Information Age Education
   Issue Number 76
October, 2011   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at

This is the second of a series of IAE Newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester (Newsletter #75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter #76) provide two introductory articles. These will be followed by a long series of “Guest” articles written by a broad collection of experts in the field.

For the most part, these guest articles will focus on cognitive neuroscience. However, Dave Moursund will provide Information and Communication Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In addition, readers are invited to send their comments to

We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free IAE Newsletter. Free back issues and subscription information are available at

Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education
Part 2: Information and  Communication Technology

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” (This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein; most likely the correct attribution is Leo Cherne at the Discover America Meeting, Brussels, June 27, 1968.)

“Humans now routinely use three types of brains: their ‘meat’ brain; paper and pencil brain;  and computer brain. Three brains are better than one.” (David Moursund; 1936–.)

Since long before recorded history, humans have used their capabilities to discover and invent tools that enhanced their physical and mental capabilities. Comprehensive oral communication is one of those capabilities.

More than 10,000 years ago, some groups of humans started the Agricultural Age. This was a game changer—agriculture has facilitated huge changes in our lives and world.

About 5,000 years ago, humans developed reading and writing. The accumulation of information and the use of reading/writing to access and process the information greatly augmented the capabilities of a human brain.

About 240 years ago the Industrial Revolution was just getting started. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in human history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. Most notably, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. In the two centuries following 1800, the world's average per capita income increased over 10-fold, while the world's population increased over 6-fold. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas, Jr., "For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth ... Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before".

About 60 years ago, the first electronic digital computers became commercially available. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be thought of as a way of combining the power of reading and writing with the power of machines. We now routinely automate complex mental and physical processes. Moreover, we routinely use our automated mental and physical in research, development, and implementation that increase the pace of change in our world.

ICT and Education

It is amusing to look back at the first commercially produced electronic digital computers. In retrospect, they were more like glorified calculators than what we now think of as being a computer. In the past 60 years, the cost-effectiveness of computers has improved by a factor of well over one billion! Many of today’s cell phones have more computing power than the multimillion-dollar super computers of 30 years ago. Moreover, these cell phones not only provide us with person-to-person communication, they also tie in with the Web. Thus, people have easy access to the world's largest library of print and multimedia materials, and also the computing power and capabilities of the Internet.

So how might ICT affect education, and how is ICT affecting education? As with all research and development efforts that might have a significant impact on education, there is the issue of “theory into practice.” Our formal educational systems are very resistant to change.

Way back in 1980, Bob Taylor wrote a computers in education book titled The Computer in the School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. The book was a collection of papers on use of computer as a teaching tool (tutor), use of computer as an aid to solving problems (tool), and use of a computer as a device that people could instruct (i.e., write programs for) (tutee). He also thought about adding a fourth section with the title of Toy. Although the role of computers in entertainment was already well established and was beginning to affect education, this was not yet a “scholarly, academic” topic for a scholarly book to be published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Press.

Here is a more modern list of key aspects of computers in education currently affecting education and/or likely to strongly affect education in the 21st century:
  1. Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning (ICAL) systems. ICAL systems are better than human teachers in certain components of instruction and assessment, and they are steadily growing in capabilities. When integrated as a component of distance learning, we have a game changer. The vision is high quality, Highly Interactive Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) being made available to all students throughout the world.

  2. Access to information and aids in processing/using the information. The Web is not only the world’s largest library, it is also a steadily growing set of tools that can solve or help solve problems. Perhaps the single best example of this is Wolfram Alpha (n.d.). Ask this system a question and it uses a combination of artificial intelligence, immense amounts of stored informational and access to information, and huge computing power in an attempt to answer the question. The system steadily gets better through analysis of successes and failures, research in artificial intelligence, and so on.

  3. Automation of mental and physical jobs being done by people. The Industrial Revolution substantially increased productivity of humans doing physical work. ICT is doing the same thing for mental jobs, as well as helping in continuing efforts to automate physical jobs. You have repeatedly heard the statement that we must educate students for the “jobs of the future that have not yet been created.” A variation of this is that education should not focus on educating students for the current jobs that will eventually be done by computers and computerized machines.
  4. Steady improvement in attention-grabbing and attention-holding multimedia entertainment. One way to think about such forms of entertainment are its addiction capabilities. The carefully crafted instant gratification and longer-term addiction characteristics of such entertainment have already greatly changed how younger people (and indeed, many not-so-young people) spend their time. When we add in instant messaging, social networking, and other computerized aids to communication and entertainment, we see that schools are fighting an uphill battle for students' time and minds.

  5. Working in partnership with ICT systems. See the IAE-pedia articles by Moursund: 1) Two brains are better than one; 2) Computational thinking. What ICT is doing is making it easier and easier for humans to collaborate with each other and with computers. We need an educational system in which students learn to work in such collaborate efforts to deal with the problems and tasks in our everyday world.

  6. Improving human-machine interfaces. Voice input to computers is now relatively common, and progress is occurring in making it possible for a person’s brainwaves to control a computer. Some popular commercially available games now use gestures as input to a computer system.

  7. A steadily increasing pace of change. Progress in the various technologies feeds on itself. In the past, the pace of technological “progress” was very slow. A hunter-gatherer might have to adjust to a better spear or stone hammer. An early farmer might have to adjust to a new type of crop being farmed or a new type of domesticated animal being raised. The pace of change increased rapidly with the Industrial Revolution and has increased still more rapidly since the beginnings of the Information Age in the mid 1950s. To a large extent, our educational system is backward looking rather than forward looking. It is not designed to prepare students for a lifetime of continued rapid change.

Final Remarks

In brief summary, we need an educational system with the following characteristics:
  1. It prepares students to be independent, intrinsically motivated, lifelong learners.

  2. It prepares students to deal with a rapid pace of change both in technology-related areas and in the world as a whole. Students face a life in which issues of sustainability, global warming, population problems, and huge inequities among people within various countries and between countries are continuing and growing problems. Computer technology plays a major role in contributing to these problems and as a possible aid in dealing with these problems.


IAE-pedia (n.d.). Computational thinking. Information Age Education. Retrieved 7/3/2011 from

IAE-pedia (n.d.). Two brains are better than one. Retrieved 9/12/2011 from

Taylor, Robert (1980). The computer in the school: Tutor, tool, tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.  For more information about this seminal book, see

Wolfram Alpha (n.d.). WolframAlpha computational knowledge engine. Retrieved 9/12/2011 from

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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