What does innovation look like?

Here at Airhead, we have a deep-seated belief that the Web is the platform-for-learning of the future. Why? Well, there are many reasons we believe this to be so, but I’d like to explore the power of the Web to drive innovation and transformation through continuous improvement.

Education is the external process through which a society passes on the knowledge, values and skills from one generation to another. Learning is the internal process of acquiring new skills, knowledge and values. Thus, learning is personal and education is interpersonal. Education happens at the interface between an individual and an external supplier of knowledge, skills and values. Creating and controlling the conditions to support that interface is what education is all about, and organisational learning is the mechanism for improving the process of education.

Given a chance I will talk at length about the aggregation of marginal gains in organisational learning as a core mechanism for innovation. It’s counter-intuitive because we associate the words ‘innovation’ and ‘transformation’ with bright lights and eureka moments. In truth, innovation most often happens when standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. The eureka moment simply comes when someone notices and tries to take credit! The key to driving sustainable innovation and transformation is therefore to create the conditions to generate lots of small, incremental gains in organisational learning. Innovation will then take care of itself rather than being over-hyped rhetoric.

The path of evolution demonstrates that we’re more effective and productive in organised groups than we are as individuals. The sum is greater than the parts. And of course this is also a deep truth about education. Access to education is about access to networks and the enhanced opportunities for learning that they offer.

Traditionally we’ve built our educational networks at the local level, shaped by the economic and practical constraints of time and distance. These are our schools, colleges and universities. However, large numbers of isolated networks present challenges, the most significant of which is isolation itself. In supporting our young people to meet the challenges of a rapidly growing, global economy, education that is constrained by isolated, local networks runs the risk of becoming irrelevant over time. Education itself is a social, cultural and economic product so the key is not to dismantle local networks but to connect them together so that they can communicate, collaborate and share in order to evolve.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web by bringing together hypertext mark-up language (HTML) with the Internet, he unleashed the potential for global communication, collaboration and sharing. HTML is the universal translator, like Douglas Adams‘ Babel Fish. It was, and still is (though evolving rapidly), the language of sharing over the Internet. The Internet provides the infrastructure to overcome the limitations of time and space; the wires that connect us together a incredible speeds. The product is a network like no other – an open, global network.

The Web is probably the best mechanism we have for connecting together education networks, facilitating communication, collaboration and sharing, and generating the incremental gains in organisational learning that become innovation over time. As a ‘connecting’ technology, the Web is more open, more ubiquitous and more egalitarian than any other. Due to the vast economies of scale, the prices of fast connectivity and devices that can use the Web are coming down all the time.

It’s for this reason that, at Airhead, we’re focused on building the tools that support schools to use the Web more effectively, not only to enhance learning, but to continuously improve the process of education. If you want to support educational innovation in your school, then our advice is to embrace the Web and put it to work for you.

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