Often, it's our attitudes that get in our way: Learning expert

"Stuff that is cool doesn't necessarily work better for learning. In fact, it can end up being distracting for learning even though the users like it," said Dr Saxberg, reminding educators to stay practical.
"Stuff that is cool doesn't necessarily work better for learning. In fact, it can end up being distracting for learning even though the users like it," said Dr Saxberg, reminding educators to stay practical.ST PHOTO: CALVIN YANG

The obsession with examinations and grades is prevalent in many countries, including Singapore. But that mentality has to change, advised Dr Bror Saxberg, chief learning officer at Kaplan.

The 57-year-old American, who was here earlier this month for a talk at EdTechXAsia, explained: "In learning, there is an obsession, in many countries, with tests. But it is not the real world, especially with work changing and so forth...

"Skills that seem irrelevant before become very relevant later, and skills that seem very valuable before become irrelevant later."

He commended Singapore's SkillsFuture movement to get its people to think about lifelong learning and skills upgrading.

"I think what Singapore is doing in thinking so systematically about lifelong skills is good, and is ahead of most countries that I am aware of," he said. "We cannot expect careers to stay in place over decades.

"But it could be scary if you can see that what you are good at might get replaced."

Dr Saxberg, a thought leader in the field of learning science, said that mindsets have to change.

"It is hard work. It is change at all different levels," he added. "Often, it is our attitudes that get in our way."

Dr Saxberg said other countries may look at Singapore's example and start something similar. He added that in future, short courses for people to pick up new skills on a need basis - which may be stacked to count towards a diploma or degree - may be more prevalent among learners around the world.

Dr Saxbergalso highlighted the use of mobile technology as a game changer for education. Students can now learn on the go, outside the classrooms, he said. "That flexibility of time is terrific. It is not a race, it is what you have mastered."

In addition, augmented reality, where learners practise their skills in a virtual environment, and blended learning, which may involve online lectures as well as discussions in class, will become commonplace in the schools of the future.

While he remains excited about the possibilities in education, Dr Saxberg reminded educators to stay practical. "People think technology is what drives better learning, but that's not true," he said. "Stuff that is cool doesn't necessarily work better for learning. In fact, it can end up being distracting for learning, even though the users like it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Often, it's our attitudes that get in our way: Learning expert'. Print Edition | Subscribe