Doug Thomas spoke at TEDxUFM in 2012 about A New Culture of Learning, a book co-authored by Thomas and John Seely Brown. These are my visual notes and brief summary of the talk. The full video of Doug's talk is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM80GXlyX0U


I'm Rachel Smith. These are sketchnotes I made of Douglas Thomas’ talk, A New Culture of Learning, at TEDxUFM 2012.

Learning is an easy thing that we do from the day we’re born until the day we die. It happens effortlessly—except in school.

A new culture of learning is emerging, where passion, imagination, and constraint are the key components. We need to engage the passion of students, because passion drives our desire to learn. Imagination begins with the question “What if?” -- a question that gives us the power to imagine things as other than they are.

Constraint comes into it because putting obstacles in someone’s way can harness passion and imagination. Architects, for example, design better buildings if they have constraints like having to work around really weird landscapes.

When you combine passion, imagination, and constraint, you get play. Doug describes play as an emergent property of the application of constraints—rules—to the imagination. That’s the fundamental idea behind the book A New Culture of Learning.

Doug spent a lot of time listening to teachers, and he came away with four key points:

One. Teachers have passion too, just like learners. They became teachers in the first place because they love to see people learn. However, they run into roadblocks, like getting suspended for teaching Romeo & Juliet, even though it’s mandated in the curriculum. 

Two. Standardized testing is not about knowledge. It’s about surveillance. It’s not about accountability, it’s about treating every student and every teacher like every other—and it’s toxic to imagination and play. So isn’t it great that we’re now doing it in kindergarten? 

Three. Classrooms have become cultures of context rather than content. It used to be that the teacher dished out content and the students absorbed it, right? But students can now access content from lots of different sources--in lots of different contexts. They look at all of it and make conclusions about what the information means. The content coming from teachers is just another context.

Four. We need to re-evaluate what expertise is.  It’s hard to do, because we’re used to the roles we’re familiar with. Teachers need to stop thinking of themselves as the experts and say instead, “Okay, you found 18 web pages about this subject. What are the good ones? What are the bad ones? Why? How can you re-evaluate and reshape your context to make sense of this world you’re in?” 

The teacher’s job becomes one of creating context for cultivating imagination, honoring passion, and helping people connect their passion to what they need to learn. 

And the rest of us should celebrate teachers who make learning easy, the way it is supposed to be.

And remember the most powerful words in the English language: “What if..?”


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