Apple's VP of education writes on the future of teaching

Apple's vice president of education, John Couch, has written a timely and appropriate book that ably describes why we must change how we teach in order to meet the needs of our changing world.

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There’s a pressing need to improve the traditional education system, bringing transformative technologies and teaching practices into play to boost active learning and create a framework that supports life-long education, argues Apple's vice president of education, John Couch, in his latest book.

Rewiring Education

Couch's Rewiring Education is a passionate criticism of many of the less-efficient aspects of current U.S. education policy. It looks at why the status quo fails so many students and how the manner in which they are taught in U.S. classrooms needs to improve in order to facilitate active, life-long learning.

Naturally, Couch places lots of focus on how technology can improve education.

Connected devices (such as iPads running Apple’s Schoolwork app) have a huge part to play in enabling schools to deliver personalized education, in which what individual students learn matches their understanding and ramps up as this improves.

Couch also looks at the growth in collaborative technologies, online reference sites, and emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR), interactive books, and 3D printing as keys that should unlock future educational opportunity.

What seems to be a central argument across this work is that good learning outcomes aren’t defined by simply consuming and understanding information; achievement is also unlocked by expressing what is learned.

Looking to iBooks Author, he points out: “iBooks Author has become one of Apple’s most sought-after educational products because now kids can do more than just learn how to read a book; they can learn how to create their very own, fully interactive books.”

Couch’s book is full of his frustrations at the slow impact of these technologies on U.S. education. He argues that the world has changed so much that education must be redesigned to meet its new challenges.

“Only by rewiring the system can we adapt to changes as they occur, without the fear of proposed updates short-circuiting it all: moving away from passive models of education and toward active models of learning,” he writes.

He also admits to frustration when met by the argument that the system was good enough for the older generation, so it remains good enough today. Technology has changed everything — today’s young people have grown up within this change, they think differently, learn differently, and the modern world has very different needs.

Towards a new employment landscape

I don’t think there are many employers who would disagree.

The impact of automation and AI means up to 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk, according to a 2013 Oxford University research paper. In 2016, Forrester predicted automation would destroy 6 percent of U.S. jobs by 2021, making 9 million people unemployed.

AI evangelists argue that new jobs will be created by these technologies, but there is no golden rule that says such employments as are created will be generated in the locations in which jobs are lost.

Most predict that AI will eradicate both blue- and white-collar jobs.

Sure, people can retrain, but the lowest paid, youngest and least-skilled workers most likely impacted will also be the least well-resourced to retrain. This will leave vast armies of unemployed workers with little hope of training to develop the skills most analysts expect will be in demand post-AI.

What are those skills?

They are precisely the kind of personalized and holistic skills Couch describes in his book: tasks that require physical and mental agility, creative thinking, or personal empathy are the ones the machines do less well.

These seem likely to be the skills the future of employment will be based around. (McKinsey & Co. predicts demand for such skills will increase by 26 percent in the U.S. alone.)

The digitally transformed world will need creative leaders, critical thinkers, decision makers, and empathic guides. It will have less need for rote memory, physical strength, or the capacity to repeat mundane tasks — that’s what robots are built to do.

Even if you happen to have those skills, the future world of work will demand that all of us, from the boardroom to the Industry 4.0 factory floor, accept the need to pursue life-long learning.

That’s everything from night courses to TED Talks to engaging with course in MOOCs and iTunes U and educational tools we've not encountered yet.

These truths are emerging among C-seat executives across every industry at this time.

I think Couch has written an impressive book.

I urge you to read it, not just to understand some of the secret histories of Apple’s efforts in education, but to help come to grips with the big deficit between the results of a traditional approach to education and the needs of the employment market we are entering today.

Fit for the future

The fact that Couch in his book explains a vision that may unlock such lifetime educational attainment should be enough to win support from those same execs, who know they need to transform their workforces today, as profound transformational change is already impacting their industries.

Employers needs active self-starters capable of thinking on the move and equipped with the kind of creative, empathic, and flexible mental tools you don’t necessarily build by repeating the times table and rote-learning historical events.

The world is changing. Technology is entering into every process. It seems inescapable that it must also become a key part of how we train tomorrow’s people for a computerized planet.

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