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American Law Review
     Established 1890  

January 25, 2002
Knowledge Utility
in the 21st Century
By Phillip J. Bond
Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology

WASHINGTON D.C. --   President Bush made education reform his number-one priority, with a deep understanding of the social and economic benefits such reform could bring to the Nation and to every American.
     We are delighted that a bipartisan effort brought the landmark “No Child Left Behind Act” into law. And we are confident that its sweeping reforms will substantially improve overall student performance, and help close the stubborn achievement gaps that we can no longer tolerate.
     Secretary Paige affirmed the Bush Administration’s commitment to harnessing the power of new technologies for education and the substantial support to help you create new and more productive learning environments. Secretary Paige has reported on the present challenges.
     I’d like to look further into the future, the emerging visions of e-learning, and where the technologies can take us if we can think about learning in fundamentally new ways.
     We see technology as the cornerstone for the entire economy, and the combination of technology and education as its very bedrock.
     During the past decade, our nation came to widespread realization that technology was the driving force in the economy, and increasingly important to most of our human endeavors.
     All around us we see the information technology revolution in progress-in communications, business and commerce, how we educate and train our people, and how we manage our personal lives. As you know, there are even more dramatic changes on the horizon.
     I have been privileged to visit some of our cutting-edge laboratories, where I have seen a glimpse of the future. Three rapidly developing fields-advanced computing, biotechnology, and nanotechnology will each create revolutionary change in its own right, to which we all must adapt.
     For example, intelligence will be embedded everywhere, and everyone in any place will be interconnected. Learning opportunities will at last be at our fingertips-or perhaps only a thought or an eye movement away. Intelligent systems may discern our knowledge needs from our work and play, and offer learning opportunities to us proactively.
     I may walk in and be informed that the Chamber offers a course in biometrics. The result: an overall acceleration of the accumulation of knowledge.
     Knowledge is converging and accelerating…perhaps exponentially. Taken together, these advances in technology and knowledge generation will radically transform the very nature of how we grow our economy and how we compete.
     Growth, jobs, and the competitive edge will go to those nations, those regions, those communities, those companies, and those individuals that can most quickly and most effectively generate, capture, manage, and apply knowledge. In this kind of knowledge economy, people are at the heart of the process.
    I’m not here to say that homosapiens will be overcome by robosapiens. But, as new technologies reshape our world, people must reshape and renew their base of knowledge and skill. What will the shift to a pervasive knowledge economy mean?
     You know better than I. But I believe it will mean premiums to those who can create, innovate, customize and adapt, and manage and apply information. It means tighter linkages between individual competency and earnings.
     It means Nations whose workers possess high knowledge and high skill will attract global investment, high value-added business enterprises, and high-wage jobs. It means nations that do not have a knowledgeable and highly skilled workforce will be limited to low value-added enterprises and low wage jobs.
     I think the choice for our nation is clear. Already we see the U.S. job mix moving upscale. Twenty of the thirty occupations projected to be the fastest growing over the next decade typically require an associate’s degree or higher.
     Of the thirty jobs projected to have the largest declines, only one requires a post-secondary degree. Small wonder, then, that businesses are seeking new approaches to workforce training.
     There is less time and fewer resources available to upgrade workers’ knowledge and skills. E-learning is increasingly attractive to businesses because it cuts down on travel time and costs, class-time, and can be made available to workers around the clock, at work or at home.
     Ultimately, we need to marry education and training, together with knowledge management to create a new “knowledge utility” for all of us, which integrates learning into all aspects of our work and our lives, making learning opportunities as ubiquitous as electricity for everybody, from the pre-schooler to the retiree.
     Just as we are surrounded by electricity, we’ll be surrounded by knowledge and learning. In the future, we will achieve pervasive computing.
     But this is a step or two past that-to pervasive learning. Already, the “learning any place, any time” way of thinking is beginning to foster change in the adult education and worker training arena. Our coming challenge is to use technology to foster change throughout the entire continuum of learning, both formal and informal.
     This is beyond getting computers into the schools, beyond getting the schools hooked up to the Internet, and beyond today’s debate about deployment of entry-level broadband.
     This is about much bigger change-a new learning infrastructure. What will it take? I have six suggestions.
     First, we need advanced technology, applications, and an R&D agenda focused on creating the components of that knowledge utility I talked about: new hardware, new software, new cognitive research, new imaging technologies, new assessment methods, new ways to deliver education to individuals rather than the masses, and more.
     Information technology made mass customization possible in manufacturing. Now we need to apply that mass customization concept to education.
     The private sector will play a leading role in developing these innovations; it has the tools and capabilities. But neither the private sector, nor the education community, can realize this vision alone.
     Each will be both user and provider in new systems of learning, so there needs to be a partnership.
     Second, we need technical standards to help guide the development of content that will be drawn from countless sources throughout the world. Instead of creating one size fits all curricula, we want the ability to store, re-use, and reconfigure slices of knowledge to create personalized learning content with assessments of learner progress built right in.
     These approaches should be adaptive, meaning that they will recognize what you already know, and present only what you haven’t learned yet. They should also be intuitive, recognizing an unstated need or potential interest, then leading the learner to areas for further exploration. That means standards for compatibility and interoperability, accuracy and quality.
     Third, we need new ways to value and validate what people have learned.
     For example, the Commerce Department just completed an inquiry in which we asked more than 200 information technology workers about their education and training.
    What was striking to me was the amount of time these workers devote to keeping their skills up-to-date, informally, on their own time, 10 to 15 hours per week and on their own dime.
     If we validate that learning, it will have clear value. The time investments will have a more certain return. We need new systems of assessment, coupled with new forms of certification and credentialing tied to personalized learning.
     These systems should be based on competency-what people know and are able to do, rather than measuring how long someone spent in the classroom or what courses they completed. We are beginning to see some movement in this direction.
     For example, Brainbench offers 350 low-cost tests ($19.95) and will give you a certification if you pass. Certifications cover fields such as information technology, basic math and English, finance and accounting, health care, languages and communication, management, office skills, and much, much more.
     Competency based approaches could be a great equalizing force, and underpin a system of true merit, opening more doors for more people, color-blind, gender blind.
     The system wouldn’t necessarily know where you learned what it is certifying. It would not care whether you learned it at Harvard, an inner-city high school, on the job, or at home. It cares only that you have the knowledge, the competency.
     Fourth, we need to add to our list of basic skills. Of course, we still need the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, and computing. For the knowledge economy, we need technology literacy, inventive thinking, communication, and collaborative problem solving, the ability for self directed, learning how to locate information, assess it for pertinence and accuracy, analyze it, synthesize it, and apply it to the job at hand.
     Fifth, teachers will assume new roles and must get new training. In addition to being providers of knowledge, they must become knowledge guides, content managers and creators.
     The powerful technologies that are coming could enable teachers to develop learning programs that meet all students’ needs, and help all students truly reach their individual potential. And the truly great, innovative teachers could reach more students. Great teachers may be the rock stars of the knowledge economy.
    The future could offer universal, accessible systems that allow learners to document their knowledge and skills, and provide that information to the college, the employer, the online course, and the teacher.
    What I have described is no doubt a tall order. But I am confident it would be worth the effort. In fact, studies have reported that advanced distributed learning can cut the cost of instruction in half, reduce instruction time by a third, and increase instruction effectiveness by a third.
     Now, imagine what it would mean if we could generate those improvements throughout our education and training continuum. There can be improved productivity, cost savings, new opportunities for all Americans, a good and secure job, knowing your children are being provided for both now and for their future.
    Well, all of this will take enormous leadership from business and education leaders, communities, researchers, and government. We are positioned to assume a leadership role. Think big. Work together. Envision where we want to go. Shape the technology paths. Develop system components and tap imto the momentum for positive change that the emerging knowledge economy is. 

       [Editor's Note:   The Hon. Phillip J. Bond delivered his remarks at the National Summit on Education Technology. Major topics addressd by other conference speakers included the following :
    * Measure student achievement and technology effectiveness in a manner that recognizes the need for students to achieve academic skills as well as 21st Century skills such as technology literacy, information synthesis, communication, inquiry-based learning and problem solving;
   * Improve collaboration by all parties -- federal, state and local governments, industry, educators, researchers and advocacy organizations on setting and achieving are search and development agenda;
   * Expand federal government incentives to promote and enhance industry's current and ongoing development of educational software and other electronic learning solutions for schools;
   * Create a standard research roadmap that all parties could understand and that makes research and development practical, relevant and timely; and,
   * Continue to improve broadband connectivity with a goal of ensuring all students and schools have access to online learning tools.]


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