Skip to content
July 3, 2010 / compassioninpolitics

A case for vocational and experiential education : Charles Leadbetter speaks at TED

As someone who grew up on the mantra that a traditional liberal arts being a one-sized fits all solution for all education–this is a sizable shift in thinking (which Charles Leadbetter argues is a remnant of 19th century education model inherited from Bismark–which will work, but will fall radically short by destroying innovation). I think, however, this may have a potential solution for cash strapped districts as well as education reformers who want to energize and motivate students. Although, this model shouldn’t wholesale replace humanities based education–it could be integrated into the curriculum to bring more student-centric relevance to teaching. From the Learning from Extremes White paper which is based on research by Charles Leadbeater and Annika Wong funded by Cisco:

Transformational Innovation: A New Logic to Learning

However, to get learning at scale to the hundreds of millions who will want it in the developing world, transformational innovation will be needed. Transformational innovation will create new ways to learn, new skills, in new ways, outside formal school.

Transformational innovation is being pioneered by social entrepreneurs such as Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall and the Barefoot College in India, the Sistema in Venezuela, the Centre for Digital Inclusion in Brazil, and many others.

These programs:
• Pull families and children to learning by making it attractive, productive, and relevant
• Rely on peer-to-peer learning rather than formal teachers
• Create spaces for learning where they are needed, rather than just using schools
• Start learning from challenges that people face rather than from a formal curriculum

The test of these approaches is whether they get useful knowledge into the hands of people who need it. It is not measured by exam pass rates.

From Improvement to Innovation
To make learning effective in the future, to teach the skills children will need, on the scale they will be needed (especially in the developing world), will require disruptive innovation to create new, low-cost, mass models for learning. Even relying on good schools will not be enough.

This model seems to dovetail the work of Kolb in the area of experiential learning and earlier educational theorists like pragmatist John Dewey. You can watch Charles Leadbeater speak at TED on Education Innovation in the Slums here (Watching at 15 minutes in his TED talk he provides a really fantastic, but simple rubric which explains the need for both informal and disruptive education models). You may also want to check out Leadbeater’s books, as they are available for free online as Leadbeater is a Creative Commons advocate and author.

Charles Leadbeater is co-founder of Participle, the public services design group and author of several books, including The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur, We Think: Mass Innovation not Mass Production, and What’s Next: 21 Ideas for 21st Century Education.

Annika Wong is an Oxford University graduate and researcher.

Here is the TED talk by Charles Leadbetter called “Education innovation in the slums” (I think he gets going around 2 minutes into the video–so you may want to fast forward to that point in the video)


Leave a Comment
  1. Nathan Ketsdever / Jul 3 2010 9:42 pm

    You might also check out Cisco’s community Get Ideas which is a social network for education innovation:

  2. compassioninpolitics / Jul 4 2010 4:30 am

    In Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Switzerland and the partner country Estonia, around 75% of upper secondary students in vocational programmes are enrolled in programmes which combine school- and workbased elements (Table C1.4). In Australia, Denmark, Iceland (in the case of women only), the Netherlands and Switzerland, more than half of the time in education between ages 15 and 29 will have the double status combining it with employment (Table C3.1a).

  3. Peter Harrington / Jul 4 2010 6:01 pm

    Makes complete sense to me. What I don’t understand is why there isn’t more transformational work given the simultaneous rise in technology capability and increasing evidence of the failure of traditional education methods. With regard to TED videos, I can also highly recommend watching Sir Ken Robinson.

  4. compassioninpolitics / Jul 4 2010 6:50 pm

    Ken is pretty good–he in some ways suggests the problem that Charles seeks to solve.

    I tend to think that Ken got lucky. He said the right thing at the right time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: