The perfomative demonstration of education

I spent much of my early career in educational technology. My work “Origin Story” as it is is that I started working on virtual learning environments in 2002, realizing that everyone involved (teachers, administrators, learners, possibly the developers) absolutely despised it, and then the principles the nascent social web into space.

What I’ve only recently come to appreciate is the importance of corporate education: especially when it comes to the certifications required to do business in well-regulated industries. For example, in order to be able to continuously certify SOC 2, you really have to conduct regular safety training courses for every employee and provide more detailed training for every engineer. Keeping a record of who attended and passed these training modules is of great value to a company that might be audited.

Informal learning doesn’t really fit into this model. Yes, you learn better from your peers, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that immersive, holistic teaching is more valuable educationalbut that is not why companies are doing the training. You are doing the training to decrease yourself, but more than that, to prove that you have reduced yourself risk. Quantifiable grades, scores and access records are mandatory in this context. They are more the product than the actual education.

The problem is, we think that way about education in a larger context. Ultimately, it’s not that important to us to really educate people. We take care of show that we have educated people. It’s not about helping people holistically, giving them the tools to be really successful in life – or, God forbid, promoting human knowledge – but much more about showing that we have our key performance indicators for society and made our communities less risky. Statistics and analysis are performance; The point is to cover your ass by showing that you have done your due diligence, the real impact of your work is doomed.

Goodhart’s law reads as follows: When a measure becomes a goal, it is no longer a good measure. When our goal is to have a certain percentage of A grades instead of being complete and comprehensive raising, our methods change accordingly. We let people slip through the cracks and start developing systemic, consistent approaches. On the other hand, if our goal is education, we may find that a measure or approach that works for one student doesn’t work for another.

One mistake I made in my early career was thinking that the people who made the financial decisions generally wanted to educate rather than engage in a performative demonstration of their education. While the former usually applies, happily to real educators, the folks who control the wallets very often want the latter. I was naive and over-idealistic and just didn’t get it.

Understanding this would have helped me put better tools in the hands of educators and build a stronger nonprofit or business to deliver them sustainably. Ironically, I didn’t know enough to do that. So life is.

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