Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

Wall and peace

Introducing Tony Wall, who works 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.

For more like this read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:


19 responses to “Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

  1. You only have to look at a couple of presentations on and read a book or two or look back to our own education to realise things could be done a lot better.

    How great would it be if we could really follow our passions and own path to become a more innovative society. Obviously we need things like our 3Rs’ but how much easier would it be if we had to learn the (boring) bits when we needed it to understand something we are passionate about.

    Why can’t we start work at 16 [or even earlier] but not have to leave eduction until we die?


  2. Maybe universities should examine abandoning traditional 4-year degree curricula and be come adept at providing critical pieces of education in a student’s creative journey to acquire knowledge. Learning has become exponentially easier with the Internet. If we’re motivated to learn something – the operative concept – today we can find experts, discussion groups, forums and certification programs. What we may need to learn formally are the rewards of curiosity and the steps required to satisfy it productively – in particular how to ferret out the meaningful from the meaningless. Could this be a framework for promoting innovation?


    • I’d agree that certain types of learning have become easier (acquisition of data, information etc.) What seems to have become harder in an information age is the conversion of the ocean of data into useful knowledge, and the skills and attitudes that make human beings useful in the world. What do you say Ellie?

      Thanks for stopping by again.

      Peter xx


    • [Without obviously knowing much about this] I feel that the 4-year degree should be a think of the past. I think we could benefit from a more modular approach (as per the Open University).

      For my career these are the minimal bits I must have to get started. I can carry on learning as I work. I might even change direction completely but I have not got myself in 4 years of debt so I can… hooray !


  3. Provocative and pushing the envelope as usual! Reminds me of a time I did some doctoral studies, working with Prof. Tom Lambert, no sadly no longer with us, through a ‘brick and mortar-less’ institution- Rushmore University . They have taken heavy flack over the years, as their learning approach is not the norm. Having a gaggle of qualifications I wanted to try a different approach, more interactive, more truly ‘out the box’ and working with Tom and the Rushmore crew it was tough as hell and the drive was all about innovative thinking, as opposed to churn and burn text book repetitiveness!


  4. Peter, another great posting! Apropos “For Pink Floyd, it was a wall of “thought control”, a message calling for our education systems to facilitate more innovative thinking”. I can relate…

    I have spent a good few years educating myself, and it got to a point where “text book morbid repetitiveness syndrome” kicked in. I felt I was churning out paper after paper regurgitating references to this ‘guru’ and that ‘fundi’….
    I read a number of books by a management consultant, who tagged himself the ‘people’s consultant’, Tom Lambert. I managed to track Tom down, and we became on line friends sharing business thoughts etc. Tom then mentioned he was a Professor at an on line business school called Rushmore.

    I spent time researching the institution and found what they offered in terms of their approach different from mainstream institutions, and I enrolled to do some doctoral work with Tom as my prof. It was rough and tough with an absolute leaning to real life applicability and innovation in business, an insistence in terms of work to be submitted etc, spurred on by the institutions own modus operandi, so different to the mainstream. Tom nitpicking my chapters piece by piece, adding input, challenging what I had submitted, at times even dismissing my thinking, forcing me to go back to a revisit the model/suggestion etc. Now in saying this, Rushmore have been under fire from the mainstream, as their approach is highly frowned upon by the Ivy gaggle et al…

    I guess it’s all about perception – do you want a degree from a recognized institution where you are a parrot to the print or something which has instilled innovation to inspire agitation for change…

    “There’s a Revolution calling
    Revolution calling
    Gotta make a change
    Gotta push, gotta push it on through” – Queensryche


  5. Pingback: Education Reform: Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

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