Natural Born Learners

Update: Natural Born Learners will be published on April 12th 2018. You can pre-order a copy here. For the time being, I’ve also decided to trial Medium as a blogging platform.

I’m breaking from the blog until September 1st 2017. That’s when I’ll be handing in the manuscript for my book, Natural Born Learners. I’ll be travelling and writing in this period. Keep up with my progress @alexfbeard on Twitter and Instagram. And share stories with me from the future of learning with




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You’re Getting Off First Or I’m Gonna Die!

This morning Angela Duckworth, Million-Dollar MacArthur Genius, U-Penn psychology professor and star author of Gritspoke in central London about the importance of hard work. No matter the field, whether spelling bees or military training academies, her work has proved one thing: it’s not about what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it.

Hearteningly for anyone who’s ever thought themself lacking in talent, Professor Duckworth shows repeatedly that it’s not ability that’s the deciding factor in success. Instead it’s your tendency to persevere, to work hard, to stick at it, to practice that really counts. Dishearteningly, this also means that there are no shortcuts. If you want to get great at something you’d better practice, and practice well.

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Camus’ Crisis

On ne pense mal parce qu’on est meurtrier. On est meurtrier parce qu’on pense mal.

It started as a comic tweet. Viggo Mortensen was reading Camus’ La crise de l’homme to a group of francophile students in New York. So far, so pretentious, moi?  Tonight though I looked beyond the berets, the clove cigarettes, and got out the text. Why the hubbub around a seventy year old speech by a latterday de Tocqueville best known to a US audience through the Magnetic Fields’ I don’t want to get over you

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Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

It’s unlikely you need to be reminded that these words are Donald Rumsfeld’s attempt to explain America’s invasion of Iraq. But, said Marcus de Sautoy in a fine talk at 5×15 stories on Monday night, they are unfairly maligned. He was promoting his new book, What We Cannot Know: Explorations on the Edge of Knowledgeand said that in fact Rummy was onto something. In science, this schema works perfectly as a way of describing the theoretical that has been proved in observation (known knowns), that hasn’t been proven (known unknowns) and the could one day be theorised and perhaps proven (unknown unknowns). That’s how science works. Continue reading

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Stop Press! The Learning Revolution

You might have noticed a hiatus in the blog. Prosaically, I’d suffered the wordpress blank screen of death. More excitingly, I’ve been working on a book proposal, provisionally entitled The Learning Revolution. And (as long as I get it written. Fingers crossed) it will be published by the incredible Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion and part of the Hachette empire (who recently published Henry Marsh’s brilliant and unflinching story of life as a brain surgeon Do No Harm). The book will be out in Spring 2018, probably with a new title, and there’ll be German, Japanese, Korean and Romanian versions too. Here’s a picture of me from the Lutyens & Rubenstein (my wonderful, deal-making, cigar-chomping agents) catalogue at the London Book Fair, looking very proud.

Learning Revolution


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Becoming Human

Most of us will spend time in hospitals, normally towards the end of our lives. In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande softens his previous stance—the pursuit of better performance, which its lexicon of outcomes and systems—and suggests that we should take care and quality of life much more seriously.


The time that we might spend in hospitals pales in comparison with the hours, days, months, years that we spend in school. Almost everyone born today will spend more than seven years of two hundred days each year and five hours each day in these institutions. How do we want that experience to be?

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On Purpose and Education

He pointed out that the young men from the two projects had much in common: “They were the same young men. They live in the same geographical area.” They differences between them, he said, “don’t exits except in the minds of the people who are fighting. So they are fighting over nothing, really nothing.” But the feud had given them a “feeling of purpose,” and “unless we are able to impart meaning into our children’s lives, then this drama is going to keep playing again and again and again, and people are still going to die.”

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8 Teacher Truths in the Digital Era

During the recent London workshop of the Open Education Europa Tour, we identified 8 ideas for how to increase teacher adoption of good tech in the classroom.

Learning aims, not tech dreams

Teachers care about student learning. Best practices always start with a student learning aim in mind. So we should first ask, what do we want the students to learn? And then, how can tech support that? We should not start with a technology and then ask how it can be applied to learning. All good uses of technology in education adhere to this rule.

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Education Technology on Trial

This week I wrote about the OECD’s new report on technology in education for the EC. It’s a vital call to action for all of us who think we are on the cusp of an education revolution.

There are two types of people in the debate on technology in education: tech utopians and tech sceptics.[1] Headlines this week from the OECD’s reportStudents, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection were aimed at the sceptics, saying computers do not improve pupils’ results. Educators, innovators and researchers should pay attention to the challenges laid out in the report.

Confront the reality. Technology has not yet delivered on its potential.

In his introduction to the report, OECD Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher delivers a hard truth. “The reality in our schools,” he says, “lags considerably behind the promise of technology. Even where computers are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed at best.” We should not despair, as the potential of technology is still clear, for example in increasing access to information. However, we must do more to understand how best to use technology. It’s possible that too much of it detracts from human engagements that are vital to education. It’s equally possible that we haven’t yet developed or scaled the pedagogies that will unlock technology’s potential.

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Technology For All: the BBC Micro:bit

In October 1 million eleven year olds in the UK will be given a pocket-size codeable computer. It’s taking the maker movement mainstream, and the UK hopes it will solve its shortage of coding talent. I wrote about it for the European Commission’s OEE Portal.

Making Tech Mistakes

Earlier this year I was at a big education technology conference. One of the exhibits stuck in my mind. An enthusiastic demonstrator was showing the power of next generation interactive whiteboard technology. This is a complex piece of kit combining exciting soft- and hardware innovations. It looked resoundingly like it belonged in the future. Well, that was until you noticed that he was teaching the class how to do hand-writing.

The possibilities and uses of technology are often mismatched. If the digital era has opened up new ways of learning, they are often used to teach the same old stuff. It seems to me that rather than using technology to learn hand-writing, or to read about history, all of our kids should really be using technology as a creative medium. I thought that I was the only one who believed this. That was until I heard of the BBC micro:bit.

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