Teaching the unteachable skills

If you tend to perform tasks you’ve never performed before, what does this mean for education? Does your school teach you to solve problems, prioritize tasks, and prepare you for non-assembly-line jobs?

“Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?” (Seth Godin in Sheepwalking)

Maybe teachers should ask harder questions — questions they’ve never answered — and allow students to use “real life” tools.

Here’s what just about every exam ought to be: “Use Firefox to find the information you need to answer this question:” And as the internet gets smarter, the questions are going to have to get harder. (Seth Godin in The Wikipedia Gap)

In the past, you had to memorize knowledge because there was a cost to finding it. Now, what can’t you find in 30 seconds or less? We live an open-book-test life that requires a completely different skill set. (Mark Cuban in Time magazine)

I’ve called this intellectual self-sufficiency, the ability to search out answers for yourself.

How about these test questions? (Internet and cell phone allowed.)

  • What can you buy with 1 yen, in Japan?
  • Find a picture of Rio de Janeiro taken today.
  • Who is the most famous author of all time? Defend your answer.
  • Your friend is visiting downtown Boston and calls you for help. Help her get to D.C. You’re in Provo, Utah.

The answers don’t really matter, but the process does.

5 thoughts on “Teaching the unteachable skills”

  1. i was just cruising around the internet on a snowy day and found this post. what a great post! now i’m gonna have to go back and read more of your stuff. i totally agree – the rules have completely changed. information is ubiquitous. and we’re still training folks for the assembly line. i think the future value will be found in pattern recognition and trend analysis. also, multi-disciplinarian learners will make massive breakthroughs. nice post.
  2. I really like this topic as the foundation for interview questions or even a phase in the interview process. Consulting firms, it seems, have mastered testing how you think during the interview process. (via the case method)… but it would cool to see a company hire people based on their ‘intellectual self sufficiency’ capability.

    Peter Drucker said, “In book subjects a student can only do a student’s work. All that can be measured is how well he learns, rather than how well he performs. All he can show is promise. — Landmarks of Tomorrow: A Report on the New ‘Post-Modern’ World (1959)


    I think the growth industry of the future in this country and the world will soon be the continuing education of adults. …I think the educated person of the future is somebody who realizes the need to continue to learn. That is the new definition and it is going to change the world we live in and work in. — Managing in a Time of Great Change (1995)

    thanks to wikiquote.org

  3. I was just thinking about how the internet makes us smarter. For instance, when Google was unreachable for about 12 minutes today, I almost started to panic when I realized that I could not access the wealth of information that I was used to. I told my co-workers that my IQ dropped by 99% while Google was down!

    It would be interesting to see how people would do on IQ tests if they had internet access. Say your normal IQ = 100, what would your GEIQ? (Google-enhanced-IQ) Perhaps near 400?


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