I am no expert on economics. However, I have noticed that many educational practices can be linked to economics. For example, grading is typically done by collecting points. If you have enough points, you can survive economic downturn (failing a test). Sometimes you can purchase insurance (extra credit). I am not surprised, given our culture, that our metaphors are often economic in nature, but I am unsure if economic metaphors are appropriate for education. If a student is not learning, should we “foreclose” on his/her education, or work to identify what might be causing the struggle in hopes of helping the student learn?
Scott McLeod recently tweeted me something about the current “attention economy” and that we should design for it, or lose. This is an interesting idea. While I believe attention has always had a part to play in both economics and education (so this isn’t really a new problem), I think we want to use the word attention carefully. Sure, lots of people are paying attention to Khan Academy right now, but just because people are paying attention does not make KA a good idea. I’m sure we can think of all sorts of gimmicks used to get our attention that lack any sort of substance. For example, McDonald’s gets kids attention with a toy in the happy meal, but this hardly makes the happy meal a nutritious meal.
Scott is right, but perhaps only superficially. I will never see myself as a salesman of learning. I don’t want to sell them anything. I want them to be able to create, not buy. I’m a science teacher, I can get students attention very very easily (insert explosion noise here), but if all I’m after is their attention, we have a real problem. Endeavors like Khan Academy keep noting their numbers of visitors. 1:1 laptop initiatives note how students “like” the environment better and there are fewer behavioral concerns. These are indications of attention, not of learning. Attention may be a prerequisite to learning, but learning does not necessarily follow from attention.
I wonder if our incessant concern with attention has actually distracted (removed our attention) us from other concerns related to education.