Chapter 6

How to Build an Intelligent Education Management & Support System that Empowers All Learners and Retains Local Control

Key Understanding: It is important to realize that for educational reform to take full effect the very structure of our educational system must of necessity be transformed from limited to isolated, generic classrooms and the resources of individual teachers to providing a spectrum of learning situations and conditions that can truly meet the needs of all students. This will involve the systematic application of a wide variety of resources and specialists to analyze, design, and implement the most effective learning opportunities and conditions for each student. By its very nature, this requires building a system of comprehensive leadership and management dedicated to this end. After all, we are no longer living in the 18th Century, so we don’t need to continue to be limited to 18th Century methods and organizational structures. We need to call for a national effort to design and apply what we know about learning so that all students can benefit from living in the 21st Century.

We now live in a world in which our individual ability to learn determines our quality of life. It determines our income, our ability to choose our occupation, and our success in dealing with an ever more complex world. It is no wonder, then, that education is today’s number one priority. In 1992, Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, proposed a Pledge to Children:

I pledge allegiance to the children of the United States of America and to their future for which I stand – and resolve that this nation, caring and just, shall reach the potential in every child, with freedom and opportunity for all.

And yet, despite vast increases in educational spending and pressure on schools to perform, our educational dreams remain largely unrealized. What needs to be done when just trying harder and spending more doesn’t work? The following quotations by Albert Einstein seem particularly appropriate to our situation in education.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

There is nothing that is a more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the results to be different.

And Albert Einstein's view of our educational system: Don’t let schooling (as it exists today) interfere with your education.

There is an old American Indian proverb:

When you find yourself riding a dead horse, get off!

Remember back in chapter five when we reviewed the discoveries of Jean Piaget? He demonstrated how learners build their knowledge and action capabilities bit by bit over a period of time. At certain critical points, when they find their current level or way of thinking inadequate to deal with new problems or opportunities, learners use their central intelligence to reorganize their knowledge base to a higher level of proficiency. In other words, they change their models or paradigms of what the world is like and how they can deal effectively with it.

This same process can and does occur in societies, cultures, organizations and even nations. We see this time after time in history. Centuries ago whole nations changed their paradigm of a flat world when it no longer fit their growing understanding of reality and their desire to trade with far away countries. Their outdated model of a flat world was replaced by one in which the world was conceived as a globe. That reorganized way of thinking opened the way for Columbus to sail west in order to get to the East. The price of progress was having to let go of the outdated flat world paradigm in order to take advantage of the greater new opportunities and powers of viewing the world as a sphere.

It often takes a crisis to unfreeze our reliance on outdated ways of trying to achieve our goals and solve our problems. We can mistakenly think our current ways are the only possible reality. Simple solutions often go untried because even the so-called experts can’t see them. Peter Drucker explains:

Basic assumptions about reality … are usually held subconsciously by the scholars, the writers, the teachers, the practitioners in the field. Yet those assumptions largely determine what the discipline – scholars, writers, teachers, practitioners – assumes to be reality. (Peter F. Drucker Management Challenges for the 21st Century, p 3)

Peter Drucker goes on to emphasize the importance of continuous improvements resulting in periodic reorganization at higher levels of proficiency. Periodic reorganization is sometimes referred to in the literature as double-loop learning.

Continuous improvements in any area eventually transform the operation. They lead to product innovation. They lead to service innovation. They lead to new processes. They lead to new businesses. Eventually continuous improvements lead to fundamental change. (Drucker, Peter. (1999) Management Challenges for the 21st Century. Harper Business: New York, p 81.

This developmental process, which has been so important and valuable in almost all other areas of our lives, is no less important and valuable in breaking the chains that have held education back for over a century. In order to understand what we must do to break those chains, we need to fully realize the importance of a central intelligence capability (as opposed to sporadic, uncoordinated, individual efforts) and comprehensive management.

Education as a Management Challenge

There has been a virtual revolution in management practices and concepts that have been a major reason for the recent tremendous growth in productivity and advances we have experienced in industry, medicine, and other areas of our society.

The new assumption on which management, both as a discipline and as a practice, will increasingly have to base itself is that the scope of management is not legal. It has to be operational. It has to embrace the entire process. It has to be focused on results and performance across the entire economic chain. (Peter Drucker, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, p 34)

Education today is hardly managed at all. What goes on in most classrooms depends almost solely on the knowledge, motivation, resources, and skills of individual teachers. Try building a car that way! And students are much more complex than cars. Somehow we need to come up with the means and ways to manage education as a whole.

Increasing the scope of management to include the entire process of an economic or productive chain rather than limiting itself to legal entities, like separate companies, has significant implications as we look at educational reform. First, we need to look at the basic processes of learning and how we can apply powerful learning principles to each learner. This is a management and systems problem. It cannot be solved in bits and pieces. Second, we need to examine and enhance the entire educational value chain, and not just what happens in isolated classrooms, so that all of our resources can best be utilized for the benefit of each learner.

We start first with the learner and his or her needs in interacting with a responsive environment and progressively building knowledge intelligence and action capabilities.

 Interacting with a responsive environment consists of having clear goals and continuous  learning cycles involving OBSERVING → INTERPRETING → PLANNING → ACTING over and over again resulting in changes to the learner’s KNOWLEDGE INTELLIGENCE (concept and action capabilities) to reach those goals. At certain points, when incremental improvements become unsatisfactory, the learner reorganizes his or her knowledge intelligence to a higher level of proficiency.

There are two very important considerations that must be taken into account:

  • First, this is an active process. The learner must be involved and actively engaged. Passive school experiences in which generic lessons are thrown at generic students are ineffective.

  • Second, the environment must be responsive in the area of concern in order for the learner to successfully engage in his or her learning cycles. It is interesting to note that even socially and economically disadvantaged children early in life develop their motor skills as well as more advantaged children. This is not true, however, in the academic areas of reading, writing, and math. The major reason for this is that almost all children have an environment that is responsive to their learning to crawl, walk, run, and throw. It is a natural environment available to everyone. But there is no natural environment of reading, writing, and math. It has to be artificially prepared and made available to a learner if he or she is going to have adequate opportunities for productive learning cycle interactions within it. Currently, an enriched academic environment is not equally available to all children, particularly in the younger years.  And even when it does become available in school, it is too often in the form of an assembly line in which disadvantaged children are already too far behind to hop aboard and engage in successful learning cycles.

Let’s take a look at the PLUS CHARACTERISTICS within an active learner that encourages self-propelling learning cycles. In this way, we can do some rethinking about how to manage learning opportunities and make them available to all children. (See Fels Institute research study that demonstrated ever higher intelligence levels for active learners while passive learners dropped to lower levels.)

An active learner:

1.  Has an important role in selecting or accepting goals and objectives.

2.  Believes that what he or she does makes a difference. The nationwide Coleman Report (1960) concluded this was the single most important factor in predicting educational success.

3.  Selects and activates instrumental action and strategies to reach those goals and objectives.

4.  Seeks information about reality and gathers needed resources or help.

5.  Seeks feedback on progress and effects of actions.

6.  Takes responsibility for his or her own successes and failures.

7.  Maintains hope and confidence that selected goals will be reached.

8.  Uses acquired learning strategies and success habits that help him or her achieve selected goals, and is interested in learning new ones as needed.

9.  Believes that his or her successes are valued and encouraged by significant others (parents, peers, teachers) and fit positively within the values, norms, and aspirations of the social group with whom he or she identifies.

When we look at an active learner’s interaction within an educational system, we should ask the following questions:

1.    Is the content in the knowledge area in question available to the learner when he or she wishes or needs to pursue it? How available is it? Does the learner know it is available and/or how to make it available? For example, a learner may become interested in rocks and their formation. Are the resources available for the learner to pursue that interest or must he or she passively wait until the time it may or may not be presented in the future?

2.    Are the standards, goals, and objectives of the educational system visible and clear to the learner?

3.  Does the learner have his/her own clear goals relating to the objectives in question?

4.  Are the objectives within range of the learner’s current actual learning needs and levels of achievement? Does he/she have the necessary prerequisites to be successful in reaching the objectives within the selected time frame for those objectives to be reached? For example, if reducing common fractions is the objective, does the learner have the prerequisites needed to successfully learn the new skills and concepts involved in reducing fractions? If a teacher has selected one week as the time frame in which the learner is to master reducing fractions, is that sufficient for the learner to be successful?

5.  Are the consequences of succeeding desirable to the learner, and are the consequences of failing not so debilitating as to interfere with optimum success efforts? There is an optimum tension level that facilitates learning. Too little or too much tension can impede effective learning.

6.  Does the learner have hope and confidence the objectives will be achieved?

7.  Is there help available to the learner as needed?  Is he/she aware of it? Is he/she free to call upon the help?

8.  Do the learning activities or support promote success habits and effective learning strategies he/she can use to work toward the objectives?

9.  Are there good models that the learner can emulate in relation to success habits and effective learning strategies?

10. Does the learner have a variety of sufficient opportunities to try and try again, explore new approaches, and learn from the results?

11. Are there specific and quick corrective feedback opportunities?

12. Does the learner tend to withdraw from effective interaction with the objectives or supportive activities because of previous failure experiences?

13. Are there overriding fears, emotional problems, or needs that distract the learner from participating fully in achieving the objectives?

Plus Characteristics of learning environments that support successful active learning include:

1.  Open-ended skill continuums. Learners should have priority time to engage in realistic learning objectives that fit their current needs and levels of achievement.

2.  Skill expectations (standards) should be visible for each grade level, or some means established that clearly show the learner (and his parents) how he or she is doing in relation to a time frame and objective standards.

3.  Learners should be included in the setting of learning objectives. Progress toward those objectives should be clearly within the context of moving time.

4.  Learners should be provided with clear, quick, and frequent feedback on how they are doing in relation to their objectives. Parents should receive similar feedback.

5.  The learning environment should provide for the teaching of success habits and learning strategies. This could be done by direct teaching, learning activities that demonstrate comparative results of one strategy compared with another (or with no strategy), and/or providing modeling of strategies and success habits by others  (peers, teachers, parents).

6.  There should be an agreed upon array of support systems to encourage learners to take an active role in their own learning and development.

7.  The learning environment should celebrate and show value for learning and service.

8.  Learning objectives and the means for reaching them should be within the context of the values, norms, and aspirations of the social group with which the learner identifies.

After the basics are looked at, then the application of specific learning principles should be evaluated. For example, it is well established that periodic review is necessary to make learning permanent. Without periodic review, most of what is learned is lost. Research has identified many other powerful learning principles that could be applied to each learner and his or her learning activities. This would dramatically boost each learner’s success. Because of our bits and pieces approach to learning and unsystematic, outdated methods, many learners continue to lag behind their true success potential because they do not benefit from powerful learning principles that could be applied to boost their learning efforts.

Let’s look at a sample student’s experience at school according to the:

  • Plus characteristics of a successful active learner.

  • Plus characteristics of the learning environment.

  • Positive learning principles that are being applied to that student.

You might want to review chapter 5 again to review key learning principles before doing an actual rating.  Rate from 1 (neutral -- like waiting for a bus, but free to leave) to 2.0 (best – all of the powerful learning principles are in operation). If learning principles are being actively violated, like giving a student work to do without him or her having the prerequisite skills or providing needed support, then give a rating of less than one, such as 0.9 (little harm) to 0 .1 (major harm). The reason to score as a decimal number less than one rather than a negative number is to more accurately reflect the outcome of various combinations. A student’s internal mode of approaching learning (use of learning strategies, etc.) could also be rated the same way. See Learning Strategies, Tools, and Support Systems above. An example: Student has the habit of violating important learning principles in his or her way of approaching learning (for example, not having regular study time), so we give the student a 0.3. The learning principles applied to the student at school is quite good, so it rates a 1.8.  If the student’s approach to learning had been a 1, then the multiplied learning power would be a 1.8, but due to the student’s somewhat ineffective ways of approaching learning, the student does not benefit fully from the school’s provision of learning opportunities, so the learning power is 0.3 x 1.8, which is 0.54.  We can now evaluate a learner’s experiences with other parts of his interactive environment or educational value chain. The main one would be the home. Let us assume the home is applying good learning principles and so we rate the home as a 1.8. We now have a power score of  (Student’s use of learning strategies 0.3)  x  (School application of learning principles 1.8 ) x  (Home’s application of learning principles 1.8) = 0.972.

This method of power rating can be used to effectively plan how to improve each student’s achievement. In the sample case, some training and support in learning how to learn would be especially productive. After improving the student’s approach to learning to a 1.8, the power rating would jump to 9.72 (1.8 x 1.8 x 1.8). Other areas within a learner’s life could also be looked at including libraries, community or church organizations, etc.

Current Educational Management Principle Violations

Individual teachers on their own can do much to improve the educational opportunities of their assigned students, but it is shortsighted to think that individual teachers acting in isolation can bring to pass the great educational opportunities that could become possible if a total, systematic effort were to be applied. Could isolated, generic doctors on their own during the last hundred years have developed and brought about the magnificent progress we have today in health care and medicine and can look forward to tomorrow? Before we can successfully upgrade our educational efforts, we need to overcome basic educational management principle violations.

  1. Principle of the whole & proficiency. Quite simply, the whole needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. That is what gives a system its great power. An airplane has parts, but because those parts are designed to work together, the airplane is much greater than a mere collection of parts. Yet, our schools are based on a collection of parts, generic classrooms that do not interact synergistically within an educational system that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Teachers have too long been left to their own devices without a support system that almost all other professionals have today.
  2. Specialization. Complex and powerful systems involve coordinated specialization. Everyone doesn’t have the same job description. As pointed out before, your own body is composed of coordinated, specialized subsystems. Without specialized subsystems, only primitive proficiency is possible.
  3. Delegation. Authority and responsibility must be delegated along with sufficient resources for that authority and responsibility to be carried out. Individual classroom teachers have been given responsibility for the educational success of their students, but lack being part of a coherent system that works together for the benefit of all students.
  4. Principle of unity and alignment. Each subsystem or part needs to be in alignment with the system as a whole. Acting together, but in specialized ways, to make a proficient whole.
  5. Principle of Scale (producer side). The more resources available in production, the greater the production capability. Refer back to the moon mission. It needed a vast coordinated effort involving much more money and talent than any one company had available. It took a national effort. Education is no less a challenge, and some of the reform and retooling will take many times the resources that a teacher, a school, or even a district can generate on their own. For example, consider Ken Burn’s excellent video documentary on the Civil War. No school district would have what it takes to develop such a documentary.
  6. Principle of Plentitude (user side). This principle is of equal importance to the principle of scale (producer side) and complements it. Quite simply, it states that the number of users of a product often determines the value of the product. For example, according to the principle of scale (producer side), it would be quite costly to produce the first fax machine. But one fax machine has no real value until there is at least one more fax machine and user. The value of a fax machine grows exponentially as the number of fax machines and users increase. Also, the cost to produce each fax machine would drop.
  7. Principle of Standards. This brings up the importance of standards. If cellular phones in use were based on different standards and therefore could not easily communicate with one another, their value would be severely limited. It would also be much more difficult to improve the design and capabilities of cellular phones because efforts would have to be scattered among the various competing standards.

Direct Management within your area of legal control

This is the form of management with which we are most familiar. It involves legal or line authority. A mission is established along with procedural guidelines and goals. Careful analysis is combined with effective design. Plans are developed that fit the resources available and have the best perceived chance of achieving the goals. Role and job descriptions are determined along with responsibilities and accountability. Continual improvements are desired and planned for. Managers in this case have a great deal of control over what is done. The concept of a carpenter building a cabinet is appropriate in this regard. There is a job to be done and the carpenter has great control in its completion.

Other Newly Valued Management Concerns

Two new developments have broadened our view of management potential.

1. Knowledge Management

We now live in the Information or Knowledge Age in which intellectual capital and the ability to utilize it becomes the number one consideration in competitiveness and progress.

Organizations increasingly compete on the basis of their intellectual assets. …there is no sustainable advantage other than what a firm knows, how fast it can learn something new. … To manage its intellectual capital more systematically, the firm must devise an agenda for transforming from an organization simply comprising knowledgeable individuals to a knowledge-focused organization that stewards the creation and sharing of knowledge within and across internal business functions and that orchestrates the flow of know-how to and from external firms(David A. Klein, The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital, p 1,2)

David Klein elaborates:

First, a firm’s intellectual-capital infrastructure should connect the unconnected, providing a foundation for creating and linking communities of knowledge workers with similar interests and tasks. Second, an intellectual-capital infrastructure should be designed to facilitate the capture of know-how in context. … Finally, the flip side of capturing intellectual capital in context is delivering it directly to the point of execution. Well-formed, investable intellectual capital is of relatively little value unless it is delivered to where it is needed at the time it is needed. (David A. Klein, The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital, p 1,2)

In education, this would mean that the combined knowledge and expertise of our entire educational system and what we know about promoting learning effectiveness needs to be applied at each student’s learning cycle and situation.

2. Entire Value Chain or Virtual System Management

The second development in broadening the scope of management is recognition of the importance of including the entire value chain in maximizing productivity. This means management must be concerned not only with their own organization in which they have legal control and authority, but what might be called the virtual system encompassing all the other organizations that contribute to the value chain in the area of productive concern and over which management has no legal authority. Working relationships among these organizations must be worked out in mutually beneficial ways organized around mutually valued goals. Actually, even within an organization in which management has legal authority, it still has to be concerned with working with knowledge specialists who, because they know much more about their areas of specialty than management can possibly know, must be given a latitude of freedom and initiative organized around the goals of the organization. Tapping the distributed intelligence of knowledge workers within a legal organization as well as the distributed intelligence found in other organizations within the virtual system of the value chain can generate gigantic power to achieve. It is this extra dimension of management that has resulted in such outstanding progress in almost every part of our economy these last two or three decades.

This type of interactive leadership and management is of particular importance during periods of crisis or disequilibria when new paradigms or methods may be needed. Distributed intelligence, found in the various subsystems, along with dialogue in which new models and paradigms can be freely examined can bring about fresh, new ways to solve problems and realize opportunities. The concept of a gardener seems appropriate for this kind of leadership and management. The various subsystems have their own structure and dynamics. They need to be nourished, cared for, and empowered, but cannot be unilaterally directed.

(Add importance of culture.)

Twelve Key Components of Intelligent Education Systems

An intelligent education system is one in which the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. This is because the parts (subsystems) are able to make maximum contributions to the whole in such a coordinated way that powerful management and learning principles are put into operation that would not be available in such power by the parts if taken individually. An intelligent education system is capable of continuous learning and development so that it can better and better apply effective learning and teaching principles to all students and at certain points make quantum leaps in productivity as it reorganizes to capture new knowledge, abilities, and insights.

Even though the following components are listed separately, all must work together as a whole to produce the technological innovation needed to create an intelligent education system and vastly increase the opportunities given to students to learn and become their best.

All parts of the intelligent education system can benefit from this increased power, and in turn increase their contributions to the whole. In discussing the following recommendations, it would be valuable for you, the reader to determine your own area of legal or personal control. This would always include your own personal efforts and job or role responsibilities, but it could also include your family if you are a parent, your class of students if you are a teacher, your school if you are a principal, your district if you are a superintendent, etc. You then should determine the other co-systems or subsystems within the virtual or distributed educational system that contribute to the learning value chain. For our purposes, we will discuss the following key components at three levels: the individual, the school, and the virtual or distributed education system. Everything we discussed in chapter five that applies to individual learners also applies to organizations if they are to be capable of learning and developing greater and greater proficiency to reach desired goals.

1. Use systems thinking to identify opportunities for incremental and quantum leaps in student achievement.

The power of systems cannot be understood, developed, or used effectively without seeing how the parts or subsystems do or can work together in the flow of time. The best way to do this is to draw visual representations of what is going on now, and then contrast it with visual representations of what could be better. These are sometimes called learning maps because of their value in showing connections, relationships, gaps, inconsistencies, problems, and opportunities along with a means of promoting dialogue among the members of a system. The learning maps can evolve as new insights or information is discovered.

A learning map is a visual device which pictorially represents the business situation. (A visual depiction, it turns out, is far more effective than words alone in helping a community of people establish a common ground.) Discussion of what the picture means evokes dialogue, which in turn lays a foundation of business literacy. By generating a shared perspective and fostering work toward common goals, the visual aligns a dispersed or heterogeneous group of stakeholders. (Richard T. Pascale, et. al. (Surfing the Edge of Chaos, p 50)

Even as an individual, learning maps are powerful as you look at your own internal learning and success subsystems (See Chapter 5), the relationships you have with other individuals and systems, and how all of this is working toward the achievement of your goals. At a school level, the current ways of promoting successful student learning cycles could be sketched out along with the roles and responsibilities of students, teachers, administration, support personnel, and parents. This should occur over a period of time, include open dialogue, and the learning maps adjusted accordingly. It then becomes a natural challenge to make incremental improvements in supporting successful student learning cycles and at certain points reorganize at higher levels of proficiency when the opportunities to do so become clear. At the virtual or distributed education level, there are much greater resources from which to call in whatever expertise is needed, whatever research would be beneficial, and what resources need to be brought forth to examine current reality and compare it with what could be. The resulting information should be made easily available to all stakeholders. There should also be a means for the stakeholders to share their insights and findings with the virtual or distributed education system and ask for help as needed.



If reading this on-line at the web site, click the following links for a further discussion and explanation of learning maps and other systems thinking and planning tools. If reading the printed book, see the relevant chapters in the resource section.


Mind, Learning Maps and Group Memory, STP or Situation Target Plan, Force Field Analysis, and Ten Words to Understanding.


For an excellent discussion of systems thinking see How Systems Thinking Applies to Education by Frank M. Betts and published in Educational Leadership November 1992.

2. Determine a Motivating Mission and focus on the success of learners as the primary purpose of the intelligent education system.

Too often, there is a tendency to place almost all attention on the current means of providing services rather than keeping the focus on what those services are supposed to accomplish. This is like focusing your attention on the steering wheel of your car rather than the road ahead and the destination desired. Keep focused on the needs of the learner and providing for opportunities to encourage and enable self-propelled learning cycles. As an individual, determine your own personally relevant mission and goals. As a school, take the needed time to develop a school vision, mission, and goals that the staff, students, and parents can get enthusiastic about and is capable of aligning and energizing everyone’s efforts toward reaching that mission. As a virtual education system, this is a much more difficult and time-consuming challenge, but start with something that can evolve as interaction among all the stakeholders takes place.   

3. Connect the mission of the intelligent education system with a Central Intelligence capable of engaging in active learning and self-propelled learning cycles of Observing → Interpreting → Planning → Acting leading to ever more effective Knowledge Intelligence & Support Systems.

To pursue any intelligent path, you first need a brain. This is true with individuals and it is just as true with organizations and systems. If you don’t want to accept just what happens, then you must consciously determine what you want to happen, take action to make it happen, and continually learn better and better ways to do so. As an individual, you need to monitor your own various subsystems that need to work together for your success, including those discussed in chapter 5 in regard to success intelligence involving basic intelligence skills and functions, achievement motivation and time management, positive character traits, and success strategies, tools, and support systems, as well as current level of knowledge intelligence. You also need to establish mutually beneficial relationships with systems outside yourself, such as other people or organizations.

As a school, you need to work out how this central intelligence can be established. It would probably be too unwieldy to include all staff, students, and parents, but the means for their input needs to be clear. A small representative working group of up to ten people would probably be most efficient with additional ad hoc committees formed as needed. Most schools already have school site councils, which could be assigned this responsibility if the members have sufficient time to devote to it and are given the training required. It is also possible to form a new group for this purpose.

At the virtual or distributed education level, it would be important to establish a non-profit corporation that could represent the interests of all stakeholders. A non-profit corporation has the advantage of continued existence with an identified mission and established rules of operation. As such, it can act intelligently in pursuing the empowerment of the virtual education system. One of the main responsibilities of the non-profit corporation would be to identify and connect all stakeholders in the virtual education system, establish the means for continually providing them with information on what exists, and engaging them in dialogue. It would also have responsibility to gather and direct resources involving research and the design of effective programs. It would not have the power to command, but would become a valuable resource from which all levels of education to draw.

4. Establish in all parts of the intelligent education system the importance of Knowledge Management, Systems Empowerment, and Support Systems as key functions to ensure continuous educational improvements and optimum levels of satisfaction.

It is important to continually develop knowledge intelligence as it relates to learning success and enable it to be applied for the benefit of all learners. Part of this process involves identifying, valuing, and empowering all stakeholders in the educational process. All stakeholders have unique needs, knowledge intelligence, and powers important to learning success. When those needs are adequately nourished and their knowledge and power shared and coordinated, great things can happen! Questions such as what do we have and what do we need to best empower learning opportunities should guide all interactions. This should include periodic systems enhancement audits and explorations of how the various subsystems within the virtual education system could be empowered to more successfully meet their own goals and contribute to the success of the whole.

At a school level, determine how you can make the knowledge and skills of the entire staff available to every staff member. This needs to become part of the school culture and the processes for doing it needs to be almost automatic. The following ideas are intended only as a sampling of what could be done. For example, when teachers find something working particularly well in their classrooms, they could videotape it with a narration of how it works or take several still pictures with a digital camera and add commentary later. With digital storage space now so economical, these teaching and learning ideas could be placed on rewritable compact or DVD disks, other portable storage devices, or on a large capacity hard disk that could be available in the teachers’ room, or even on a server reachable online from any location. Digital searches can result in finding desired topics almost instantly, and the cost of recording and storing digital information is small approaching nothing. The synergy it would created would be priceless as teachers and other staff benefited from each other’s best ideas while working together to build a school-wide knowledge intelligence continually increasing in power to promote student achievement.

Students should be included in helping identify and bring up ideas and methods. Questions such as, “What works for you?” and “What would help you the most?” should be regularly asked of all students as part of their day. Successful student strategies and methods could also be recorded and made available so students could learn from one another. Parents could be invited to the school to share their needs and practices that work for them. They could also be  involved in trying out ways to support their children’s learning at home and reporting on what worked and what didn’t. A school/home resource library could be set up at the school with easy access to books and materials related to learning success. A school website could be established with multi-media presentations on helpful ideas to promote learning success, articles of interest, workshops or discussion groups currently available, and the ability to post questions and suggestions. It should also include hyperlinks to other valuable web sites. Of course, at a school level, even though important in promoting the dynamics of working together as a school, the website would of necessity be quite limited. A district level website could be much more extensive and integrate all the school websites within it. At the national level, almost anything desired could be created. A national website could present what is known about learning principles and school achievement with hyperlinks to other websites with related information or examples of successful programs in action. Every learner, staff member, or parent would have access to it all.   

5. Recognize and utilize the power of digitizing information and capturing the great possibilities of combining Economies of Scale to produce outstanding programs and the Principle of Plentitude to lower their cost, increase their value, and make them available exactly when and where needed.

Great leaps in the progress of mankind have almost always been the result of revolutionary developments in storing and sharing information. The invention of writing boosted human development way beyond anything experienced for thousands of years before and with each new development in storing and sharing information mankind experienced yet another burst of growth. When Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1454, there were about 30,000 books in all of Europe. Just forty-six years later there were 9 million! Notice how many are available today! Because of the digitization revolution, we can now transfer the equivalent of the entire Library of Congress to any point on the globe within seconds. Several corporations, including Microsoft, are planning to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and have them easily available on the internet. We can now communicate with people and resources all around the world easily and instantly at very little cost. This means virtual education communities can now be created and function in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

The ability to digitize information revolutionizes what can be possible. If we can systematically direct the resources potentially available in a virtual education system, we should be able to create state-of-the-art learning programs and target them with pinpoint accuracy to each individual learner. Teachers, schools, and even districts by themselves do not have adequate resources to build the necessary infrastructure that can optimize educational opportunities to the fullest. But at the virtual education system level, whatever resources are needed can be directed toward the achievement of almost anything we as a nation are motivated to achieve. A non-profit virtual education corporation can play a major role in planning and directing those projects. And then, because of digitization and the principle of plentitude, those programs can be economically made available to all learners at their points of greatest use.

6. Identify & Organize Standards to Enable Communication and Focus Productive Efforts within the intelligent education system.

This has the greatest power when it is accomplished at the virtual education system level.

Because of the laws of plentitude and increasing returns, the most valuable innovations are not the ones with the highest performance, but the ones with the highest performance on the widest basis – the “highest per widest.” (Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy, p 80)

There has been great interest in recent years in the development of educational standards. Every state has now determined its own set of standards, as have several educational associations and private companies. The reason usually given for this great undertaking is to raise the bar to a higher level of achievement and ensure accountability from those who are given responsibility for educating our children.

Those are good reasons, but the value of establishing standards goes far beyond raising the bar and assuring accountability. Standards provide an efficient way to direct resources to accomplish desired ends. When railroads were first built, the width of tracks varied from one part of the country and one system to another. Trains actually had to be lifted up and their wheels adjusted when traveling from one system to another. Hardly an efficient method! Progress in the development and use of any product or service is boosted when standards can be established. We see this all around. Computers, phones, video-recorders, television, compact disk players and recorders, medical procedures, programming languages, etc. all were hindered from achieving their greatest potential until standards were established. Even penmanship and how we address envelopes have their standards. Can you imagine what would happen in almost any area of productivity and service if standards were not established? And yet, standards are just coming into education and are still too piecemeal and varied to take full advantage of our resources and boost educational opportunities to their maximum level.

Standards are also a means to promote efficient and clear communication. Centuries ago an inch varied according to the width of a person’s thumb and a foot depended on the length between a person’s heel and toe. We now have world agreement on the length of an inch and a foot, so communication can be exact. Unless, of course, one person is only familiar with inches and feet, and the other person is only familiar with centimeters and decimeters. This is also important in educational objectives and measurements. The more exact and agreed upon we can make labels, definitions, and measurements, the easier and more efficient it will be for all stakeholders to communicate with and work together for the common good.   

7. Establish a Comprehensive Curriculum of Standardized Objectives

This would be most effective at the national virtual education system level. It could be compared with the Dewey Decimal System used in libraries. Wherever you live, you can walk into a library and easily know where types of information will be located. Each library does not have its own system of categorizing books and other reference materials. Just imagine the confusion and extra costs involved if every library did come up with its own system. Libraries still have individual choice in determining their priorities and what books they will purchase and have available. This is also true if we develop a National Comprehensive Curriculum of Standardized Objectives. States could still have their own standards and objectives, districts could still have there own, even schools and individuals could pick and choose objectives to meet their own personal priorities and needs.  Using computer programs, personalized curriculums could easily be cross-referenced to the National Comprehensive Curriculum, but the National Comprehensive Curriculum could act as a gathering point for the best there is in learning programs and educational practices. Until this is done at the national level, schools and districts need to use their state standards as the basis for having their own personalized curriculum objectives. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum has also developed a comprehensive curriculum that attempts to be reflective of the various state standards. You might decide to use it. We have also included a basic continuum of objectives for reading, writing, and math that you can examine as you read this chapter. This should help you understand the power of having standardized objectives and what can be done with them. If you wish to use them in your family or school, you can download them at In any case, learners in any family or school need to benefit from having clear objectives they can strive to achieve. To explore state standards, check the following website: 

8. Establish Personal Student Profiles

Once you have a basic continuum of objectives, you can then establish personal student profiles. These would be individual record systems that can track a student’s progress. It would provide a clear explanation of the sequence of skills important to master in that subject, the skills the student has mastered, the skills in which the student has only partial mastery, and the skills in which the student has little mastery or has not yet been tested. This clear feedback encourages active learning and promotes self-propelled learning cycles.  Use the following hyperlinks to see examples of student profiles or success objectives that are currently used in the Learning Success series of Reading Games for School Success, Writing Games for School Success, and Math Games for School Success:

Reading Skills Record Sheets
Writing Skills Record Sheets
Math Skills Record Sheets

Notice how it clearly points to what the student should learn next and how motivating it would be to have each objective checked off as it is learned. Included in the development of personal student profiles would be the means of testing the mastery of each objective. This could include on-line or off-line computer testing and/or paper and pencil tests.

9. Identify, gather or develop, and make available Multiple Learning Options pinpointed to each objective

Why not have the best means of learning each objective available to boost the success of each learner? Once you have a standardized continuum of objectives and personal profiles of each learner’s mastery of those objectives, why not gather the best there is in learning activities and teaching strategies and put it to work for the advantage of each learner? Of course, this is more than a development problem; it is also a management problem. First, a central intelligence needs to be established that can direct this work to be done. At the virtual education system level, this would be the non-profit corporation. The actual work could be assigned to special ad hoc groups composed of experts with the needed knowledge and skills. At a school level, this could mean gathering and organizing what staff and parents currently know, and then deciding on areas of need to be pursued. The beauty of the standardized continuum of objectives is that it becomes a place where the distributed intelligence of all can be focused efficiently on the needs of each and every learner. This could be called the nest-egg principle. Farmers in the distant past found that placing an egg on a nest would encourage hens to lay more eggs. If you have one of the reading, writing, or math books mentioned above, you can see how easy and powerful and economical it is to gather fun and effective ways to teach or learn each objective.

10. Provide for always available learning opportunities and anytime/anywhere learning.

Stop for a moment and imagine the tremendous power generated by the first nine steps in creating an intelligent education system. And now, get ready to have your socks knocked off by the gigantic power of step ten that at this point becomes possible: anytime, anywhere learning. The way it is now with our assembly line method of running students through a predetermined series of lessons and assignments whether they are ready or not, there is great fear that a student might be absent and miss a lesson. Lessons are given at a certain, specific place and at a certain, specific time. Miss it and you are at a disadvantage from then on. If you were ready for the lesson a year ago, too bad. The lesson will be delivered on schedule and you will just have to wait. If you need more time to master the lesson, too bad. The next lesson is to immediately follow the last one. If you are enthusiastic about learning more about the subject of the lesson, too bad. The next lesson is introducing a new subject. These assembly line lessons are usually only available for an average of fifty minutes five days a week during the school year. They are not available during the summer or when school is not in session.

Can we ever be satisfied with learning opportunities so severely limited? Would you be satisfied with lights at home that were only available for an hour a day on a predetermined schedule rather than when you needed light to see? Now that we have a comprehensive curriculum of standardized objectives, have developed personal student profiles that monitor each student's mastery of those objectives,  and have gathered, organized, and made easily available multiple options containing the best learning and teaching ideas, tools, and resources for each objective, we can make learning available when we want it anytime and anywhere. If a child learning to read already knows his short-vowel sounds, he or she need not sit through lessons designed to teach them. Those children can make better use of their time learning something they do need to learn. That would mean there needs to be a system set up to check mastery of objectives and a means of identifying what objectives need yet to be mastered or are open to a student who desires to master them. This is what a personal profile is all about. It also means that a child could master many objectives at home, or at the library, or even by participating in community organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts.

Of great help would be the development of a standardized computer multi-media personal learning system that could present interactive learning lessons and be accessed by any computer


or even a hand-held palm or pocket pc.

The Personal Learning Management System should be easy for any student, teacher, or parent to use. There are several programs available today that could be adopted or modified for this purpose. For example, you can now easily create dynamic presentations with streaming media with Microsoft Producer for Power Point 2002. The program can be downloaded free if you have Power Point 2002. See Producer Overview and Download. It is important that one learning assistance program be  standard so users do not have to learn different ones. It is great to have other learning programs from which to choose as options, but one standard program need to be available that everyone already knows how to use. Because of economies of scale, the best learning program possible can be developed. Because of the principle of plentitude, the resulting program can have its greatest value and impact.  Because the program and lessons or units would be digital, they could be made available to everyone for little or no cost. What an empowerment for students, teachers, parents, and anyone else involved in helping themselves or others achieve maximum learning success!

Students would always be able to use the program to explore their interests or master their current learning objectives. Teachers at the school site could use the program to provide learning support for the objectives students are currently striving to achieve. Parents could use the program at home to add additional support to their children’s success efforts.

11. Take advantage of organized, targeted research

With a central intelligence ability established along with a standardized continuum of objectives, student profiles, and multiple learning options, we are then in a great position to conduct research and develop new technologies for continually improving student achievement. At last, we can then have rational rather than random research. Instead of most research being conducted by students in order to qualify for advanced degrees or college professors pursuing their own interests, more and more research could be directed to achieving greater student learning in specific areas with almost immediate feedback. One learning option could be compared with other learning options in achieving mastery of the desired objective. The value of specific learning principles could be evaluated and demonstrated more easily because of the standard objectives and the use of personal student profiles that provide continuous data on the results. Certainly, a researcher’s dream come true.

12. Establish the means by which the virtual education system and all subsystems within it can continually learn and develop higher and higher levels of proficiency to promote student achievement

If we are to benefit from all stakeholders in education to be able to contribute what they have best to offer and receive what they need for the benefit of the whole, we need to develop the skills to do that. Peter Senge has taken the lead in identifying important processes that enable an organization to learn and adapt. His books and others are included in the bibliography. These processes involve a certain amount of skill, and training in them should be available to all stakeholders within the virtual education system.

Personal Mastery

This involves each person or subsystem selecting their own personal goals and vision and then focusing energies toward achieving those goals. It is best achieved when current reality and desired future are examined together. The gap between the two stimulates plans and actions to be devised to close the gap. Using learning cycles greater and greater power is developed to achieve what is personally important. Each person or subsystem needs to have a dream, and then grow into the dream.

Mental Models

We are not able to understand reality directly; it is too complex and as yet not completely known. We have to develop mental models or paradigms that simplify it in ways that we can deal with at some level of effectiveness. It is important to realize that the mental models or paradigms we develop are not reality itself, but a simplified interpretation of it. Nevertheless, they are important in our own personal development and vital to consider when communicating with others.  When we share our mental models, it becomes possible for us and others to more thoroughly examine them, see their strengths and limitations, and perhaps come up with new, more comprehensive and inclusive models that increase our power to achieve desired goals.

Shared Vision

A shared vision of a desired future enables all subsystems within the virtual education system to self-organize to best make their unique contributions to the good of the whole and the success of that vision.

A vision is truly shared when you and I have a similar picture and are committed to one another having it, not just to each of us, individually, having it. When people truly share a vision they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration. Personal visions derive their power from an individual’s deep caring for the vision. Shared visions derive their power from a common caring. In fact, we have to come to believe that one of the reasons people seek to build shared visions is their desire to be connected in an important undertaking. Shared vision is vital for the learning organization because it provides the focus and energy for learning. (Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, p 206)

Without a shared vision, efforts will be diffused and scattered in many directions losing much of its potential power. An event that happened on the moon on July 20, 1969, gives us a good illustration of the difference between diffused and coherent or aligned power. The first American astronauts to reach the moon were unable to see the millions of watts of lights generated on Earth from the entire New York City at night, but in a special experiment they were able to see clearly a mere 15-watt light beamed from Earth to the moon.

Coherence made the difference. Each speck of light from this strange new source vibrated in synchrony with every other speck of light. All of these added together constructively to produce a coherent beam. Ordinary light, on the other hand, consists of specks or photons that mostly work against each other destructively. So 15 watts of coherent light can “outshine” millions of watts of noncoherent light. (Donald Lofland, Thought Viruses, p 6)

Think of what it would mean if the efforts and contributions of all stakeholders in the virtual education system were aligned and coherent? In living systems theory, a motivating and shared vision becomes what is called a “strange attractor” that unleashes the power of distributed intelligence around which disparate elements evolve and become organized into a powerful new system.

An example at the bacterial level is dental plaque.  According to researcher Ellen Licking:

At its earliest stages, this strange thing called a biofilm is little more than a layer of cells attached to a surface. But as the bacteria grow and divide, something wondrously conspiratorial happens. When enough of them – a quorum – have gathered, they send signals around, telling each other to reorganize. They begin to arrange themselves into an array of pillars and mushroom-shaped structures, all connected by convoluted channels that deliver food and remove waste. They become, in other words, not a simple collection of bacteria, but a spooky kind of communal organism with its own defense capabilities and communication system. (Ellen Licking, “Getting a Grip on Bacterial Slime,” Business Week, September 13, 1999, p98)

Many businesses and organizations are now using this phenomenon to tap into the power of self-organization and emergence, including the United States Military, Shell Oil, Intel Corporation, and Sears.

Team Learning and Dialogue

With a shared vision, it becomes possible to share personal goals, insights, and mental models. Dialogue refers to the flow of meaning in which learning and an increased understanding is desired rather than a contest of who is right. The intelligence of the individual or subsystem becomes integrated with the group or system intelligence composed of all the individuals and subsystems within it. This distributed intelligence is far greater than the intelligence of any one individual or subsystem. The purpose of dialogue is to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. In dialogue, a group or system can access the larger pool of meanings and understandings of every component in the system. This takes time, effort, and skill. John MacCarthy on page 262 of Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline lists three suggested ground rules for a meeting in which dialogue is to take place: 

1.      Suspension of assumptions. Typically people take a position and defend it, holding to it. Others take up opposite positions and polarization results. In this session, we would like to examine some of our assumptions underlying our direction and strategy and not seek to defend them.

2.      Acting as colleagues. We are asking everyone to leave his or her position at the door. There will be no particular hierarchy in this meeting, except for the facilitator, who will, hopefully, keep us on track.

3.      Spirit of inquiry. We would like to have people being to explore the thinking behind their views, the deeper assumptions they may hold, and the evidence they have that leads them to these views. So it will be fair to begin to ask other questions such as “What leads you to say or believe this?” or “What makes you ask about this?”

Dialogue is best achieved when organized around the achievement of a shared vision. Learning takes place by engaging in learning cycles that continually compare current results with desired vision. This requires a full flow of information among all the stakeholders in the virtual education system. It requires the development of a group memory to which all have access. Time and methods need to be in place for dialogue to occur periodically at all levels. This can include physical face-to-face meetings as well as on-line methods of chat rooms, email, and discussion groups.

The power of dialogue can also take place by concentrating in turn on each subsystem’s way of thinking and acting and then looking for examples of positive deviance or bench marks in which exceptional results in that subsystem are occurring. This was the approach used by Monique and Jerry Sternin and the Save the Children organization that was trying to solve the problem of malnutrition in Vietnamese children after the Vietnam War ended.

Instead of arriving as experts with answers, the Sternins came as catalysts with questions, determined to tap into the latent wisdom and resources in each community. … The design was aimed to discover what was already working against all odds, rather than engineering a solution based on an external formula. In this approach, each community reexamines its conventional wisdom regarding children’s nutrition, health, and care. The inquiry helps the community to discover deviant (that is, unconventional or unusual) nutritional practices that are working advantageously, and to make them access to everyone.(Richard T. Pascale, Surfing the Edge of Chaos, p 176-177.)

Without spending large amounts of money, the results were remarkable.

Within six months, over two-thirds of the children gained weight. Over twenty-four months, 85 percent had “graduated” to acceptable nutritional status and were no longer clinically malnourished.

Our experience in education points to an overwhelming conclusion that money by itself won’t bring to fulfillment our dreams for education. The well-being, success, and productivity of all subsystems in the virtual education system need to be the concern of all. As such, each subsystem should be periodically highlighted and given the means to share their knowledge intelligence with the others. As part of the process of working toward the achievement of a shared vision, all must have feedback on the results of current efforts and learn together what is needed to produce greater success. Peter Senge defines team learning … as the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire. Bill Russell, legendary basketball player for the Boston Celtics, vividly describes it in the following: 

By design and by talent … (we)… were a team of specialists, and like a team of specialists in any field, our performance depended both on individual excellence and how well we worked together. None of us had to strain to understand that we had to complement each others’ specialties; it was simply a fact, and we all tried to figure out ways to make our combination more effective. (W. Russell and T. Branch, Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinionated Man (New York: Random House), 1979 also quoted in Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, p 233)  

Boosting Learning Power for All While Increasing Local and Individual Freedom

Our nation was founded on great ideas and goals. The Declaration of Independence declared we are all created equal and should have the same rights and opportunities to pursue happiness in our own individual ways. Of course, that wasn’t reality in our earlier years. Many in our population were slaves, and many others lacked the resources to take full advantage of living in this new world of opportunity. But little by little, we have been making headway toward that goal. Back then, the availability of free or cheap land was the main ladder of opportunity for those who lacked resources to rise above their situations and build the life of their dreams. Today, the main ladder of opportunity needs to be free or economical information and educational opportunities.  All people need to have access to the means of gaining knowledge intelligence in their areas of interest. The Key Components in Empowering Educational Systems listed above by establishing an intelligent education system can make that possible without large increases in educational spending. In a way, it would be like what we are doing now with electricity. People throughout our land are provided with electricity at a much lower rate than if each small group had to develop and maintain their own capacities for electrical production. But each home can use that electricity according to their personal desires. The same can be the result of having a national or regional educational support system that districts, schools, families, individual learners, and organizations of all kinds can benefit from in their own ways.

The twelve key components to develop intelligent education systems work together and have much greater impact as a whole than any one component could have individually. They have the potential of bringing education truly into the 21st century and empowering everyone involved in the virtual education system. What we already know about promoting learning success and the great discoveries that await us in the future will be able to be effectively and economically applied to each learner. Succeeding chapters, and other related articles found on the website explore these ideas in greater depth and include other actions and tools that can boost greater learning success for all.

If you would like to have an introductory talk or workshop scheduled for your staff or parent group, go to and go to the page listing workshops and talks available.