offering at the Huffington Post this week. I think it captures the friction between the growing availability of options for a more “open” education and the much more “closed” construction of schools. But while the whole thing is worth the read, one line in particular really jumped out at me:

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.

Absolutely right. Schools are in the business of providing an education, and you can hear it in the language. School is the place you go to get a good education. The idea that we deliver an education is the foundation for the entire structure of the system, the way we age group kids, the way our classrooms look, the assessments we give. We’ve got something that we’ll give to our students, assuming, of course, that they are willing to receive it in appropriate ways.

What we’re not doing is focusing our efforts on how to best prepare students to educate themselves. It’s really not as much about content any more as it is about learning skills, and about the different ways that technology enhances our ability to drive our own learning. That’s the shift we must make, away from one-size-fits-all curriculum that we deliver to our kids to a model that embraces and promotes learning in whatever form works best for individual students. Stephen finds another way to articulate the difference between the learner and the learned.

To that end, I was reminded of another turn of a phrase that Ira Socol offered a while back (though I can’t seem to find the link, unfortunately.) It went something like “It’s not about how technology can support education; it’s about how education can support the technology.” It was one of those “just wait for the blowback” statements that felt a little too shifty at first even for me. But it really speaks to this same idea. If these tools open up all sorts of possibilities for learning and creating our own path, shouldn’t a large part of what we do be to support the creation of that path in individual learners?