Alvin Toffler on Student Motivation

By Kevin Bushweller — February 07, 2007 1 min read
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“Why is everything massified in the [education] system, rather than individualized in the system? New technologies make possible customization in a way that the old system--everybody reading the same textbook at the same time--did not offer.”

That is the perspective of Alvin Toffler, the well-known chronicler of our nation’s social and technological prospects and the author of Future Shock, as expressed in a question and answer session with edutopia magazine.

To be sure, the idea of educational customization has been around for decades in different forms. But Toffler tells edutopia he thinks that technological innovations and the need to educate people to be fast and flexible learners are coalescing more than ever before, creating not just opportunities, but reasons, to customize learning.

Of course, he is not alone. There has been some recent political traction in support of customization. See Customized Learning Plans for ALL?. And there are an uncountable number of educators and parents who believe in this approach to learning.

What is particularly worth noting is that Toffler argues in the Q & A that customization would have a major impact on student motivation. “You need to find out what each student loves,” he says. “If you want kids to really learn, they’ve got to love something.”

Toffler says in the Q & A that if he were designing the curriculum for a school, he would put together a sequence of courses on sports that would include the business, culture, and history of sports. Now that is a sequence of courses I undoubtedly would have pursued with unusual passion in high school.

Still, educators should evaluate Toffler’s argument with a healthy bit of skepticism. If we created schools that catered primarily to what interested students, we’d have a thousand kids studying the sports sequence (and I would be among that group) and maybe five signed up for chemistry or physics. Science and math are hard for most folks, but once you get beyond the frustrating, difficult parts, they can be very fascinating and rewarding subjects to study.

What do you think? Is Toffler right? Or is there some balanced point we need to reach between where schools are now and what he envisions?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.