Pumping the Brakes on Innovation

Innovation is a word you hear tossed around a lot in education. Everyone’s looking for an innovative technique or a bit of technology in the classroom that will innovate instruction. I don’t know about you, but from what I’ve seen in innovation lately, I’m quite worried. Whenever I hear someone talking about the future of classrooms and where education is supposedly going, there’s rarely any mention of actual students learning. However, there’s plenty of conversation about how the classroom will look and feel different, how students will interact with the material to be learned, what skills they will need in the future, a new gadget or piece of technology that will innovate learning, et cetera. But very little, if any, talk about how these innovations will actually improve student learning. And if these innovative changes don’t improve learning, why are we wasting our precious time in professional development learning how to implement them? Why are districts spending a ridiculous amount of money on innovative technology or an innovative speaker who will lecture (for a small fortune) for an hour about how bad lecture is for learning (thank you for coming to my TED talk)? 

Education, on the whole, is racing to be innovative…and I’m not sure why. Now, to be certain, our systems for education are not perfect. There are improvements that need to be made. But, if this is what innovation is in education, we’re not making any improvements. The classrooms might look a lot cooler, students may look more ‘engaged’ with the latest technology, but if there’s no more learning being done, we’ve wasted our time and money and have done a real disservice to our students. 

Real innovation isn’t superficial. Real innovation positively impacts student learning; how they think, how they remember, how they relate, how they apply. Can this be done with new technology? Of course. Does it have to involve the latest gadget? Not at all. Learning without using technology in the classroom is just fine. Using technology in the classroom without learning is educational malpractice. This idea that, in order for the classroom to be innovative, there must be some major purchase or there must be some new trick to learning is, unfortunately, quite prevalent. I recently received a message from a friend stating that teachers they are around aren’t wowed by strategies that impact learning like retrieval practice and spaced practice. They want something new; something innovative. Sadly, I fear, that’s a sentiment that many share. If it isn’t shiny or flashy, it’s old and ineffective.

Such a shame.

We need to change what is meant by the word ‘innovation’. If it doesn’t lead to better learning, it isn’t innovative. If it doesn’t make instruction more effective, it isn’t innovative. If it doesn’t make the classroom environment more efficient, it isn’t innovative. If you are in professional development or chatting with someone who claims to have an innovative way to instruct, ask them how this gadget/strategy will improve learning in the classroom. If they cannot answer your question, don’t buy into (or buy) this so-called innovation. And, in reality, it isn’t an innovation, it’s a sales pitch.

*This post isn’t aimed at any one person or group of people. This is more of a general observation/worry/concern.

3 thoughts on “Pumping the Brakes on Innovation

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  1. I love this post. Schooling focuses on form these days because it has such limited function.

    What do you consider essential for children to learn?

    If we can’t each answer that, perhaps we serve the institution more than the children.

  2. You cannot get ahead in the industry unless you appear progressive and innovative in some way, anyway. Never mind students actually learning anything that is not the point. It is about creating an echo chamber of congratulatory re tweets from other staff members who have risen in the ranks due to their mis-guided practices,because it seems to reflect the path to progress. Never the actual outcomes of their work. Essentially bad teachers have a new avenue to success not in classroom instruction but through the facade of innovation.

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