Information Age Education
   Issue Number 212
June 30, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Are You Keeping Up?

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon


The half-life of a specific radioactive isotope is the time it takes for the radioactivity to fall to half of its original value. This term is also used in other settings to mean the time required for any specified property to decrease by half.

Many years ago, I explored the question, “What is the half-life of the technical knowledge of various experts, such as that of a computer coordinator in a school or a brain surgeon?” The purpose of the question was to raise the issue of how much professional development is needed to maintain one’s skill level in a rapidly changing field. Quoting from Moursund (1988, 1990):

[The idea of half-life of one’s knowledge and skills is] discussed in The Computerized Society, a 1970 "computer literacy" text by James Martin and Adrian Norman (Martin and Norman, 1970). (Note that in 1970 the phrase computer literacy had not yet been coined. However, a number of computer literacy texts were already on the market.) The idea of the half-life of an education is interesting, even if the concept is not well defined. Roughly speaking the idea is to assume that one is educated to the level of being fully competent in a discipline, and then ceases to learn any new material. How long will it be before one has only half of the knowledge needed to be fully competent?

The half-life of a modern medical education may be as little as five years. Medicine is a rapidly changing field, and it could well be that the half-life for a medical education is five years. The half-life of an education to be a sixteenth century French literature specialist may be 40 years. The sixteenth century itself is no longer changing, and relatively few people are making contributions to the French literature of that period.

In discussing the half-life of an education, Martin and Norman do not include a "forgetting" factor. Most people find that unless they use a particular skill or collection of knowledge, they gradually forget how to do so. This is particularly true of the types of material one studies in more advanced courses in college and graduate school. The combination of half-life and forgetting factor suggests that most people need to work quite hard to maintain their professional competence--especially if they are in a high-tech, rapidly changing field.

We all know educators who have "died on the vine"—that is, who have not kept up and are no longer adequately academically productive and proficient. It is easy to be critical of such people. But it is important to ask yourself "How do I know that this won't happen to me?"

I presented this half-life concept in a number of computers-in-education talks and workshops. Often the audiences estimated that the half-life of a computer coordinator’s technology knowledge and skills was less than five years. That is, if a competent school or school district computer coordinator gained no new knowledge and skills for five years, the person would have only half the knowledge and skills needed to do the job as well as they could at the beginning of this time.

Highly Competent Computer Coordinators

During the time I was exploring the half-life of an education, I interviewed a number of highly regarded computer coordinators. I specifically asked about their reading habits. “How many different periodicals do you read or skim in a month?” A daily newspaper or a journal published once a month each count as one periodical. The computer coordinators that I considered to be very good (highly skilled) were able to name 25 to 30 or more periodicals that they read regularly.
This was about the time the Web was just coming into existence, so most of this material was hard copy. Computer coordinators had access to these materials through personal subscriptions and/or through their schools.

The totality of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and computer uses in education has grown immensely since then. The challenge to a school or school district computer coordinator has steadily increased.

Maintaining a High Level of Expertise

I don’t know about you, but at my age, my memory is not what it used to be. I forget some things I used to know, and my speed of recall on other things is slower. However, I spend a great deal of time every week reading about the “latest and greatest” in education—and especially, in technology that relates to the content, pedagogy, and assessment in education. For example, I read the MIT Technology Review (2017) that I receive free via email each weekday. Here are some recent topics that caught my attention.

Why Google’s CEO Is Excited about Automating Artificial Intelligence.

Moursund comment: Google is but one of many companies that see a great future in artificial intelligence. Imagine carrying on an oral conversation with a Web search that actually understands what you are talking about. Imagine how this will change education.

Uber Freight Is the First Step to Automating Away Truckers.

Moursund comment: Driverless cars and trucks are coming. Currently there are about 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States. Contrast this with the current number of only 77,000 coal miners in the U.S. (Ingraham, 3/31/2017). Technology has already substantially changed employment, and we can expect this major trend to continue.

The World’s Largest Wind Turbines Have Started Generating Power in England.

Moursund comment: Currently in the United States, wind power provides about five-percent of the electricity we use. Estimates are that by 2050, wind power will provide a third of the electricity we use (WINDExchange, 2017). Global warming is a major problem, and wind power is an important part of worldwide efforts to combat this problem.

A New Way to Heal Major Bone Fractures.

Moursund comment: The field of medical research is making substantial progress. In addition, computers are playing an increasingly important role in assisting doctors with medical diagnosis and treatment (Service, 5/17/2017).

Examine Your Own Changing Physical and Cognitive Levels of Knowledge and Skills

We are all lifelong learners and forgetters. Our physical and cognitive levels of knowledge and skills are constantly changing. This occurs whether we are paying much attention to such ongoing changes, or not.

Some of us are much more focused than others in maintaining and increasing our physical and cognitive fitness. Everything you do during a day contributes to maintaining and building your knowledge and skills. Ask yourself, “What are my current strengths and weaknesses in my total knowledge and skills? In what areas am I moving ahead? In what areas am I just holding my own? In what areas am I falling behind?”

These are hard, deep questions. The term intrinsic motivation is often used in talking about such questions. Some people are much more intrinsically motivated (internally driven) than others. Such people set personal goals and schedule the use of their daily time and energy to make progress on accomplishing these goals.

Many find that it is helpful to be engaged with others who have similar goals. For example, suppose you want to maintain and/or improve your physical fitness. Many people find it helpful to belong to a gym and to regularly meet one or more friends for a workout at the gym.

Maybe you want to read more books. It is fun to belong to a book club that meets regularly to discuss a particular book or author.

Maybe you want to get better at playing some of the traditional games such as backgammon, bridge, checkers, chess, Go, or various versions of poker? Certainly, you can read articles and books on these topics. A substantial amount of free instructional material is available on the Web.

You also can belong to a group that regularly plays such games. Or, you can play with (against) a computer. Hmm. Computers add a new dimension to a wide variety of learning experiences. You might consider such use of computers to be a type of social networking. With the aid of computers and telecommunication, you can interact with other people, with computers, or both.

What You Can Do

Think about what you currently are doing to keep up to date. Do you sometimes feel that “the world is passing me by”, or are you comfortable about how well you are maintaining and increasing your physical and cognitive levels of knowledge and skills?

Here is a suggestion. Select an area of human knowledge and skill that interests you. Develop a small list of information resources about this topic area. Commit yourself to doing some “serious” study, even if only for a few minutes a day. Learn to make use of the information and learning aids that are available to you. Then practice using your new knowledge and skills, and sharing them with your colleagues.

References and Resources

Ingraham C. (3/31/2017). The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s. The Washington Post. Retrieved 5/21/2017 from

MIT Technology Review (2017). Retrieved 5/21/2017 from

Martin, J., & Norman, A. (1970). The computerized society. Prentice-Hall.

Moursund, D. (1988, 1990). Computers in education: High tech/high touch computer education leadership development workshop. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 5/21/2017 from

Service, R. (5/17/2017). Tiny bubbles and a bit of gene therapy heal major bone fractures in pigs. Science. Retrieved 5/21/2017 from

WINDExchange (2017). Installed wind capacity. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved 5/21/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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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 and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at