How smart can we make society?

Once we leave formal education, few of us think much more about learning. Yet, we can’t help but learn - even if it’s only to work out that the schedule for Doctor Who has been randomised beyond comprehension.

Some of us make a conscious effort to learn: taking night classes, requesting training at work, listening to language tapes or joining the Open University. But how many of us are smart learners? In fact, how many of us even know the methods of learning that suit us best as individuals? What role can technology play in learning? Questions like these have challenged the top minds in education for many years.

Here we outline some of the main issues in this debate. In addition, we gathered some of those aforementioned top minds for a discussion in July, where, although there was still much scratching of heads, ideas for progress were shared.

One idea in particular was radical: "learning by cheating". Many would consider this an oxymoron, but the point being made was that our means of assessment are no longer in line with our tools for learning; if we want smarter learners we need smarter assessment. The ubiquitous availability of the internet may have increased accusations of plagiarism but plagiarism, or cheating, to one person, is the ability to use technology to another. This debate is not too dissimilar to the one surrounding calculators only a few decades ago. Same problems, different technology. If we can find some solutions, the argument goes, everyone benefits: the individual, the economy, the employer and society as a whole.

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