In Edtech Is Trapped in Ben Bloom’s Basement,1 Jared Silver identifies a paradox in learning technology: technically, our gadgets and software are more sophisticated than ever, but the learning goals that this technology serves tend to be stuck in the basics. Educational technology should be helping us analyze the world around us, evaluate claims, and create new possibilities, but too much of what we do is focused on memorization, paraphrasing, and simply following instructions.
This is a problem, because while knowledge and compliance are important, the modern workplace requires higher-order skills such as critical thinking and collaboration. Any job that is limited to moving information from one place to another is not likely to be a job for long. To add value in the workforce and to be active members of civil society, we all need to weigh evidence, draw solid conclusions, and evaluate the persuasiveness of arguments.
The desirability of higher-order skills in not especially controversial. No one is claiming that learners shouldn’t learn to think critically, be creative, and so on. Still, our educational processes de-emphasize higher order skills, and to do better we need to understand what is keeping us stuck in Bloom’s Basement. For example, higher-order skills tend to be harder to teach and assess. They are also especially difficult to address when the learner’s previous experiences have rewarded compliance and endurance over critical thinking and inspiration. These are all impediments to climbing out of the basement, but perhaps the most important factor keeping us in Bloom’s Basement is a failure of imagination.
Consider the way we think about Bloom’s Taxonomy and its hierarchy of skills. We want to “climb the hierarchy,” progressing from lower levels of memorizing and paraphrasing until we eventually arrive at evaluation and creativity. But we don’t get to the top, either because: 1) we run out of time, or 2) the learners don’t take to an experience that forces them to memorize context-free vocabulary lists to avoid the punishment of low grades. Does it really have to be this way?
At Second Avenue Learning, we see other options. We flip Bloom’s taxonomy, presenting learners with worlds to explore, decisions to be made, and problems to solve. This approach encourages interaction, experimentation, and the evaluation of alternatives. Even better, it motivates the learner to master content and procedures that are relevant to the issue at hand. Engagement is always a key factor when it comes to learning, and a flipped experience is a more promising option than traditional approaches that require mastery of the least-engaging learning objectives before giving learners a chance to think for themselves.
Serious games allow us to put this theory into practice, since interaction with a virtual world can provide the appropriate level of challenge and motivation. Flipped approaches can also promote collaboration, as learners can partner up, work in teams, and build interpersonal skills. They can even promote creativity when learners create their own levels or find new ways to solve problems. Best of all, this approach works with learners instead of viewing them as the enemy. Engaging our natural curiosity isn’t just a nice thing to do; it could be the key to escaping from Bloom’s Basement.