Friday, January 31, 2020

Donald Taylor's International survey - No 1 may surprise you - but 1-5 taken together is the new era...

Why learning analytics?

Learning Analytics has leapt in at Number 1 on Donald Taylor’s International Survey. What’s interesting is the next four positions, as they are all related:
 1 Learning Analytics
 2 Personalised/adaptive learning
 3 Collaborative/social learning
 4 LXP (Learning Experience Platforms)
 5 Artificial Intelligence
I’ve been working solely on this cluster of things for the last five years and want to tease out a simple point – they have to be seen as a whole as they are all intimately related:
 1 fuels 2/3/4/5
 4 is the delivery platform for 1/2/3/5

Why now?

Beyond numbers of people taking courses, literally ‘bums on seats’, which is to measure the wrong end of the learner, learning has never been particularly analytic. Few collect detailed data to describe learner behaviour with even basic analysis. Fewer still delve deeply into that data for insights to inform, predict or prescribe future decision making and action. It is not clear that dashboards improve the situation much. It is still a descriptive ‘bums on seats’ approach.
The learning world attracts ‘people’ people, with an interest in the development of others, rather than many from a scientific or analytic background, with an interest in systems and data. This, in a sense, pushes learning professionals away from learning analytics. We must overcome this reliance on qualitative perceptions and judgements, including the old and laboured Kirkpatrick schema, which is a statistical mess. 
It is time to move the client towards a more data-led approach. This does not mean becoming an expert in data or statistics, as the technology does all of the computation and heavy lifting on the maths and stats. Learning professionals will not be analysts but consumers of data and data-driven automation. The analysis will largely be done for them. 
The world is becoming more data-driven, organisations more data-driven and even at the level of the individual, personalised service is an expectation. This puts pressure on the learning world to respond by being sensitive to this need for data as fuel and algorithms as the rocket that will allow us to boldly go to places we have never been before.
Data is everywhere. You are a mass of data points, your face is data for face recognition, your body a mass of data points for healthcare, your behaviours area data points for online organisations, you network online with other people and information which are all data points, your car is a data point for GPS. You are and live in a sea of data. This is also true of learning. What you know, when you learnt things, how well you know things, your performance. Like it or not, you are all masses of data. This doesn’t diminish your humanity, it informs decision making and can make life easier and more productive.
If you have a LMS (Learning Management System) you will, most likely, have been gathering data under the SCORM specification. Unfortunately, this has an old and severely limited capability, really focusing on who did what, when and did they complete courses. If you have been using Kirkpatrick, you will most likely have been gathering the wrong data with little analysis. It’s time for a rethink.
Moving beyond this specification, xAPI has been defined by the same people who gave us SCORM. This is a new specification more suited to the current landscape of multiple sources for learning and a more dynamic view of how people learn, along with a need for many more types of data than in the past. Similarly with then shift from the LMS to LXP. That’s why LXPs have appeared. The world has moved on, organisations have moved on, the technology has moved on and so learning professionals should move on.
This means leveraging data to be more focused, efficient and aligned with your organisation’s strategy. It should lead to better decision making, more action, more automation and provable impact on the business.

How to start?

Don’t think just dashboards. They trap you in a world of reading what IS the case, rather than deciding what SHOULD be the case. We need to derive an OUGHT from an IS and push them beyond dashboards to decisions, actions and the automation of process.
What we need is strategic view of data use. Here’s the good news, a schema has existed for a long time in data science, classifying data use into four areas:
This allows you to think ambitiously about data, moving beyond metre description (dashboards) towards using to help improve and shape teaching and learning. 


Data that describes what is the case, describing learners, their behaviour and the technology is descriptive. That’s what dashboards do. Don’t get stuck with dashboards only – they are merely descriptive.


Analysis gives you deeper insights into data and may, even at a simple level, provide useful insights in terms of informing decisions and action. Don’t worry, the software should do the analysis for you – you don’t have to become a data scientist!


Data that predicts what your organisation or group or individual learner needs can be used to recommend action. Recommendation engines drive most of what you do online (Google, Social Media, Amazon, Netflix). This allows you to deliver personalised learning.


This is where data makes things happen. A real recommendation is provided or nudges pushed, spaced practice applied, adaptive learning applied. The software literally uses data to enact something for real.


Beyond this lies the use of data for more innovative uses in learning such as sentiment analysis, content creation, curation and chatbots.


Having spent the last few years doing all of the above, I think we are about to enter a new era, where smarter software (AI/data-driven) will deliver smarter solutions. I now see real clients use data, not just on dashboards, but to drive engagement, learner support, content creation, curation, assessment, sentiment analysis, chatbots and so on. Happy to help with any of this stuff… DM me or contact me on the form here

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Gramsci (1891-1937) – that word ‘Hegemony’....

Jailed by Mussolini, Antonio Gramsci wrote 32 notebooks, written over 11 years in prison but they were not published in English until the 1970s. If you hear the word ‘hegemony’ it is likely to have come from someone who has read, or just as likely not read but unknowingly quoting Gramsci.
As a Marxist his focus was on cultural and ideological forces in society. Informal education along with defined roles for intellectuals and redefining schools, are all main themes for Gramsci as he took Marxism and updated its theories in the light of 20th century evidence. The physical conflict between the classes became a mental conflict, where ideas were weapons, perpetuated through institutions, especially educational institutions. He was to have a great influence on radical educational theorists such as Freire and Illich.


Traditional Marxism saw class control and conflict as one of domination and coercion. Gramsci saw that this was not subtle enough to explain the status quo and thought that values, morals and social institutions kept class structures in place. The common consciousness unwittingly adopts these beliefs and this preserves inequalities and domination. Two forces operate here; first coercive institutions such as the armed services, police, government and legislature, second non-coercive institutions such as schools, churches, trade unions, social clubs and the family. Interestingly, schools straddled both categories with their coercive curriculum, standards, qualifications and compulsion but also non-coercively through informal education, the hidden curriculum.


Power for the ruling classes, comes not from force but ideological manipulation and control. Schools and education play a major role in perpetuating this hegemony, reinforcing the social norms of dominance and obedience. The fact that different classes tend to have different schools is evidence that this dynamic is operative. Schools, he thought, should give all pupils a common grounding, free from social differences and we should be wary of vocational schools for the poor and academic schools for the rich. Everyone should have a good, grounded education, a comprehensive education. In many ways the UKs comprehensive system had its roots in Gramsci. Like Dewey, and many others, he saw learning as being active through activities. However, he was no Rousseau-like romantic. Children, he recognised, did not take naturally to learning.


Intellectuals, for example academics, are often seen as being above and apart from the ruling classes but Gramsci doubted this and saw some as perpetuating the system. Indeed, some intellectuals are the product of this class consciousness and their role is precisely the continuation of the current system. His solution was to encourage intellectuals from other class backgrounds to participate in political activity. This opened the door for a more enlightened view of education and change, a counter to the brutality of the anti-intellectualism of many communists.
Schools need to produce well-rounded participants in society, but also intellectuals who would act as a brake on the power of the ruling classes and exercise their power through education. The educated individual could act critically to change society and play a significant role in society. Education was therefore a powerful source of ideas and action in a society with the capability of changing society for the better. This was a powerful force in 20th century socialist thinking, where intellectuals, and worker’s education, were regarded as being at the vanguard of working class consciousness and struggle.


Gramsci related Marxism directly to the institutions of education and saw them as playing a key role in the ideological revolution, although his theorizing is still deeply rooted in the Marxist historicism, so successfully demolished by Popper. The role of intellectuals, not merely academic, in changing society, was also recognised. Many would argue that this sort of academic Marxism had a deleterious effect on schooling, politicising education and schools. Others would still argue that an egalitarian educational system is far from realised and that Gramsci’s ideas still have huge currency in modern debates on education and schooling. As with so much of this debate, the danger lies in strong ideological positions being taken at the expense of innovative practice and realism.


Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Boggs, C. (1976) Gramsci’s Marxism. London: Pluto Press.
Entwistle, H. (1979). Antonio Gramsci: Conservative schooling for radical politics. London: Routledge.
Carmel Borg et al (2003) Gramsci & Education  Rowman & Littlefield.
Jones S. Gramsci, Routledge Critical Thinkers, Routledge.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Marx (1818-1883) – Education as class war…

Although Karl Marx wrote little on educational theory, his influence on learning theory and practice has been profound. It was Marxism that underpinned the entire communist world’s view of learning in the 20th century, especially through Marxist theorists such as Gramsci and Althusser. In Soviet Russia and its satellite states, education was remoulded around political aims and when the Cultural Revolution in China between 1949 and 1966 was unleashed, it had devastating consequences. To this day Marxism, to a degree, persists in educational and learning theory, most notably in the social constructivism of Vygotsky, Luria and Leontyev.

Education the result of economic structures

As Marx believed that our very consciousness, as well as our theorising and institutions, were the result of basic economic structures, education is seen as the result of existing class structures. In practice, this means that the ruling class controls and determines educational theory, policy and institutional development.
For Marx, in The Communist Manifesto (jointly authored with Engels), education has a ‘social’ context, which is both direct and indirect, ‘And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention direct or indirect, of society’. The solution to the dominance of the ruling class was, first to abolish child labour, then introduce free, state-funded education. The ‘combination of education and industrial production’ is also promoted, what we’d call vocational training. Unfortunately, ‘dialectical materialism’ was the manifestation of struggles between these groups within society and led to the identification of educated people and groups as enemies of the state.

Gramsci and Althusser

It was left to later Marxists to expand Marx’s social theory of education into working models that relate to knowledge, intellectual development and education. Antonio Gramsci developed these ideas further through ideas such as ‘ideological hegemony’ where the ruling class determines what passes as knowledge or truth. Louis Althusser developed this further, exploring the way in which education, state, church, media and other institutions become the ideological state apparatus. Class structures determine knowledge and the means by which knowledge is transmitted, distributed and taught. Freire gave us a critical pedagogy for the oppressed, where education is always seen as political. These ideas were to literally shape education for a large part of the twentieth century, across entire continents and in some last vestiges, notably North Korea, the idea persists.

Technology and education

With remarkable foresight Marx also predicted the massive impact technology would have on the division of labour. His vision of a classless society would make such divisions disappear, with education as the driver. The breakdown of traditional academic and vocational should also break down, “free them from the one-sided character which the present-day division of labour impresses upon every individual”. Individuals will have several careers and through ‘education… pass from one branch of production to another in response to the needs of society or their own inclinations’. This, of course, proved hard to implement, even in hard-lined Communist countries.

Fragment on Technology

As technology takes over the role of ‘production, the new form of production is ‘information’. The economy then becomes a matter of control, not over labour, but knowledge. The nature of that control is social and he invokes the idea of a ‘general intellect’. Negri regards this as a radical shift in Marx’s thought into ‘info-capitalism’ or ‘cognitive capitalism’. Other commentators have picked up on this theme, such as Dyer-Witherford in Cyber-Marx and Bastani in Fully Automated Luxury Communism, where he takes Marx and bends it towards a contemporary vision of technological utopia. It is a thought experiment, where technology solves critical problems such as climate change, energy shortage and, above all, poverty. Capitalism does what it always does, automate, minimise and eliminate labour. Productivity goes through the roof and we can then sustain a population of 9 billion comfortably on the proceeds of this productivity. Capitalism, far from being a destructive force, produces abundance, a flourishing world of equality and happiness. 


Marxism has produced a useful critique of education as the vehicle for the implementation of power, whether by the state, capitalism or religion. But its darker side has been its prohibitions, dogma and sometime murderous consequences.
Marxism was put forward as a scientific theory, although it proved to be far from having the evidential and predictive power that science requires. This led to its core assumptions, notably dialectical materialism, being used, not only to shape psychological end learning theory but also, at times, the elimination of certain groups deemed to be class enemies, often the educated and educators. Its more benign influence has been in seeing education as always having a political dimension.


Karl Marx, (1988) The Communist Manifesto, ed. by Frederic L. Bender, Norton
Karl Marx, (1983) The Portable Karl Marx, ed. by Eugene Kamenka, Viking
Karl Marx, (1988) The Communist Manifesto, ed. by Frederic L. Bender, Norton
Karl Marx, (1992) Early Writings, tr. by Rodney Livingstone, Penguin
Karl Marx, (1992) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, tr. by Ben Fowkes Penguin.
Terry Eagleton, (1999) Marx Routledge
Francis Wheen, (1999) Karl Marx Fourth Estate

Edgeworths - You'll never have heard of them but good on practical education...

Books and pamphlets on education were being constantly published and debated in the 18th century. Now forgotten works, such as Maria and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s Practical Education, pushed, like Locke, for early learning, good habits in learning and learning by doing. This is a side of learning that is overlooked as most writing the theory are academic theorists. The Edgeworths present a view of learners as autonomous, rational beings, who need to be encouraged to think for themselves. It is a remarkable text with as many progressive ideas as one would find in a modern book on pedagogy.

Attention and doing

Attention was a necessary condition for learning and tiredness its enemy. Children must not be overburdened, so teaching needs to be varied, structured and carefully sequenced. Rote learning and cramming are cast aside in favour of the application of principles. Knowledge was less important that judgement and the development of competences. At this time, there was also great interest in hands-on, practical skills, around agriculture, science, mechanics and chemistry. He recommended contextualising learning by making schools sit in farm-like environments, with pets and farm animals. The careful selection of toys, prints and materials were to give children meaningful tasks. He also advocated an early form of phonics. Habit, reinforcement and repetition are all important, especially the habit of attention. Here, again, we have an emphasis on the psychology of learning.

Educational experiments

The Edgeworths were among the first to test educational interventions, albeit in a rather unorthodox manner. In addition to gathering evidence from his grandchildren, he experimented on Peter, the ‘wild boy’, who lived close-by. This child was found in the German woods in 1724, without speech or social habits. Brought to England, by then an old man, he was studied by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. He concluded, from Peter, rather disappointingly, that the acquisition of language was a necessary condition for learning. However, education had become the subject of experimental science.


A strong advocate of universal schooling, he saw education, like many in the late eighteenth century, as the means of improving the lot of the poor, correcting their faults and keeping them from criminal activity. The Edgeworths were typical Enlightenment figures. He conceptualised and experimented with the first caterpillar tracks, never really producing one that was practical but was an inquiring mind, with a deep interest in education. A member of the famous Lunar Society, he mixed among the greatest minds of the day and saw that education could be furthered by the empiricism and experimentation of the age.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Wollstonecraft (1759-97) – Women and education...

Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley author of Frankenstein, bursts with originality in her thoughts on education rejecting the dry, dull teaching of the day, even recommending peer-justice by students. So interested was she in education that she even tried to run a school.
However, she is best known for her ground-breaking work on the education of women that has resonated through to 20th century feminism. She adopted the Enlightenment love of reason in educational theory, hugely influenced by Locke, but wrote a devastating attack on Rousseau’s crude recommendations on the education of women. Women deserved the same education as men and the right to be educated alongside men. But she had far more to say on education than this one principle.

Self-help book

With Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female Conduct in the more important Duties of Life (1787) she lays out rules for the conduct of a moral and relevant education for women. It reads like a self-help book with no end of detailed recommendations from  fairy tales to breast-feeding. But it has an edge, as she attacks the education of women into the role of card playing ornaments, absorbed in themselves and fashion. Rather harsh on the influence of servants, she was all for a strong parental influence on education. Like Plato she was antagonistic towards too much fiction, especially fairy tales, for your children. She wants strong women, mothers and daughters of independent mind but not as we see it today. Her vision was of women as mothers and teachers, playing roles in societal cohesion and progress. But this is a mere foretaste for her more detailed work on education.


In her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), a political work, she is critical of the gender-based language and gender analogies used by Burke. She also launched an attack on the monarchy and aristocracy, in favour of republicanism. In this she invokes the Enlightenment ideas of reason and progress but it is in Chapter 12 of her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) that she presents a detailed account of her educational views.
She launches a direct attack on the schools and schooling of the day, especially boarding schools, as she thinks it is vital that children receive both a home life with some structured respite for learning. However, she castigates educators for their ‘fear of innovation’ and decries the lines of benches and ‘parrot-like prattle’. State funded day schools should be available to all. Most importantly, she is firmly against single-sex schools. It is important that both girls and boys learn from and about each other for a harmonious society. Long vacations are undesirable, as they both disrupt learning, leading to forgetting, and place too much pressure on the home environment.


Much teaching is pedantic and tyrannical with its recitation and focus on Latin and Greek. And in a prescient passage she notes that, “It is not for the benefit of society that a few brilliant men should be brought forward at the expense of the multitude”. With echoes of Rousseau she recommends a broad curriculum but with a focus on open air and exercise. And harking back to Socrates, she recommends that some subjects, notably religion, history, the history of man and politics, be taught through conversation. On discipline she recommends that peer-punishment, judgement by fellow students, be implemented, freeing from teachers, so that the students learn justice from practice. How innovative is that!

Women and education

Rousseau’s position on the education of women saw them as not only lacking the abilities of men, but that they be taught for the pleasure of men. Women, Wollstonecraft stated, must seek intellectual autonomy and should not depend on men for that goal. They are not, as some at that time claimed, slaves to their emotional passions and have the ability to develop rational and intellectual passions and abilities. In short, women have the right to the same education as men and to be taught alongside men.
In detail, she provides an analysis of the enslavement to the body beautiful 250 years before the feminism of the late 20thcentury. Interestingly, she was sensitive to the different roles women have from men, as wives and mothers, but saw that this only has a bearing in the sense that education and reason improves the skills needed in these roles. This is a debate that is still alive in feminist thinking. But before we see her as a completely modern, educational theorist we must also remember that she thought that poor children should be taught in separate schools.


It is good to read of Enlightenment innovations on the curriculum, the school calendar and discipline that would put our modern-day educational establishment to shame. But her primary contribution is that she challenged society to offer equal political and educational rights to women, claiming that the only way to prove her case was to put it to the test. We did, and it passed the test magnificently. Although it was well into the 20th century before it happened and even quite recently some Universities did not admit women. A recent vindication of her work is the fact that women, in many countries, now outperform men in education and that the education of women is seen as a key to economic prosperity in both the developed and developing world. 
A memoir published by her last husband portrayed her as a rather unconventional figure and this skewed her reputation for a century and more but her writings are now widely quoted by modern feminists and historians, as a major figure of the Enlightenment. Botting has written about her countering the influence of Burke and Rousseau, as well as her influence on nineteenth century American feminism. Ayann Hirsi Ali quotes her as a huge influence in her autobiography Infidel and many other modern feminists have quoted her as a having a considerable influence.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Smith (1723-90) – searing attack on Higher Education...

Adam Smith spent most of his life teaching, as a Professor and private tutor. Very much a product of the Calvinist push for universal schooling, Scotland had one of the highest literacy rates in the world. He was friends with fellow Scots David Hume, James Watt, James Hutton and James Black, a group of extraordinary minds who were all foundational in their fields and all the products of a renowned Scottish education system. But it was Smith that wrote most about education, with a searing attack on Higher Education. Literally reframing economics as the business of trade, rather than profit and bullion, he saw education as oiling the wheels of commerce.

Smith’s economic theories and his view in education are grounded in his philosophy. Indeed he saw himself not as an economist but philosopher. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, where his theory of human nature claims that we are fundamentally driven by self-interest but also have sympathy, from which comes justice, even benevolence. We use our imagination to better ourselves by imagining ourselves in better circumstances and can learn to apply moral sentiments. Reason and self-control can all be learnt as can beneficial social values. Parents have an essential role here as have friends and formal education.

His Wealth of Nations was written the same year as the US Declaration of Independence and his influence greater. The world has largely adopted variants of free-trade capitalism, where “it is not through the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our own dinner but from their regard for their own interest.” In this book he devoted a section to education preferring a combination of a modest private contribution and public support.

Basic education

In favour of learners paying teachers directly, he also realised that this was impractical for the poor, for whom a basic education should be supported at public expense, albeit retaining an element of direct payment for the masters. Note that he did not mean payment from tax revenue but from other sources such as land rental and philanthropy. 

Higher Education

He was in favour of teachers having to rely on their skills and reputation, with students paying for access and was highly critical of the University of Oxford and European Universities, of which he had some experience, as their large salaries encouraged them to disparage and even abandon teaching. “In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the publick professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.” Student fees, by comparison,  were paid directly to professors in Scotland. In a rather prophetic passage he states that “the richest and best endowed universities have been the slowest in adopting those improvements, and the most averse to permit any considerable change in the established plan of education.”


He was detailed in his criticism of ‘sham-lectures’ where the Professor simply extemporized on an ancient text. “It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can” says Smith, which is why teachers and Professors need to be renumerated directly by their learners or they will teach what they want rather than what the learners need.


Smith’s influence on economics and politics has been immense, as has his influence on education and training.  He is not a free-market ideologue in education. He favours a system that mixed personal contributions with public support. Many would agree that tenured academics have abandoned much teaching to adjuncts and abandon teaching whenever the opportunity arises. Many also agree that students who benefit from the University education should pay for that privilege. In the current debate around Higher Education, many countries have opted for variants of Smith’s recommendations.


Smith, A., 2010. The theory of moral sentiments. Penguin.
Adam, S., 2016. The wealth of nations. Aegitas.

Rousseau (1712-1778)... Noble savage...

It is hard to see a man who handed all five of his children up to an orphanage at birth, not even naming them or noting their date of birth, as an expert on the development and education of children. Prickly and paranoid, he managed to fall out with almost everyone, including those who tried to help him, like David Hume. Yet Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote extensively on education, including a major novel ‘Emile (On Education)’, still arguably the most important novel on education ever written and his influence on education has been long-lasting and profound.

Noble savage

As an exponent of The Noble Savage, although not as much as you may think, he saw civilisation as a corrupting influence, creating inequalities and conflict. His educational theories are an attempt to avoid such corruption within the mind of essentially good human beings, the antithesis of the Hobbesian notion of our intrinsic savagery.


With a passing nod to Locke in the preface to Emile, he states his intention to build a complete theory of education from the point of view of the learner. Emile grows from a boy to a man and Rousseau tracks his inner, natural growth, matched by education appropriate to these natural stages of development. It is the learner that matters and the learner who develops in a natural fashion, not shaped by teachers but growing in response to opportunities for development.
The book develops over five sections. The first two are about giving the child freedom to explore and drink from his/her senses, as their ability to focus on serious learning is absent and when forced, is counterproductive. It is only at around 12 that the education of the mind should be considered. From 15-20 we are born again as we develop naturally into adults. This time of turbulent emotion allows us to learn about conflict, morals and religion. We must experience a gradual introduction into the ways of the world and wider society, but it is between 20-25 that one must be introduced to society. Here Emile meets Sophie, who he will marry. Rousseau takes this opportunity to draw differences between the education of men and women, based on his belief that the two sexes are naturally different.

Educational principles – nature, men and things

Education comes from nature, men and things; these are our three masters and nature is the most important. The child, naturally good, needs simple freedom and must not be rushed into inappropriate or unnatural educational activity. Play and self-reliance are important. From then on, each stage of natural development needs appropriate and personal education with learning appropriately matched to age. The focus is on motivation, first through restlessness, then curiosity and later goals. People do not need to be taught in a traditional sense; they need to be exposed to problems and come to their own Influences.


David Hume wrote, “He is plainly mad, after having long been maddish”, and although Rousseau's legacy has been profound, it is problematic. Having encouraged the idea of romantic naturalism and the idea of the noble and good child, that merely needs to be nurtured in the right way through discovery learning, he perhaps paints an over-romantic picture of education as natural development. The Rousseau legacy is the idea that all of our educational ills come from the domineering effect of society and its institutional approach to educational development. If we are allowed to develop naturally, he claims, all will be well. This may be an over-optimistic view of human nature and development, and although not without truth, lacks psychological depth. Emile, as Althusser claimed, now reads like a fictional utopia. Tom Bennett, of ResearchEd, notes that he is one of a long line of educational theorists who seemed to have no interest or actual experience in teaching children.
In many ways, the presentation of self-paced online learning, open access to knowledge through Google, Wikipedia and Open Educational resources and projects such as the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ work of Sugata Mitra, are heirs to the Rousseau dream. There is, to this day, a feeling that the strictures and structures of post-industrial revolution are harmful and counter-productive, and have led to a search for more natural and meaningful ways to learn.


Rousseau, J-J. (1762) Émile, London: Penguin.
Rousseau, J-J (1762) The Social Contract, London: Penguin. (1953 edn.) Translated and introduced by Maurice Cranston.
Rousseau, J-J (1755) A Discourse on Inequality. Translated with an introduction by M. Cranston (1984 edn.), London: Penguin.
Rousseau, J-J (1755) A Discourse on Political Economy. Available as part of The Social Contract and Discourses, London: Everyman/Dent.
Rousseau, J-J (1782) The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1953 edn.), London: Penguin.
Rousseau, J-J (1782) Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Translated with an introduction by P. France, London: Penguin.

Boyd, W.  (1956) Émile for Today. The Émile of Jean Jaques Rousseau selected, translated and interpreted by William Boyd, London: Heinemann.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Locke (1632-1704)... Motivation and habit...

Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1692), is a practical guide, rather than a theoretical treatise but that is what makes it so fascinating and readable. Widely translated, it became a manual for education among the upper classes for most of 18th century.
As the greatest philosopher of his age, he laid the foundations for empiricism and the enlightenment view of knowledge, politics and education. Skeptical of the educational practices of his day, it was a break from the dry, educational stranglehold of medieval scholasticism. His is a sophisticated theory of education, explained in detail, built, not around the transmission of information, but the shaping of habits and character.

Motivation matters

As a libertarian he thought that the learner must not be coerced nor learn when they are not in the right frame of mind, neither should they be beaten. They must be made to feel as if it is in their own interest, and that they are acting from their own free will. Without pleasure and play, the child will become demotivated. Conversation is strongly favoured over lecturing, and the child’s character and temperament needs to be understood if they are to be taught well. Not that children should be spoilt, indeed he recommends that parents, in particular, should be tough on their children in their early years.


His approach is a series of very practical methods for encouraging good habits and character right down to details on curiosity, games, language learning, dancing and so on. Educational methods are recommended that focus on example and practice, rather than the teaching of information and principles, as children do not remember or apply rules. In this sense, it is not learning that matters, but the establishment of good learning habits. It is repeated practice that reinforces these behaviours so they become instinctive, through the use of the concrete rather than the abstract. We see here, the beginnings of a more psychological approach to learning, sensitive to curiosity, motivation and retention.
In particular, everyone should learn a manual skill, such as carpentry, as it helps relax the mind. Beyond this, his focus is on a healthy mind that has the basics in reading, writing, arithmetic and a knowledge of literature, along with the natural and social sciences. He was suspicious of the worth of the arts, and like Plato regarded them as either largely useless or dangerous. Detailed scholarly study should be left to those who want to become scholars.

Sceptical on schools

He does not recommend school for those who can afford tutors, and sets great store on the enthusiasm of parents, and the family in general. Schools, he thought, merely perpetuate bad company and bad habits of behaviour. He explicitly rejects the focus on Greek and Latin through the teaching of grammar. A cross-curricular approach should, for example, move from French through geography (places in France) and only after a knowledge of numbers, to longitude and latitude, then Copernican astronomy. This orderly approach to the curriculum, that puts the practical before the abstract, lies at the heart of his pedagogy. Lastly, and not many learning theorists touch on this, Locke recommends travel, not at 16-20, the gap year norm, but either before this age, to acquire a language, or after when one can truly appreciate the difference between your own and another culture.


His thoughts on education, although influential, are weakened by the fact that, like most pure empiricists, he saw the mind as a table rasa or blank slate. But this was tempered by his recognition of individual character. We can now see that he was also a product of the age, making a firm distinction between the education of Gentlemen and the masses.
These points aside, it is the idea of a free mind, that uses the power of reason to become contributory, autonomous adults in a free society, that mark out this educational theory. The sweeping scope of his thinking and thoroughly practical recommendations are impressive, couching education in a sophisticated theory of knowledge and liberal political society with observations and general views on education that point towards a tradition that focused on character and autonomy within society, rather than the transmission of knowledge. 
His pedagogical ideas have a psychological basis that reads like contemporary theory and lead to concrete ideas about what should be taught and how. Above all, we see the emergence of the autonomous learner, where motivation in the mind of the learner becomes paramount in pedagogy.


Aaron, R. (1971). John Locke. Oxford: The Oxford University Press
Cranston, M. (1969). John Locke Green and Co. Ltd. London: Longmans
Tarcov, N. (1984). Locke's education for liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Yolton, J. W. (1968). John Locke and the way of ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Calvin (1509-1564) - Teachers as preachers... deficit model…

Education as a religious imperative

Calvin, with Luther, was a hugely influential Protestant reformer who attacked the Catholic Church and worked towards a return to a more basic form of Christianity, based on a personal relationship between God the creator, scripture and his subjects. It is also important to remember that his intellectual lineage is from St Augustine, so predestination, sin and eternal damnation figured large in his theological beliefs. We are imperfect sinners, born flawed and personal education is the path to salvation, work and redemption. In education, this reformed approach, with a new emphasis on the individual, and the Bible as a text, gave new impetus to self-improvement and universal schooling, made possible by the massive rise of cheap, printed books.

School as secular salvation

Influenced by humanists like Erasmus, we must know only God and ourselves through scripture. Idolatry and ritual were to be shunned. We are fallen creatures, with the burden of original sin and have to find redemption through Christ. Calvin was very much and internationalist and this fight against sin was to shape schooling and education in Northern Europe and North America for centuries, with its deficit model, matched by righteous schoolmasters who had to drill, beat and moralise leaners into improvement. Discipline, attention and punctuality were to become the virtues of the schoolroom. Illich thought that Calvinism had literally shaped schooling as we know it, with school as the new form of secular salvation.

Universal education

His second influence is on his emphasis one universal education from an early age. Education was part of the Protestant mission and compulsory, disciplined schooling was to be encouraged for all and so he encouraged the building of schools and free schooling for all, especially the poor. In countries like Scotland, where his acolyte John Knox pushed for a school in every Parish, literacy levels became the highest in Europe and some argue this led to the flourishing Enlightenment period in that country.

Calvin and print

Literacy was a virtue as it enabled the personal study of scripture direct from the printed word. Luther was another great influence on this policy. As an active promoter of the new publishing industry, he saw our personal relationship with God being truly mediated, not by the church and priests, but through personal reflection. Calvin’s support for the printed word, mostly scripture, came at a time in Europe when the print revolution was exploding and as books were no longer scarce, reading became a major pedagogic force.
This print explosion was to encourage other Calvinist evangelists, such as John Knox, to call in his 1560 Book of Discipline for a national system of education. This was in the spirit of the individualism of the Reformation but his primary reason was to allow all children to read scripture. This was to have an unintended consequence. 
In time, 1696 to be precise, the Scottish parliament passed the ‘Act for setting schools’, to legislate for a school in ever parish. By the end of the eighteenth Century Scotland would have the highest literacy levels of any other country. The Reformation by then has turned into the Enlightenment, not only in Scotland but across Europe. A more secular revolution has been set in motion by religious zeal.

Teaching as preaching

Calvin was never ordained and saw himself as a teacher rather than clergyman. Perhaps his most enduring, influence is on preaching, exposition and the repetition as pedagogic techniques. In other words, the traits of the preacher were to become that of the teacher. His teaching as preaching method was to read, deliver a sermon then sing (scripture through Pslams). The regular singing of Psalms, repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, moral assemblies each morning all made their way into schooling, reinforced in the Victorian era when schooling became compulsory and large numbers of children had to be looked after and schooled, as their parents were working in factories. We are still mired in this Protestant pedagogy, if not its theological predilections.


It has been argued that the Reformation, Calvinism in particular, sees education as the rectification of weakness and not the building of strengths. What is produced and exposed is not success but failure, leading to fixed curricula, obsessive testing and a deficit model that interprets education in pathological terms. It can also be argued that many of the institutional behaviours and practices in schools regiment children in a way that as unnatural and unnecessarily restrictive. Morning assemblies, the teacher as transmitter of knowledge, rows of desks, bells on the hour, drill and practice, can be seen as strict Calvinist practices, where students are regarded as sinful beings that have to be saved from ignorance.


Through reformers like John Knox, schools were formed in every parish and they were to shape the Prussian model under Friedrich Wilhelm I, then the Napoleonic model and much of modern institutional learning, even into North America. The Puritan influence on the founding fathers in the US was also substantial. We see this teaching and learning, and religion for the people, get rooted in local parishes, communities and schools.
Calvinism also led, indirectly to the Enlightenment, where the focus on the text of eth Bible raised problems with that text and reflection on religion and philosophy. We see this directly in Scotland, where an educated population, produced some of the geniuses of the Enlightenment Smith, Black, Hutton and Hume. It’s influence on capitalism through Adam Smith is also powerful, with its ethos of discipline, hard work and earthy success.
Calvin’s influence on education through universal schooling has been immense, as is his influence on attitudes towards education as a deficit model, where the students are seen from the start as a flawed creatures. The religious view is that we are fallen creatures, born incompetent and the conceit of education is that the answer is always more schooling. The glass is always half empty and we always seem to have deep 'deficits' and 'divides'; digital divide, digital skills, maths, 21st C skills, qualifications, even happiness!
In a sense Calvin has been a curse and a blessing, with his emphasis on the virtues of education combined with the vices of, for example, learners as being deficient and teachers as preachers.


Tillich, Paul, (1968) History of Christian Thought, New York: Harper and Row
Reid, W. S. (1972) John Calvin: His Influence on the Western World, Michigan: Zondervan
Graham, W. Fred (1971), The Constructive Revolutionary: John Calvin and His Socio-Economic Impact, Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press
Helm, Paul (2004),John Calvin's Ideas, Oxford

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Luther (1483-1546) - Universal schooling... reform...

In Martin Luther’s call for universal education, literacy was part of his programme for ‘reformation’. It was education, schools and literacy that would put young people in touch with the realities of scripture and knowledge, without the mediating power of a priestly elite. Education would produce individuals who had direct access to the good book and therefore God. This was still education in the service of religion but a much more disintermediated and democratised approach to learning. There can be no doubt that he was a major catalyst for the reformation, which in itself had an enormous effect on shaping education, not only in Europe but around the world. It led, in the end, to a more secular form of education rooted in schools and Universities, free from the church.

Luther and learning

Luther expressed a keen interest in education, schools and teaching. Reflections on all appear across his writings but two texts stand out; the letter to The Mayors and Aldermen of the Cities of Germany on Behalf of Christian Schools and the sermon The Duty of Sending Children to School. This interest in learning and education had deeper roots in the Renaissance but the Reformation gave it new impetus.

Spiritual and civic education

In The Mayors and Aldermen of the Cities of Germany on Behalf of Christian Schools (1524), which he directs at town councillors, the duty to provide education is evidenced in Scripture, where in Psalms, it is God’s command that we teach the word of God and in Deuteronomy that we nurture and immerse youth in scripture, and inculcate respect for parents and authority. The state, he thought, should provide schools for all, rich and poor, that serve both spiritual and civil needs. An educated citizenry would be more structured, conscientious and produce better leaders. As to what was taught, he resorts to the renaissance model of the Classical curriculum, based on the works of Greece and Rome. The German Bible and other translations were important but he still revered the Greek and Latin versions.


Six years later, after the failure to see his recommendations realised and witnessing an anti-intellectual leaning in the Reformation, he wrote a more practical work, The Duty of Sending Children to School (1530). Here, he admonished parents for not seeing the value of spiritual education and knowledge of the Kingdom of God. Yet he is still loyal to his vision of seeing education as both a spiritual and civic matter, as the earthly realm, a gift from God, needs professionals and leaders to produce a prosperous society in which the spiritual can flourish.


The Reformation saw universal education as a ‘form’ of reformation. They saw it as a means of ridding the Catholic grip on beliefs and institutions, reconnecting all people to God through more direct means, their ability to read, study and understand scripture. But Luther was not as radical as some other reformers, who wanted to eradicate the reading and teaching in ancient languages. He was still a Renaissance preacher and teacher. Unlike Erasmus, for Luther, education was not an end in itself; it was a route to scripture and the gospels, all leading back to spiritual development. Nevertheless, the Reformation pushed an agenda that gave the individual learner the power to read, write and reflect. Whatever the means and ends, universal schooling and literacy was on the march. Lutheran influence in schools still exists in its original heartlands, northern Europe, and through emigration, in the US and Australia.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ignatius (1401-1556) - Jesuit zeal… Give me a boy (don't take this the wrong way)…

Ignatius Loyola was a Basque soldier turned priest who formed the Jesuits, or Society of Jesus, a missionary order driven by a military-type zeal to spread the Catholic faith. He famously said ‘give me a boy until he is ten, and I’ll give you the man’. Education was to be their primary and most successful weapon. Jesuit education is apostolic and the order demanded missionary and educational service in whatever part of the world they were sent. It was a reaction tom the Reformation and Prtestantism and drove Jesuit priests into many remote lands and ever remoter locations to defend the faith and, above all make converts. The Jesuits are still active with tens of thousands in the order and educational activities in many countries.

Ratio Studiorum

Jesuit education was founded across Europe as part of the Counter-Reformation, to prevent what the Catholic Church saw as heretical teaching in the Universities of the day. After the publication of the Jesuit educational manual, the Ratio Studiorum, by Acquaviva, known as the second founder of the Jesuits, in 1586, the Jesuits had added a practical method to their zeal. Acquaviva formalised Jesuit education making it easy to replicate and scale. The book is a detailed account of how to set up a school, classes, curriculum, schedules, and methods of teaching. It attempted to do then what is common now, standardize teaching methods and the curriculum
The primary function of education for the Jesuits was religion, specifically the teachings of the Catholic Church, so that moral character and religious devotion became habitual. This was not done through direct religious instruction but through a religious approach to all learning. Boarding was encouraged as it was in line with the indoctrination of the whole student. Strong and well-trained teachers were essential, with constant evaluation and feedback throughout the year. Good teachers who were talented, prepared and inspiring were sought, poor teachers rejected.
In the days when educational theory was a matter of life and death, the Ratio Studiorum was condemned by the Dominicans to the inquisition, as it contained some unpalatable theological doctrines. The Jesuits compromised by removing the implicated chapters.


It is a highly academic education with a focus on the humanities and the classics in literature, history and language, with the emphasis on reason, leading to philosophy and theology. Mathematics, for example, was seen as a secondary, worldly subject. The curriculum, however, aimed to ‘form’ and not just ‘inform’ character through analysis. Critical thinking was encouraged. This is not to say that the curriculum was wholly academic, as the arts, especially drama and physical education, were also encouraged. They were keen on plays where students would debate and show moral dilemmas and issues on the stage.


As the idiom of religion and the Church, Latin was compulsory even into the 20th Century. Not only was Latin taught but much of the teaching was done in Latin, with some schools not allowing vernacular to be spoken, even outside of the classroom. The Ratio makes it clear that Latin was not about helping learn other languages but about inculcating learners in the culture of the church and the classics. It was taught directly and through immersion, translation being frowned upon. The religious basis of Jesuit education is seen by many as an anachronism in our post-colonial and secular world. The promulgation of Latin can also be partly traced to its religious role in Universities, and not as is commonly assumed, for utilitarian purposes.


The Jesuits were a global educational enterprise, first India, then South America, Florida, Mexico, China and Japan. The used and wielded power but always saw ‘schooling’ as their modus operandi, raining money for schools, which are fixed, visible and useful entities within communities. Their buildings were often huge and ostentatious. Education means salvation, but also power. They were particularly good at adapting to local, indigenous cultures linguistically and culturally but also good at remaining elite and scholarly, infiltrating government and ruling entities.

Jesuit education has modernised and in its many universities and colleges, especially in the US, has become part of the mainstream educational landscape. They run 168 higher education establishments in 40 countries and 324 secondary schools in 55 countries, with around 20,000 in the order but it is estimated that their numbers are falling.