Education is what is left after you have forgotten everything you learned at school
-Albert Einstein

What is School For?

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I visualize GOOD schooling like an iceberg. The visible 15% is the knowledge about the subjects that students acquire and are assessed on covered by the curriculum.

The invisible 85% is the ability to analyze, work in teams, research, experiment, plus the disposition to be continuously curious and persistent. This should be ‘what’s left’, when the welter of facts from the curriculum is forgotten. Retention of knowledge is schooling –the development of learning and problem solving skills and a love of learning is education. The government mandates the former but the teacher controls whether the important 85% is acquired or not.

Of course subjects like history, math and literature are worthwhile in their own right but they become life enhancing when they are also used as vehicles to help students gain the skills to tackle the unknown problems of the future, build their deductive powers, their creative thinking, reflection and good judgment. Wouldn’t that make education more relevant, inspiring and interesting to both student and teacher?

There is a Gap to be Closed

Most ‘real life’ learning is focused on the present, with a specific motivating goal, i.e. I need to learn how to use Power Point today, because I need to make a presentation tomorrow. All carrot: no stick.

School learning is mostly focused on the future. Learn this today because at some future date you might need to know it and there will be an exam. Almost all stick: little carrot!

In Real Life Learning you are faced with a new challenge and you research it and figure it out for yourself, often through trial and error, though not necessarily on your own. It involves questioning and often discussion with others, and often copying other people’s successful strategies. It engages your emotions.

What is School For?

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It involves reflection. And you control the timing and the process. In short ‘real life learning’ is actively creating knowledge and it’s motivating. It is present orientated and students are very present orientated.

School learning is mostly broken down into bite size pieces and is offered up gradually by the teacher in pre- digested bits. It’s mostly a solitary with little role for collaboration. Copying is discouraged. Your task is less to figure things out, but to memorize what others have already discovered. It has far less emotional engagement.

Questions from students are rare. (The average number of questions generated by students is one a month. The average number of questions generated by teachers is 40 per day!). And you neither control the timing or the process. In short school learning is passively consuming knowledge and it’s not very motivating. It is future orientated and students are very present orientated.

Teaching in the Age of Google

Students leaving schooling today are likely to have several different careers over their lifetime. It’s a world where the sum of human knowledge is available within a few key strokes on their computer. In such a world our students must leave school knowing how to be quick, efficient researchers and learners, how to independently interrogate a subject so they really understand it and how to think logically and creatively. Anything less will not equip them for exponential change and a highly competitive world.

Students may have differing abilities, but every student can become better at learning. They only need some simple-to-acquire techniques. The answer is to embed and demonstrate these learning and thinking techniques and habits day by day into every classroom. And the good news is it’s easy to do.

The European Union recognizes this logic and has recently funded a large project in Poland called EduScience which aims to greatly enhance the teaching of science, math and indeed all subjects at all ages in Poland. I am proud to be part of the EduScience team that includes the Polish Academy of Sciences. My contribution has been to create two books – delivered in digital form. The first, short book is for students. It trains them in 26 simple learning techniques to make their learning less stressful and more successful. It is designed to be taken home and help engage parents in the process of their children’s learning.

What is School For?

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The second book is for teachers. It shows how easy it is to embed effective learning and thinking strategies into existing lesson plans. The over 100 practical teaching ideas have all been proven in classrooms from Europe to Asia to North America. Any one of these ideas can be implemented to enhance a class tomorrow! The two books are companions. So students and teachers are, literally working to the same model of what makes for successful learning. They are deliberately both called ‘Did You Ask a Good Question Today?’ (the title of both books are inspired by Nobel Prize winner for Physics, Isidore Rabi. He credits his success to an inquiring habit of mind stimulated early on by his mother, who would ask him that same question every day when he got in from school.) The result is a more lively, motivated and engaged class.

Ten years of independent research at the University of Newcastle in the UK show that teaching learning strategies: improves student grades; increases student motivation, increases teacher enjoyment of teaching and motivation; improves collaboration between students, teachers and parents.

I believe that we can raise the standard of education if we consciously teach learning and thinking skills at the same time as we teach curriculum content. Because what you know can easily become out of date – whereas knowing how to learn is a skill for life. And because all the major researchers in the intelligence field are sure that intelligence can be developed.

David Perkins of Project Zero at Harvard University states, “We can become more intelligent through study and practice, through access to appropriate tools, and through learning to make effective use of these tools.” Robert Sternberg, formerly of Yale University, identifies three elements of intelligence: analytical ability, (to analyze, evaluate, judge, compare and contrast); creative ability, (to create, invent, discover, imagine); and practical ability, (to apply, utilize, implement, and activate). And he believes that these abilities can be increased through study and practice.
Lauren Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh defines intelligence as “seeking information and organizing that information so that it makes sense and can be remembered, i.e. working to figure things out until a workable solution is found.” These definitions suggest that we can actually help our students to become more intelligent by helping them acquire thinking and learning strategies. Every student can get better at learning and thinking and thereby be better equipped for the 21st century.

colin roseColin Rose is the international best selling author of hundreds of books and programs including Accelerated Learning, Did You Ask A Good Question Today?, and co-author of Accelerated Learning for The 21st Century. He is founder of, fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, founding member of UK Campaign for Learning, member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a senior member of the Royal Society of Medicine.


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