Tapscott: Memorizing facts is a waste of time
05 Dec 2008

Tapscott: Memorizing facts is a waste of time

Cristóbal Cobo forwarded an article from Brand

05 Dec 2008

Cristóbal Cobo forwarded an article from Brand Republic from earlier this year. It contains a few provocative lines from Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics:

Tapscott said: “Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge — the internet is. Kids should learn about history but they don’t need to know all the dates.

“It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. 

They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google. Memorising facts and figures is a waste of time.”

Absolutely! “Download”/banking style pedagogies are made obsolete by Google and Wikipedia.

In our Leapfrog series, we have argued that education should concentrate on “upload” pedagogies, based on knowledge production by students and collaborating faculty, together with augmentations provided by a new category of community-based volunteers. Using the most advanced forms of information search engines, networks, early artificial intelligence, and the aforementioned volunteers, there is an opportunity to leapfrog education beyond any of the competition. This will require fundamental changes in the mission, structure, and curricula of education at all levels.

Time to drop memorization and refocus education on the liberal skills?

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  1. Joe Makley December 26th, 2008 5:24PM

    Memorization is a skill that is valuable in itself. What are needed most in the “information storm” are concentration skills, strategies for remembering why you began the research, and making meaning out of what you find there. It is possible for thoughtful adults to lead students in acquiring these skills (and perhaps de-acquiring counterproductive ones) by providing a disciplined environment, where such things as work habits and character and clarity of thought are understood as the armature of the curriculum. It is true that education needs to become more student directed, more relevant and more interesting, and that ICT can help transform the “system” to bring this about. But the idea suggested above (“we don’t have to memorize anything because you can get it all on Google”) is an oversimplification. If your child’s teacher asks him/her to memorize the date of an important battle, I would suggest helping her do just that. It doesn’t actually hurt the brain. And certain key memorization lists (latin cognates for English, times tables, etc.) form a very useful and applicable core for learning in any age.

  2. mikodonnell December 28th, 2008 3:17PM

    I agree that the learning of certain facts is a waste of time but I also agree with Mr. Mackley that certain memorization is essential. However I am of the view that, while society should provide a generic education package which is mediated through the education system, the individualization of education is necessary. While at school, a teacher advised the mother of my friend that ‘education was not for him’. He did not go to college but became a very successful carpenter. While this is certainly an over-simplified instance of my point, it does illustrate that education must be malleable enough to allow individuals achieve their full potential in whatever realm – be it in engineering, physics, art, technical skill and so on. It should be possible for innovative individuals to pursue entrepreneurial goals, for artists to create works of beauty, for engineers to provide solutions. Hence debates on some of the atomic matter involved in learning such as memorization is wasteful, when matters of larger significance such as the Web2ification (if I can coin a term) of education are more important

  3. Joe Makley December 28th, 2008 8:22PM

    I agree very much with the general point about individualization, and the reflection above that Internet sources and tools offer a disruptive (and beneficial) trend against the fixed curriculum, a kind of democratization of learning. I am looking for practical ICT-based strategies to help these changes happen in real ways for today’s students… (always looking for screws to loosen in the system.) For me, it’s been very helpful to avoid radicalized positions (Google= no need to remember anything) and to stress the practical applications of the new tools so that traditional people (who provide our funding) can understand the benefits and challenges without it sounding like the Pied Piper offering to get rid of their rats.

  4. Username March 4th, 2010 7:46PM

    Being a student, I agree. Before a test, I memorize and memorize. Two weeks later, ask me what the dates were that I remembered for the test and I can’t tell you. Knowing and understanding history is one thing. Putting unnecessary stress on students is another.


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