Education Reform: Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

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May 182012

Education Reform: Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

Education Reform: Posted on May 14, 2012 by Peter Cook – The Rock’n’Roll Business Blogger

Wall and peace

Introducing Tony Wall, who facilitates innovative learning strategies at the University of Chester in the UK.  I will leave him to take up the story, inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”:

“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” is one of those lyrics that many of us recognise instantly. That’s not surprising as “Another Brick in the Wall” reached No 1 around the globe. For some, it was simply a unique and catchy melody, but for others, it was a lot more. For these, it was a powerful protest against rigid schooling, which created ‘another brick’ in a ‘wall of limited thinking and acting’ – a wall stopping the learner thinking differently or learning differently. For Pink Floyd, it was a wall of “thought control”, a message calling for our education systems to facilitate more innovative thinking. Listening and watching the song and its performances in 2012, it’s striking to realise how current Pink Floyd’s message is in today’s schools and universities…

Think about typical university education for a moment. What are the bricks in the ‘wall of limiting innovation’? The university says which courses are offered. It says what specifically will be learnt. It says where it will be learnt. It says how it will be learnt. It says how this learning will be assessed. It says when the student can start and stop learning. It might even say what date and specific time they have to learn. All in all, these are just more ‘bricks’ in the wall of standard thinking and acting (as Pink Floyd would probably not say). These ‘bricks’ exist within the model (or paradigm) of mass university education. If we took this paradigm, and turned it upside down, the wall would fall to pieces, but opens up new avenues for facilitating innovative thinking and acting. We might call the opposite model, a personalised university education, whereby the individual learner makes choices, and choices way beyond that already conceived by flexible universities around the globe.

What would such a radically innovative system be like? Within the UK, we can look to the University of Chester’s Centre for Work Related Studies (CWRS) who has been operating this system for over a decade. Here, the learner negotiates a qualification that meets their specific needs and aspirations, and negotiates their qualification’s title (say Masters in Business Innovation and Creativity or Masters in Leading Innovation). The learner chooses when to learn. They choose what specifically they need/want to learn. They choose how they will learn it. And they choose how they are assessed. In this model, this means learning normally (rather than abnormally) happens outside of the classroom, in the workplace, or in life. All in all, this enables innovative and diverse ways for the learner to make changes to their life, and engage in an educational approach, which is authentic and meaningful to them personally. They have to think for themselves, though supported and guided, and not constrained by the ‘walls’ of subjects, disciplines or Teacher preferences (or dark sarcasm!). It is a model that has led to CWRS being one of Europe’s largest centres of its kind, with commendations from the UK university quality body and showcases by the UK university funding body.

Shouting “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” in this new paradigm doesn’t apply, as the “Teacher” is replaced by tutors facilitating personalised learning with individuals. Turning existing paradigms upside down is one way of creating innovative solutions to challenges or seizing opportunities. So, that leaves us with two questions:

  • What ‘bricks’ are you taking down to release innovative thinking?
  • What model can you turn on its head for something radically new and valuable?

Innovation in teaching and learning is about getting the relationship right between teachers and learners.  This is exactly what they are doing at the University of Chester.  And, just for fun, these principles apply just as much in primary education as they do in tertiary.  See the piece from BBC News where we ran a ‘School of Rock’ which helped 10 year old kids surpass their teacher’s expectations of them in their exams.


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