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Sir Ken Robinson, creativity and using technology

I had the chance to hear Sir Ken Robinson speak last week. Obviously seen all of his videos but never heard him live before. I tried to keep up with what he said and have posted that below. There’s minimal editing so I hope you can get a sense of his message. Basically his talk was based on his latest edition of his book: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

My summary at the end.


I’m a great advocate and believer in new information systems in the transformation of education.

All I do really is related to three themes:

1. I believe that we are living in times that are unlike any other. There are no prior examples to learn from to solve our current problems. There is a character on earth now that is quite different. It may be more than we can deal with. But with the proper dose of education, we can.

H.G. Wells once said that “civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.” I believe that.

2. If we are to meet the current challenges, we need to think differently about our capabilities and talents.

3. We have to do things very differently. Radically re-interpreting some of the core principles of education is the only way.

(He mentioned his book Out of Our Minds.  The  publisher asked if he wanted to issue a new edition because it was already ten years old. The rewrite took six months because so much has happened in the last ten years – ipods, social media, Facebook, etc.)

About the only thing that we know is that nobody knows where all of this is going. There are ideas of what we are capable of creating technology but no one knows what the effects of the technology will be on the current culture. We’ve always been bad at predicting the impact of technology on culture.

There are some technologies, like the printing press, like internal combustion engines, like television, that don’t add to the culture. They transform it.

Digital technology is having the same effect on culture but perhaps even more profound.

Within 20 years, the most powerful computers will have the capacity of a six-month old baby. They will have the ability to learn and the ability to rewrite their language based on their experiences. Nothing will prevent this from happening. If something is technically possible, it will happen. If tools are available, people will use them.

There’s another factor at work here. It’s not just that technology is changing things but also that the world’s population is growing at a fantastic rate.

How many people have ever lived? Nobody really knows but estimates say between 60-110 billion. Let’s say 80 billion. Almost 10 percent of that number are here now. We are the largest generation in history of humanity.

Most of that increase has happened in last 200 years. In the year 1800, there were 1 billion people; in 1900, two billion; in 1970, three billion; in 2000, six billion.

We don’t know if the planet is up to this. A BBC show from last year asked the question: How many people can live on earth?  One tidbit from that show suggested that if everyone used resources at the rate of those living in Rwanda, earth would support 15 billion people. If everyone used resources based on the average rate in North America – 1.2 billion.

So we’ve got a problem.

But we’re trying to solve this problem with outdated structures and practices. We need a revolution. I’m suggesting a learning revolution.

Western cultures tend to focus on specific details rather than on the big picture based on our culture of individualism. We screen things out.

We do the same thing in education. We often don’t see the big picture because we focus too much on specific details like test scores and attendance rates.

There are lessons we can learn from thinking differently. Some founding principles for the education revolution.

1. The current educational system is based on standardization and conformity.

I realized that Americans love irony when I ran across the NCLB legislation because the law is truly leaving millions of children behind.

NCLB unintentionally has such an obsession with standards that it forces the system to conform to a view of intelligence that applies to just a small number of students.

(Ken spent some time discussing the school factory system and how individual student differences are sacrificed because the system is not designed to meet those differences.)

The sinister thing about all of this? More and more students drop out. Over 30% drop out while in high school. This is a systemic problem.

But new technology offers extraordinary opportunities to specialize student learning. If . . . we take advantage of the technology.

2. Creativity is important and we need to honor this.

Imagination is what sets us apart from other animals on earth. We have the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present. And we are all born creative and imagaintive

This is both good and bad – it can create problems.

Education should be the solution – using creativity to solve the problems that our own creativity causes.

In the end, the educational revolution and creativity are just tools. We need to use them appropriately.

In 2004, seven inches of rain fell in Death Valley. Next spring the valley was carpeted with flowers. The valley wasn’t really dead, it was just dormant. Seeds existed just below the surface waiting for the proper conditions.

If people are provided the proper conditions, they can grow. Technology can help us do that. Personal and individualized education and creative thinking can be supported through the us eof the proper tools.

There is immense talent locked up in our education systems, we have to find ways to free them up.



The human capacity for creativity has created enormous problems. The human capacity for creativity can find ways to solve these problems if . . . we change the way that we educate kids. We need to use technology to encourage individualization and creative thinking so that the full potential of students can be realized.

So . . . what can you change in how you teach to water the flowers of Death Valley?

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a teacher it is frustrating dealing with an educational system that is ripping away the creativity of teachers and students. The current approach is not a cure but a band aid. The truth is that students do not dislike school because it is hard but because it seems to be dull, boring, or irrelevant. How can a an educational system become successful? It needs to focus on on the long term not the short term.

    Two important movements happened in education during the The Age of Reason and The Counter-Reformation. The process and the effects both had were interesting. As a response to the Reformation in Europe, the Catholic Church – through several councils and collaborative opportunities – realized that the church had to be reformed. Change through the mandate of one was not working it was not till Paul III had the foresight to gather a committee to redesign and reform the aims of the church in a changing world.

    One of the outcomes of this was making the Jesuits instrumental in creating an educational landscape that was modern for the time and wed both faith and reason. The lesson is that collaboration and mission are effective and necessary to change education. Another example is forward vision. Sir Francis Bacon, with support from James I, decided that the educational process was still stuck in scholasticism (rote learning, back to the basics, direct instruction, etc). He wanted to design a progressive form of education that focused on the skill necessary for his era and the future.

    The principle elements of this education centered around inductive reasoning, classification, and practical knowledge. This form of knowledge was integral to forming the basis of modern science. Sir Francis demonstrates that vision founded upon the needs of a civilization are integral for its change and development. Current education tends to want to mend itself through limited decision making and outmoded goals.

    July 21, 2011
    • glennw #

      An interesting take – looking at educational reform through the lens of Catholic history and leadership! Thanks for a different perspective on the struggle to improve the K-12 system.


      July 21, 2011

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