10 Timeless Principles for Learning, AI, and Emerging Technologies in Education

There’s a great exchange between Epictetus and a student that encapsulates the true path to lasting, perennial success in any field. “Tell me what to do!” the student says. Epictetus corrects him, “It would be better to say, ‘Make my mind adaptable to any circumstances.

Ryan Holiday


 

I attended the FETC conference this past January in Orlando, Florida, and it was an incredible experience. One thing that FETC does exceptionally well is building a massive conference while creating a community feeling where there are tons of conversations both in and out of sessions. There were so many great conversations about learning, technology, and how to create better learning experiences for not only students but also adults.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) dominated sessions and conversations throughout the conference, much similar to how social media was pervasive at conferences a decade or so earlier. There are definitely some similarities and some differences. AI seems to be more like an Internet or printing press moment than social media or devices were, although those technologies have had (and still have) a significant impact on the world.

The similarity to social media being pervasive at conferences was that there seemed to be more of a focus on the stuff than the implications (good and bad) this could have on our world. Not that those conversations weren’t being had at this and other conferences, but there were a lot of “50 ideas in 50 minutes” type sessions.

Ideas are good, but we must be thoughtful and willing to explore the potential for negative and positive implications.

For example, are we becoming dumber the more we use technology? Having access to all of the knowledge in the world doesn’t make us any wiser. In fact, it can often kill our sense of wonder.

Comedian Pete Holmes does a bit on Google and how he misses “not knowing” and how that can hurt humanity and our ability to connect with others.

Check it out below:

 

 

As with all great comedy, we laugh when faced with uncomfortable truths. Even though this video was initially posted in 2012, this statement Holmes makes is as relevant to having “Google on your phone” as it is to AI:

“(Google). It is ruining life because we know EVERYTHING, but we are not a lick smarter for it. We just know.”

When technology gets better, what happens to our curiosity, wisdom, and, most importantly, humanity? Do these things improve or worsen if we are not intentional about how we use them?

I know that, early on, with social media, I first dismissed it, then saw all of the opportunities and probably ignored some of the negative sides. Did our widespread use of social media make the world better or worse? As much as I would like to give you my answer, as Holmes addressed, my hope is that you come up with your own thoughts.

I do have questions: What has social media made better, and what has it made worse? How and who has it impacted, and in what ways? These are all important questions that we should have asked more about social media (and the Internet, iPhones, printing presses, etc.), and seeing where we are now, we need to ask about AI.
 

What is old is new (and still extremely valuable)

 

One of the most interesting things I have noticed with all of the technologies emerging in our world (including AI) at an exponential pace is the rise and popularity of embracing wisdom from the past. James Clear’s book on the importance of habits is consistently in the top 10 of all books sold on Amazon. This was published in 2018, but much of the wisdom shared and embraced in the book was also taught to me by my basketball coach in 1991. He didn’t call discipline or habits “Atomic,” but much of what was written in that book was instilled into me by teachers and coaches alike when I was in high school. As much as I respected them and their teaching, I promise that they didn’t make up the idea of “habits” and discipline of their own volition. These lessons were instilled into them by others and passed on to me and my classmates.

The idea for what I am writing now was inspired by reading the book, “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday. Interestingly enough, as great as that book is, Holiday is most known for his book, “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” which is a book that “draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on what they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher.” As much as that focus would apply in the time of the ancient Greeks, it pertains to today and the future. It is a timeless principle.

Even through perusing through the quotes of the Stoics, I was fascinated by this thought from Seneca (4 BC-AD 65):

“It is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.”

Pete Holmes used this philosophy in his comedic bit to make his point about Google. Through comedy, he not only makes people laugh, but he probably disarms them in a way to consider the real-life implications of technology and how it can encourage a lack of wonder.

What mattered then can often matter today.

Want proof?

The top comment on YouTube was from a high school teacher who shared the following (in late 2023) regarding the video shared in 2011:

 

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This teacher’s goal was not to tell students what to do but to encourage them to consider the implications of all that is changing around them. 

 

Traditional versus bad teaching: is there a difference?

 

Yes.

I bring this up because I am guilty of using these terms interchangeably in the past. Frustrated with a lack of willingness to move forward, we discard “traditional” teaching practices, while many of them are still relevant today. For example, I have always used storytelling to get my points across, which is considered one of the oldest teaching practices in the world and is still relevant today.

According to the site “Labster,” there is a reason stories still connect to learning.

 


 

“Humans have always told stories to pass down cultural beliefs, traditions and history to future generations.

It’s our way of learning and sharing information with each other. In that way, it’s the oldest form of education we have. It’s what lets us outsmart the chimpanzees, as well as the lions, the sharks, the wolves and other ferocious members of the animal kingdom that could potentially have ruled the world otherwise.

But what is it about storytelling that makes it such a powerful tool for education, and for science education in particular?

The answer lies in the way we store information in our brains: stories in education create the context that allows us to remember.

Why does storytelling work in education?
If we are simply given a list of random numbers, data or facts without any storytelling, our brain typically holds onto it like a sieve.

But if we’re given the same information with context, we find it much easier to organize, understand and remember. Especially if that context is based on something we’ve already learned and stored in our minds.

Context allows us to visualize information, making complex, abstract or random information easier for us to grasp.

Let’s take an example. Below are two sets of letters that you have to remember:

GNROAE

ORANGE

Both sets have six letters and the same vowels and consonants.

But the latter is much easier to remember simply because we are able to visualize the word in our mind with a round, brightly colored piece of fruit. We may even be able to imagine the smell or bring out a memory of the last time we ate one.”


 

As much as this traditional practice is relevant to our learning today, how we can share stories has changed. Going back to the Holmes comedic bit, I was able to share that with you all because of YouTube. Imagine if that was on Johnny Carson in the 1980s when I was a kid and probably watching what I shouldn’t have been at that age. The sharing of any comedian’s standup would have been similar to playing a game of telephone, where what was said the night before would have been a muddled version that I would have delivered from the memory of what I watched on television. Today, there is an opportunity to make a great story viral, which connects traditional practice with new opportunities. 

In Holiday’s book, “Perennial Seller” he says the following:

“With a perennial seller as your goal, the track is clear: lasting impact and relevance.” Ryan Holiday

Modify that same sentence connected to teaching and learning:

“With timeless learning as your goal, the track is clear: lasting impact and relevance.”

Isn’t that the goal? Lasting impact so learners (including ourselves) can figure out whatever comes their way today and in the future to ensure continued relevance? Discarding traditional practices for new types of learning can be just as harmful as the opposite. 

I can’t say that I have always focused on the power of what we have done in the past to make an impact on today, but as the timeless mind of Maya Angelou has shared, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

With what I know now, I am trying to focus on improving what has been done in the past to embrace present and future opportunities.

  

Do we ignore new opportunities?

 

For all of eternity, there is only one thing that has stayed constant: change.

In the rush to embrace all things artificial intelligence (or to block it entirely from schools), we have to ask ourselves, how do we focus on what is timeless rather than simply jumping on what is new? There is a reason that books focused on principles and stoicism are rapidly flying off the (digital) shelves while, at the same time, Artificial Intelligence seems to be in every conversation. What are the connections to the past that will help us embrace the future? What are the principles we need to embrace today that will help us lead our students and ourselves to create new and better opportunities for learning? This is not about ignoring AI and emerging technologies but asking ourselves how we lead with curiosity to focus on our humanity and develop wisdom in an everchanging world.

 

The more certainty we can create in an uncertain world, the more likely we will be able to navigate whatever comes our way.

With that in mind, I thought about timeless principles for learning that could have been embedded in the past and will be relevant in the future.

It would be easy to see this as embracing the idea of “What is old is now new.” Instead, I think of it as “How can the principles of the past help us deal with the uncertainty of the future?”

As I share the first draft of the “10 Timeless Principles for Learning, AI, and Emerging Technologies in Education” below, it is vital to consider the following. 

Will these principles matter for the next “AI” in our lives? To answer that, I actually went backward. Would these same principles have helped us deal with the Internet? The printing press? Beanie babies?

I would hope so.

The reason I didn’t limit this idea to “AI” and explicitly included “Learning” and “Emerging Technologies” is that we can’t predict what will happen and how new technologies will continue to evolve. I have seen people describe themselves as “futurists,” and often, what that means is that they are a few months ahead of what will be known to the masses sooner than later. They frequently have foresight less on what is coming our way and more on the opportunities to capitalize on what is not known by most today. 

What I want to focus on is how we prepare ourselves, our students, and our children to deal with whatever comes their way. As the old adage says (and of course, it is old), we need to focus more on how to “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

 

Are we honoring those who aren’t as ready to embrace these ideas but have so much to offer from their wisdom and experience?

 

We also (always) have to ask who we are excluding from the conversation and what gifts we are losing in moving forward with any technology, idea, or initiative.

Example: I remember writing a post at a conference in 2010, frustrated with the lack of leadership embracing new technologies. I remember “mad writing” that blog post, scolding others for not moving forward with technology, warning them about the perils of not embracing new technologies, and hoping to stoke the fear of irrelevancy in those who disagreed with me.

What did that do?

It probably caused those who already agreed with me to praise and applaud my efforts, and it probably pushed those who didn’t further away. If anything, I probably created more of a divide than I intended.

But as I have (hopefully) matured, I understand more than ever how important it is to create connections between “new and old.” For example, as much as I believe innovation is crucial in education, I know it needs to be built upon some basic skills, knowledge, and abilities. It is important to stay rooted in what works and how we can leverage traditional wisdom and practices to propel us into the future, not separating the two “camps” for lack of a better term. 

Central to this idea is the importance of creation in learning, which also requires content knowledge. John Medina, the author of “Brain Rules,” once said at a conference, “Creation without content is the equivalent of playing the air guitar; you might know the motions, but you don’t know how to actually play.” Bringing valuable and timeless ideas of the past to ensure we embrace and create the future is a way to bridge a divide that seems to have been everlasting in education.

 

10 Timeless Principles for Learning, AI, and Emerging Technologies in Education

 

Years ago, I wrote a post titled “10 Core Values of Education,” which was a modification for education on Zappo’s core values as a company. When writing this, I went to the Zappos site and saw that the “Core Values” that were established in 2006 are still being utilized today. In an everchanging world, to have the same core values almost 20 years later is admirable.

Compare that to education.

Often, with a new superintendent, board, or government party in power come new initiatives, missions, visions, procedures, etc. The focus is less on creating consistency and dependability and more on those in charge making their “mark.” It teaches those in education to “wait out” the new boss, initiative, as what is new was once old, and what is old is now repackaged and sold as something new. We often laud consistency and routine for our students while dealing with constant (and unnecessary change) as adults. 

So, the principles below are focused on the past, present, and what will continue to serve us in the future. How can we deal with what is new while developing in the areas that should stay the same?

Below, I wanted to share with you “10 Timeless Principles for Learning, AI, and Emerging Technologies in Education” (I consulted with Dr. Katie Martin on these ideas as she has been extremely helpful in this process!), which will help us navigate any change that comes our way, and a quick sentence or two on why they matter.

 

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Human-centered How can we focus on using technologies to bring out the best in each other and connect us in meaningful ways?
Curiosity Driven Do we encourage asking questions and a sense of wonder in our learning experiences with and without technology?
Opportunity Focused Ensuring we discuss obstacles in the way, but leading from a place of identifying opportunities for the future.
Authentic Application Are the learning and technology we are utilizing focused on going beyond having students become “good at school” or learning in all aspects of their lives?
Increasing Efficiency, Productivity, and Habits How can we utilize tools to ensure efficiency, routines, and habits while not replacing the ability to think and create without them?
Seek Knowledge in Pursuit of Wisdom Gathering knowledge to further deep learning and wisdom. How do we use technology to go beyond knowing, connecting, and creating?
Accessibility Minded What opportunities do we have with technology and tools to create experiences for learners that we couldn’t before?
Pursuing Strengths, Passions, and Development Identifying and ensuring people feel valued for their gifts, passion, and expertise as a way to build on strengths while also creating room for growth.
Ethical Character and Considerations Understanding how to use new and emerging technology in ways that are ethical and considerate of everchanging implications
Meaningful Mentorship and Collaboration We should utilize opportunities to learn about, from, and for each other so that every learner knows their contributions benefit our spaces.

 

I will explore these principles more in the future, in both writing and speaking, as I know how important it is to provide examples and ideas on each. What I wanted to do today was start with some of my reflections to create connections to my own learning and hopefully find a way forward. We can’t help students and our children in new areas of life if we don’t try to learn them ourselves.

But as much as I believe and have shared that “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing,” I know that focusing on what is timeless will help us navigate any new opportunities that come our way.

1 thought on “10 Timeless Principles for Learning, AI, and Emerging Technologies in Education”

  1. 40523544e2643878e8df21c858c83007?s=50&d=mm&r=g
    Christopher Thompson

    For some people, having access to unlimited knowledge can really let our imaginations run wild, but I would err to say that kind of application only applies to a smaller subset of people. On the other hand, I do think it dulls our sense of wonder, as we often rely on the algorithm behind the content with which we interact with to ultimately guide the content we see next. Then it becomes more about what is in that special sauce in the algorithm that allows for introducing different yet distally related content, compared to just a chronic stream of cute animal videos and tiktok challenges that would effectively inhibit the breadth of our curiosity for the sake of sheer entertainment. If you’ve ever scrolled continuously on social media out of boredom, then you have experienced this. A continuous “search”/scroll (“curiosity”) for something new/different that we didn’t know we needed wanted to occupy the void in our minds.

    As for James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” perpetually being a top seller, I think there is some hidden truths to it about how we as a society are also evolving at an exponential pace. This newer access to knowledge and technology has rapidly shifted what people in the athletics world would call the “floor” and the “ceiling” of humanity itself. It’s almost a new era of humanity as we have gone from the Industrial Revolution of both testing and perfecting the creation of different ways of building things or doing things – to the Efficiency/Productivity Revolution where we have a strong understanding of what works reliably, but now we are focused on how can it become a staple of society and become more automated so we can further advance humanity. It’s almost like the juxtaposition in school between students learning how to read (in grades K-3) to being able to read to learn and what they do about what is being read (in 4th grade and onward) – except it’s us a society/humanity. Because of all of this access to information/technology, humans are informally expected to be able to know more and do more – but the finite time of our lives has not evolved as fast as our intelligence. So while we are expected to know more/do more, we are still limited by time and our own curiosities/ambitions. We are so focused on keeping up with everything because it is readily available/accessible, that we often sacrifice the wisdom that comes from life experiences that is typically slower/longer to build. Those habits in his book are a reminder of how to continue to build upon the wisdom of life, by focusing on the things you need/aspire to be, vs. the bright/shiny superficial things you think you want in the moment.

    These notions above also relate to the concept of traditional teaching you mentioned. In essence the internet/AI is a fast-track to mastering the basic/foundational information that previously people had to actually experience seeking out. Learning in itself is inherently experiential, and the more we devote to learning from our phones/computers, the fewer authentic deep learning experiences we have because they all look the same, going to Google and passively receiving what someone else knows about it – learning without a physical/experiential context. It’s also more of a one-and-done kind of search as opposed to being repeatedly exposed to related information like in a textbook.

    Ultimately, humanity is definitely in a growth spurt where we are trying to get comfortable to a rapidly changing body and figuring out the balance of what things we are trying to be in the future in addition to solidifying what we already are.

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