Sir Ken Robinson: Leading a Culture of Innovation

“You find something in your life that interests you, and then you pursue it.”
-Sir Ken Robinson

Ken didn’t think he would ever find himself in education.

He began his closing keynote by asking the audience, “how many of you wished that you’d have a career in higher education at 15?” Not many. That’s because we — and most everyone — can’t predict the life we are going to live, he said.

Ken discussed how public education doesn’t quite touch the ways that people truly live their lives. And with that in mind, he explained how he has been campaigning for the “principles of human flourishing” and critically looking at higher education and the influence of technology on it — which puts him right at home here at High Ed Web.

“We’re living in times of revolution. If we want to meet this revolution, we have to think differently and we ultimately need to re-think how education works,” he said.

Ken used athletics and sports as examples where we as a society accept there is a range of talent. But with education, it is a different scale.

Ken recounted a time when he met a student who was studying dance. He asked, “What did you get out of it?” She said, “I got a B.” He chuckled to the audience and said, “Did you get anything else out of it?”

Achievement is not just a letter grade in a class, he stressed.

Ken then turned to the importance of technology. From the time when the concept of having a phone inside of your home seemed absolutely absurd to now — where we carry the internet in our pockets — technology has done nothing but influence our lives and ultimately, education. Ken reflected on the steps technology has taken, and in turn, allowed us to take. Consider the time before smartphones, color televisions or record players.

As he considered the growth of technology, he recognized that while it has positive consequences, there were unforeseen negative ones.  Ken explained that by the age of 7, most children will spend roughly 2 years in front of a screen. At least half of that time is that child alone somewhere with that screen, living their lives through it.

Social norms are changing, and it’s far from over, Ken said. Human beings need to adapt with the changes and somehow deal with them in a positive way. But, are we?

News outlets are reporting left and right that depression is on the rise — seemingly from our social media and other technology use. Why depression? Ken questioned. He explained that we are living much more comfortable lives now than in 1900, even those who experience poverty. We have grown dependent on our technology, and the use continues to increase.

Young adults now are considering education in a different way. They consider the pros and cons of the debt they will incur, for example. Now we’re forced to consider so much more about the future because of changing technologies, Ken explained. We are no more able to predict the impact to society because of the use of augmented reality, for example, than those who were being first introduced to a car.

We are not unfamiliar with the increasing introduction of machine intelligence being used to replace physical labor, Ken reminded us. He also urged that this trend is not going to slow down. We have to think harder than we have in the past, beyond conformity and compliance, Ken stressed.

He said us that humans have unique capabilities: Curiosity. Delight. Discovery. Wonder. “Too often this gets dulled by, frankly, the way we educate people” he said.

Ken closed his presentation by stressing the importance of bending the education curriculum we currently use to foster the key, unique qualities of humans in terms of curiosity, creativity and collaboration. While this is certainly a big challenge to take on, it’s incredibly important for us and our children, and ultimately the future of our society.

“I think this is a historic challenge, but I think we’re capable of rising to it,” he concluded.