Understanding the Ed Timescale Problem

Of all the industries in our society, education is the least transformed by technology. The needs of education have changed slowly, but the solutions vary frequently. Today’s classroom is nearly identical as it was a generation ago. Why is this? 

I suggest that the cause of all three is the same: there is a mismatch of timescales, the amount time allowed for a process or sequence of events to take place.

And the reason that timescales is a problem is that we (humans) have a hard time understanding them. A few examples to illustrate this:

Timescales can have different sizes. For example, if the entire of the history of the known universe was represented as one calendar year (with the Big Bang happening at the stroke of midnight, January 1st), all of modern history (the last 5,500 years) would represent just the last 13 seconds before midnight on December 31st.

Another example is how we refer to “dog” years: for each human year, a dog ages seven years. Technology, like dogs, moves at a fast timescale: the iPad is physically just four years old, but in “technology” years, it “feels” like it’s been around for a decade already. This is the essence of how timescales work.

Education also moves at a timescale of its own. It’s similar to these other examples, but moves slower than the reference scale (one human year). This makes it difficult to intuit naturally: for each human year, the education system ages much slower, perhaps only a few weeks. It’s easier to flip it around: one year in the education timescale is about 3-5 human years. In this way, education is much like glaciers, moving just a few centimeters a year, but in the process, physically transforming the shape of a mountain over a long period of time.

Putting education and technology together creates an obvious problem. The timescales don’t match each other or the reference scale of time, the human year. One is moving slower and the other is moving faster. Relative to each other though, and it’s even more dramatic. One year in education feels like nearly eight in technology, or the same rate of change as between humans and dogs. Make of that what you will.