Sustainable Change in Education Panel Introduction by Roy Pea

Sustainable Change in Education for What?
Roy Pea, Stanford University
FabLearn 2017, Sustainable Education Panel, October 21, 2017

In our short time, it will be challenging to make meaningful contributions on the question: ‘How to establish Sustainable Change in education?’. However, we can ask ==>

*** Sustainable Change….. But For What? ***

For conditions change & new innovations will be needed that are adaptive to the emerging circumstances in an increasingly technology-mediated world (Cole & Pea, 2017). Consider as but one example of these changing circumstances our needed preparations for the future of human work (Frey & Osborne, 2013; Levy & Murnane, 2015), given predicted trajectories for the successes of deep learning algorithms in computing which are inspired by human ‘neural net’ architectures (Dhar, 2016).

The same tools of education will come to break over time when rigidly applied to very different situations; with a hammer in hand, everything appears to be a nail. But creating a level surface by repeatedly hammering down every ‘nail’ you see may well erase the lumpy boundaries where innovation lives, the fringes where new insights for adaptivity may be discerned and developed for the future if only they are given due attention.

Thus, the sustainability needed is in the means and continuous improvement mechanisms of supporting learning-as-adaptive-expertise—Where learners are prepared to rise to the changing circumstances and to improvisationally tackle the problems that arise—solving not only previously encountered tasks using existing methods, but generating novel procedures for accomplishing new tasks. The future of learning thus needs to be more like the jazz of adaptive expertise than the scored classical compositions of routine expertise.

In short, this quest for sustainable adaptive learning may be the transcendental telos we should be seeking in our aims of education rather than some more narrow framing, like the ‘maker movement’, ‘immersive learning’, ‘seamless mobile learning’, ‘complex systems reasoning’, ‘Logo’, or whatever your favorite technological shift for learning in education might be in the moment.

This aim, I believe, is in part what Gregory Bateson was calling out for in 1942 as the need for studying and promoting deutero-learning, learning-how-to-learn, often confused with the more modern concept of metacognition. But Bateson’s deutero-learning was a broader conceptualization in its intent than the ‘metacognition’ defined by developmental and cognitive scientists in the 1970’s (Brown, 1978; Flavell, 1979) and now by education researchers (Hacker et al., 2009), with its reflective component (knowing what I know and do not) and its regulative component (guiding my activities strategically to enhance my knowing). I think more aligned with Bateson, Giyoo Hatano in his seminal writings proposed that what is needed is an adaptive expertise beyond the routine expertise sought typically in schooling (Hatano & Inagaki, 1986).

Bateson (1972) introduced the concept of deutero-learning in what he called a ‘metalogue’ – a conversation about some problematic subject such that not only do the participants discuss the problem, but the very structure of the conversation as a whole. What I am proposing is that the learning sciences as a field needs a metalogue about sustainable change in education.

If indeed an equilibrium can be sought in this metalogue between these extremes of sustainable stasis, of fatal inertia with no motion as the world torques, and sustainable change in education, of perennial motion as world circumstances change, what would be its central tendencies? That’s where fostering and sustaining adaptive expertise, preparation for future learning (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999), comes into play. And it needs to be in a state of continuous tinkering and assessing of its consequences as the learners being supported in pedagogies of adaptive expertise do their learning.

The scaffolding needed for developing such robust adaptive expertise is therefore a research and design topic of utter urgency, I would argue, rather than the sustainability of any specific current innovative learning technology design such as maker spaces.

Planned adaptive expertise development in education and learning environments more broadly will involve creating and maintaining organizational systems, repertoires of cultural practices, routines, procedures and infrastructures by means of which the organizational members – learners, teachers, researchers – are induced to deutero-learning on a regular basis and in which the results of such deutero-learning become embedded for future use.


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(pp. 159-176). San Francisco: Chandler Publishing. Originally published, 1942 as “Comment on ‘The comparative study of culture and the purposive cultivation of democratic values,’ by Margaret Mead, in L. Bryson & L. Finkelstein, (Eds.), Science, philosophy and religion; second symposium, pp. 81-97. New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc.

Bransford, J. D., & Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Chapter 3: Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications. Review of research in education, 24(1), 61-100.

Brown, A. L. (1978). Knowing when, where, and how to remember: A problem of metacognition. In R. Glaser (Ed.), Advances in instructional psychology. New York: Halsted Press.

Cole, M., & Pea, R. (2017). The living hand of the past: The role of technology in development. Plenary Address to The Jean Piaget Society, San Francisco CA, 9 June 2017.

Dhar, V. (2016). Editorial: The Future of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, 4(1), 5-9). Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–

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Hacker, D. J., Dunlosky, J., & Graesser, A. C. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of metacognition in education. Routledge.

Hatano, G., & Iπagaki, K. (1986). Two courses of expertise. In H. Stevenson, H. Azuma, & K. Hakuta (Eds.), Child development and education in Japan. New York: Freeman.

Levy, F., & Murnane, R.J. (2015). Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work. Washington, DC: Third Way NEXT.