“The model for innovation around education isn’t about extending the classroom and thus the voice of a single teacher to more students, but rather innovating around growing the amount of teachers a single student has access to.” – Reuben Tozman, Canada
“I have been pounding the pavement for years on rethinking ‘the course’ and talking about putting more control in the hands of the people who are learning,” says Reuben Tozman. “Given where technology has gone and what it enables us to do, we can provide people with deep, rich learning experiences without having to manually create them one by one.”
Tozman is the president and founder of the learning services company, edCetra Training, which is focused on the design and development of customized e-learning programs. Tozman has worked as an instructional designer, project manager, consultant, and product manager within a variety of organizations. For Tozman, learning is – and should be – very personal. He is the author of the book, Learning On Demand, and believes learning today should be about the student having access to information – and multiple “teachers” – when and where they need it.
“I think I have been able to open some minds to the idea that the model for innovation around education isn’t about extending the classroom and thus the voice of a single teacher to more students, but rather innovating around growing the amount of teachers a single student has access to,” says Tozman. “I have made believers from designers who were married to designing courses, into designers who think outside a ‘course.’”
Today, Tozman shares his unique perspective on how to develop curriculum, and what the key component is to a very personal learning environment. Enjoy!
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I have designed and built systems that enable teachers and professional development personnel to personalize and expose different groups of students to different content in run-time, which allows the students to get a much richer experience than a canned presentation, regardless of background or context.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
I think there is a critical mass of designers and believers in creating a different ecosystem for anybody to learn from, regardless of age, background or location. This becomes a matter of engaging with that community to draw ideas from. If you’re a teacher, trainer or any other professional development person, there are numerous, innovative resources for changing your learning environment. So much in fact, there really isn’t an excuse not to do so. Schools and corporate training environments have had their time. We are at that tipping point where the classroom or the corporate training room itself is extended into the world in which we live and play. We need to design experiences for the world that enrich us as much, if not more, than the traditional classroom ever did.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I am all about the technology. When we do work for our clients, we are always looking at innovative new technologies. Currently we are invested heavily in using the “Experience API” out of the Department of Defense and bringing value around learning analytics that have never before been possible. I have been advocating for years that test scores are not a measurement of learning, and that learning itself isn’t measurable. However, we can collect data about experiences and infer patterns of behavior that suggest learning has taken place. Experience API allows us to do that.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
I think Canada offers higher education at incredibly affordable rates. The one thing that higher education offers to those willing to go through it is a testament to one’s willingness to complete a project. Especially at the graduate level, getting a thesis or internship done is invaluable to one’s skill for dedication. Making that experience as accessible as possible is a great thing.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
I think teachers need a greater range of flexibility to explore innovation and provide a “curriculum” in a way that enriches student lives. At the same time teachers need to take more risks and be more adventurous to push their environment to accept the fringe as normal.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
In my view, and this applies to education and corporate university settings, it is to innovate around amplifying the access to the amount of teachers students can have. Build ecosystems that support individuals, as opposed to systems that support the one-way dynamic of a teacher pushing content. Even MOOC platforms, although they may change the “access” game, still innovate around the idea of amplifying the teacher. They still deliver singular messages around a topic.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Be bold. Don’t simply teach. Enrich the lives of the people you touch. People are always learning — whether in a classroom or not.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think the trend of “learner control” is really helping students. For those accustomed to being spoon-fed information, and then expected to regurgitate it back out, there is a transition to be made. But for those who are able to grab on to the opportunity to create their own experiences, the process of learning is also a process of enriching one’s life. The trend that gets in the way is the age-old control issue, where designers and teachers believe they hold the key to learning and continue to design for a one-way communication channel.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Not necessarily a tool, but I would give the gift of exploration. I would allow people to define what is meaningful for them and allow more time for exploration. My son loves to draw. He’s at a point in school where they let him draw almost as much as he wants. At some point in time, the education system will divorce drawing from what matters and make it an art class. What I would love to see is the freedom for him to use drawing to understand math, to help with his reading, to learn sciences, etc. In other words, let him explore his talents while acquiring the “curriculum.”
- Birthplace: Montreal, Canada
- Current residence: Toronto, Canada
- Education: MA Educational Technology, MA Philosophy
- Website I check every day: LinkedIn
- Person who inspires me most: Kevin Kelly
- Favorite childhood memory: Playing hide and seek with neighborhood kids.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): San Jose, California (Work)
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning. My son and daughter (ages 4 and 3, respectively) were singing and dancing Gangnam Style.
- Favorite book: Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
- Favorite music: John Spencer Blues Explosion (Punk Rock)
- Your favorite quote or motto: One foot in front of the other, always.
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