Open Thinkering


We need education for resilience, not flexibility.


If there’s one thing that educators, and especially those involved in educational technology agree upon, it’s that the time for ‘business as usual’ as come to an end:

All of us, especially within the EdTech community, can begin to think about how to develop ‘resilient education’. That is, a pedagogy and curriculum that both encourages and fosters the radical change that is necessary as well as ensuring that the present depth, breadth and quality of education is sustainable in a future where there may be less abundance and freedom than we have become accustomed to. (Joss Winn, 2009)

Whilst I certainly wouldn’t label myself a Marxist, I do agree with Richard Hall’s critique of Capitalism and the enclosure of public spaces where ‘non-legitimised’ skills currently flourish:

A global range of skills, alongside stories in which they might be situated, exist in spaces that remain as yet unenclosed. These spaces might be harnessed collaboratively for more than profiteering, or the extraction of surplus value or further accumulation or financialisation, or alienation. We teach and re-think these skills and these ways of thinking every day with other staff and students and within our communities of practice. We need the confidence to imagine that our skills might be shared and put to another use. We need the confidence to defend our physical and virtual commons as spaces for production and consumption. We need the confidence to think ethically through our positions. We need the confidence to live and tell a different story of the purpose of technology-in-education. (Richard Hall, 2011)

We can see this in the way, for example, Pearson have labelled their new, ‘free’ LMS offering ‘OpenClass’ and Blackboard talk about the way their system is ‘open’ because academics can choose to CC license work within their system. It’s nothing less than the commoditisation of Open Education.*

Look up the word flexibility. What does it mean?

1. capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent: a flexible ruler.
2. susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable: a flexible schedule.
3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable: a flexible personality.

And now look up resilience:

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

There’s a subtle difference between the two positions: one is active and one is passive. One is future-shaping and empowering whilst the other looks for authority elsewhere.

I know what I think we should be educating for.

Image CC BY-NC Times Up Linz

*Have a look at CUNY’s Commons in a Box project.

2 thoughts on “We need education for resilience, not flexibility.

  1. It’s interesting that Joss Winn argues for resilience in 2009 when 10 years earlier Alistair Smith and Nicola Call were arguing for it in their book “Accelerated Learning in Primary Schools” – The ALPS Book. They came up with the concept of the 3Rs – Resourcefulness, Resilience and Responsibility.

    Since then Professer Guy Claxton (and his system Building Learning Power) defined 4 Rs – Resourcefulness, Reslience, Reflection and Responsibility – each of them being a key characteristic to develop in each child.

    Unfortunately there was a lot of nonsense in the ALPS books that obscured the good stuff. Learning styles such as Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic were jumped on as being great ways of influencing teaching at the primary level and then were ported wholesale into secondary schools – this was such a shame, because if the nation’s primary schools had taken on the challenge of making their children resourceful, resilient and responsible, imagine the generation of late teens and early twenties we would have now. Instead we got primary school teachers franticly trying to make their children literally jump around the classroom because that would help them kinaestheticly learn their times tables. I don’t want to think about what that looked like in secondary schools.

    On the subject of resilience versus flexibility, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Given the choice between being bent by difficult times, or being broken by them, I think I would prefer to be flexible – but I would hope that I was elastic enough to get back to my original state. If there was no flexibility within my leadership team, then nobody would ever yield and we would always be at war with each other. In addition I would also say that a lot of teacher would say ‘flexibility’ but mean ‘resourcefulness’ – having a load of knowledge and skills in the ‘mental bag’ that would help solve a problem.

  2. Sorry to be greedy and add a second comment.

    I wanted to add that I drifted away from the world of EdTech in the early 2000s because of it’s lack of focus on pedagogy, academic research and it’s emphasis on ‘use tech or fail’. I have only returned recently, helped by social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I think it is through such services that Edtech has itself begun to catch up with some of the concepts that actually matter in the classroom. Many older teachers are still disillusioned by the failure of Edtech to deliver on the hype and promises made in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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