Friday, February 15, 2013

Directions for the future of education and knowledge management

Current educational systems are based on the idea of a high degree of harmonization of the contents that are being taught and the degrees that are awarded by schools, universities and other institutions. This harmonization or standardization can take place at a national level but there are also international efforts like the Bologna process that has aimed at ensuring comparability of the standards and quality of higher education. This may sound a feasible objective at first sight but there are substantial problems that can be seen analogical to the problems related to centrally planned economy. It may be fair to state that the planned economy proved to be a flawed idea due to the fact that it is at least practically impossible to predict the future needs and to plan the system that would serve these needs in a proper way. It is also impossible to take into account the effects of the continuous development in the technologies that are used in creating products and services. Therefore, market economy is an efficient way for the dynamical optimization of the match between needs and wants. Here it may be necessary to note that market economy and capitalism are two different things.

Having the analogy discussed above in mind, the present way of organizing the education system suffers from similar problems. Decision makers try to anticipate even decades beforehand what are the future conditions and what kind of knowledge and skills are needed to serve the needs of future societies. A rather small number of people make these decisions even though it may be obvious nowadays that the anticipatory power of a large crowd is much stronger than the small group of decision makers. Moreover, any fixed categorization system is a hindrance to innovation because creative problem solving and decision making is very often based on deconstruction and reconstruction of conceptual systems. In essence, the intellectual "markets" of human knowing could be liberated from such fixed categorization or at least considered at a much more refined level. For instance, at schools the skills and knowledge of pupils is assessed using something like 10 to 20-dimensional vectors whereas the true complexity of human knowing is much higher. We use the harmonization basically for two reasons: communication and setting objectives. When a harmonized system is in place, one can, in principle, communicate how much each person knows about a particular area. Due to the coarse and categorical nature of the system, the communication is, however, far from truthful or efficient. Also the idea of setting objectives through degrees that are awarded is far from an ideal situation. Namely, degree are a form of external motivation which are to be deemed secondary to intrinsic motivational factors. A pupil, student or any person should be motivated to learn and to know more by the contents, not by the fact that passing some tests leads to some degree.

The practical implementation of a new kind of educational system that is based on the markets of knowing and being-able-to is not straightforward because alternatives could be overly chaotic. New information processing systems can pave way to these kinds of developments. Two recent articles in Information Processing & Management indicate future directions related to education and societal knowledge management. In the future, the knowledge and skills of each individual can be managed in a personalized manner. If you think twice the implications of the technologies described in our article "Assessing user-specific difficulty of documents" by Paukkeri, Ollikainen and Honkela, you may see the emerging pattern of future possibilities. Another article in the same journal, Inferring user knowledge level from eye movement patterns, gives a good example techniques that can be used to measure the knowledge of an individual. These developments lead into a situation in which information systems can store the profiles of our knowledge and skills as vectors with millions of elements, thus acknowledging our abilities in a much more truthful way than the current systems. Moreover, in the future humans can be credited for all of their skills and knowledge regardless of path how they acquired their abilities. The current system can be stated to be highly unfair in many different ways. The task of teachers and educators will to be serve as wise coaches that help to build the big picture, to indicate good ways of learning and gaining experience, and to keep up high levels of energy and intrinsic motivation among the learners. Seen from this point of view, the future of education is bright but also very different from what is in place now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good blog, till now I thought that knowledge management is purely on medical basis, or related to it, but I learnt lot in your blog.