Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Design Learning from the Extremes

In Todd Rose's Tedx Talk Sonoma "The Myth of Average" which is about the myth of the average person. From his Project Variability, Rose states that "even though we have the most diverse population in the world, we are unable to exploit this natural advantage in human capital."

Rose shared how the Air Force had problems with their pilots reaching all the controls in the fighter planes. They realized there is no average pilot and no one was the same height, weight, and other dimensions.

Solution: The Air Force created adjustable seats so they fit all types of fighter pilots and banned the average pilot. They realized that no one pilot fit what was supposed to be "average."



Four percent of dropouts in the US are intellectually gifted. That comes up to 50,000 minds each year who don't fit in the average model. How much of this is bad design? We design learning environments for the average learner. We call our system age-appropriate, but it is not. Learners vary on many dimensions of learning.

Each learner has a jagged learning profile. They have strengths, averages and challenges. Just like the fighter pilot seat. If you design learning for the average, you design it for nobody. We have created learning environments where we can not expect learners to do what we want them to do.

No one is average. How about if we ban the average in education?




The average hurts everyone. Designing average destroys talents in two ways:

  1. The existing educational environment can not challenge learners as it creates an environment where they become bored and sometimes dropout. 
  2. It means that your weaknesses will make it harder for you to see your talent.  

It is all about nurturing individual potential.
Rose was a high school dropout with a 0.9 GPA who is now a professor at Harvard. He ends his talk with:
"For every one person like me, there are millions who worked as hard and have the ability who are unable to overcome the drag the educational environment that is based on average. We  have a once in a lifetime chance to fundamentally re-imagine the foundation of our institutions so they nurture the talent of every individual."