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Will Richardson: Technology Must Transform Students into Better Learners

There’s little argument that jobs in the future will require new skills that must be taught today.

But Will Richardson, an educator who taught for 22 years, wrote four education books and created the professional development program Powerful Learning Practice, worries that the teaching may be going all wrong.


Author and educator Will Richardson speaks at a TEDx event in New York City.

It’s not the technology that makes the future different, he warns, it’s what we do with it. And, he said, some schools are rushing to adopt news tool without planning to change the learning paradigm.

“It’s more about how are you going to be using technology to amplify,” he said. “It really starts with good learning theory.”

Without that, students won’t be ready for the new world that awaits them at the end of Pomp and Circumstance.

Another Way to Look at Technology

“There’s nothing inherently transformative about technology. What’s new is how we use it,” Richardson said. “You see a lot of people buying iPads for digital books and digital worksheets. That doesn’t change anything.”

Changing the medium doesn’t change the learning. That will be problematic for students stepping into jobs of the future.

“We used to tell students what to know, tell them what to learn,” Richardson said. “That’s not preparing them for a world where they need to be independent. It’s a huge challenge.”

Lessons like critical thinking have always been important and will continue to be so, but today’s technology makes room for two other C’s of learning: computing and connection.

Amplifying with Social Technology

Connections come from the ways social media technology networks us all together.

Richardson first discovered this in 2000, when he started to connect with others through a blog.

“I started thinking about what that would mean for my school and students,” he said.

Today’s students can connect with people around the world: Technology amplifies what teachers have long strived to do.

“You learn about what is possible from the connections you make,” he said.

Since connections can happen so quickly and can make such a profound impact, teachers must help students learn to build the kind of connections that empower.

“You need to have a literacy on how online communities work,” Richardson said. “You need to be able to discern good information from bad information, good people from a potential predator.”

Computing and the ‘Maker Movement’

From social connections, students can begin to see that second C — computing. They can start finding out what questions need to be answered, what problems the world faces and what is being done.

Richardson recommends that teachers tap into the “maker movement” of do-it-yourselfers who build things with a combination of traditional craftsmanship, electronics and coding.

“We are talking about inventing to learn,” Richardson said. “It’s all about making and tinkering. It’s fostering the mindset that we can really construct things.”

Computing — or “making” with or without technology — gives classrooms the power to grow this mindset that Richardson believes students need, plus the learning goes deeper.

“Traditionally, you learn stuff and forget it as soon as the test is over. This way they are inventing and learning,” he said.

“We talk about creating iBooks, but that is the first level,” Richardson said. “The second level is really to understand the computing power, to learn to code to solve problems.”

Building a Lasting Impact

With power to build and connect at their fingertips, students in today’s classrooms can solve real-world problems, create things that can impact the world, and share them.

That’s what the schools of today must do for tomorrow’s workers, Richardson argues.

Want more? Check out Richardson’s blog at or follow his Twitter handle @willrich45.


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