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Rote Learning and Recall: Obsolete Skills?

June 22, 2012

A provocative article in Edutopia suggests that the emphasis on rote learning and recall implicit in the emphasis on test results contradicts the skills needed to succeed in the future. Judy Willis, an MD and blogger for Edutopia, writes:

As technology and globalization exponentially increase the available facts and knowledge base of all subjects and professions, the response in education has been to incorporate more and more information into the requirements for each school year. The current system of “if it’s information, teach it and test it” can no longer support the volume of information. Textbooks cannot get much bigger, and the impact of the increasing demands on students to memorize data is increasingly counterproductive.

She suggests that testing should allow the use of internet technology in the same way that SATs allowed the use of calculators in the mid-1990s, noting that

In the “real world,” professionals in all specialties and businesses use the superiority of the web over the human brain to accurately hold and retrieve facts and to keep up. “Facts” change too quickly even for e-books to be current and accurate by the time they are released. Physicians do not rely on memory, or textbooks, or even the latest journals for the most up-to-date information about diagnostic testing, best treatments, and other facts that change daily.

Making changes like this in public education would be easier IF ETS, for example, allowed students taking AP tests to have access to the internet. It would send a signal that memorizing facts or algorithms is insufficient in today’s world, that facts are retrievable and use of the same algorithms blocks innovative thinking.

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