Seven Must-Read Books About Education: The 2016 List

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ― Lemony Snicket

This is books scramble. Many books on white background.

Two thousand and fifteen was another great year for books. This is the third-annual post where I feature seven books must-read books for the up-coming year related to education, learning, and digital culture. My goal is to curate a list of books that provide thoughtful, unique perspectives on education and learning. The 2015 must-read list received over 11,000 views last year; I hope the readers who read one or more of my recommendations enjoyed the books as much as I did.

As last year, this year I’m aiming for thought-provoking reads, quality over quantity. I consulted numerous sources for the 2016 list—book reviews, best seller charts, education books lists from NPR, New York Times, The Guardian, Amazon, and education organizations. I also considered readers’ reviews and opinions shared on Goodreads, Amazon and via Twitter discussions. Collectively the books provide a breadth of perspectives on education; two titles fall outside of the education sector, but I’m hoping they provide insight and thoughtful perspectives that round out the list.

97811388320081. What Connected Educators Do Differently (2015), Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul & Jimmy Casas
A relevant topic for today’s educators—how to use social media to stay current, to learn from and connect with like-minded educators on a global scale. I chose this book mainly because of its publisher—Routledge. I’ve read several books under the Routledge label and not been disappointed. They’re current, concise with practical strategies and knowledge that can be applied to real-life contexts. “Connected educators” appears to follow suit with its eight key connector’ strategies that provide practical guidelines and specifics on how to use social media and digital platforms to build a personalized learning network. Cumulative reviews from Amazon readers put the book at a 5/5. A sure bet. Update: read my review here.

2. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens (2014), Benedict Carey
How We Learn is more than a new approach to learning; it is a guide to making the most out of life. Who wouldn’t be interested in that?”—Scientific American

“How we Learn” is in the same category as “Make it Stick“, my top-rated education book from last year which covers the science researchers use to explain how we learn and subsequent strategies for improving learning.  Yet “How we Learn” takes a different perspective, ‘more practical’ as one Goodreads reviewer described. It focuses on specific methods for memorization, for improving retention and recall.  Will the author delve into the application of memorized content—how knowledge is applied and critical thinking engaged? I’ll be interested to find out as our education sector is at a crossroads in our knowledge economy, where information is accessible to anyone, anywhere and anytime with a web-enabled device. Stay tuned.

Joseph-R.-Corbeil_MOOD-E-Learning_Cover-11-Aug-2015-page-001-736x10243. The MOOC Case Book – Case Studies in MOOC Design, Development & Implementation (2015).
An instructive book featuring a collection of case studies about MOOCs in twenty-five chapters where each chapter describes a unique experience of e-learning practitioners, faculty, or students. Each case provides details and takeaways of the challenges faced in the design, development, implementation, or participation of a MOOC. The book is more or less a handbook geared to designers, developers, and instructional facilitators of MOOCs. A caveat, I’ve included this book as I’m a contributing author. I wrote about the pedagogy of MOOC design through the lens of Khan’s e-Learning framework  in chapter 3: “Pedagogy and MOOCs: A Practical Application of Khan’s E-Learning Framework”. Update: read my review here.

4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck, Stanford professor introduced the concept of growth mindset in her book “Mindset: The New Psycholgoy of Success”.  Though written in 2006, the concept is trending among educators evidenced in Twitter discussions via hashtag #growthmindset, numerous articles, and Web searches as Google’s trend chart reveals (peaking in September 2015). Dweck suggests that intelligence is not fixed or predetermined, but can develop and change over time with external influences. Dweck provides advice for parents and teachers to foster a growth mindset in children that doesn’t include methods such as overt praising of intelligence and accomplishments. I’m intrigued to learn more given our culture that’s focused on praise and recognition. Update: read my review here.

5. The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (2015), Pedro Domingos
“All knowledge – past, present and future – can be derived from data by a single, universal learning algorithm” — Pedro Domingos.

“The Master Algorithm” was a bestseller in the ‘information theory’ category on Amazon, and after reading a review of “The Master Algorithm” in The Guardian I added the book to this year’s list. The book seems far from a dry read; according to The Guardian review, Domingos describes machine learning as a “continent divided into territories of five tribes – where the Master Algorithm is the capital city, standing in the center of the landscape where the lands of the five groups meet” (Gilbey). Wow.

97815946320516. The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (2015), Kevin Carey
There are a handful of books with this prediction— that college as we know it is coming undone, or ‘unbundled‘—a term that emerged last year to describe how a traditional undergraduate college education is disrupted by options that allow students to compile an education from a variety of sources.  I chose “The End of College” written by education policy researcher and writer Kevin Carey, after reading a handful articles and interviews with Carey.  In an NPR interview Carey describes a future where “the idea of ‘admission’ to college will become an anachronism, because the University of Everywhere will be open to everyone” and “educational resources that have been scarce and expensive for centuries will be abundant and free” (nprED, 2015). This I have to read. Update: read my review here.

7. The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way (2014), Amanda Ripley
Compelling . . . What is Poland doing right? And what is America doing wrong? Amanda Ripley, an American journalist, seeks to answer such questions in The Smartest Kids in the World, her fine new book about the schools that are working around the globe ….Ms. Ripley packs a startling amount of insight in this slim book.” (The Economist)

This book was a New York Best Times notable book of the year for 2014, has received numerous accolades from a variety of sources, and has 4.5/5 rating cumulative rating from 540 Amazon reviewers.  I deem it a must-read for anyone interested in education.

I look forward to another year of good company with some great books.  I track my book list and reviews on the Goodreads platform, with a virtual shelf dedicated to books on Education which you can view by clicking here if interested.  Happy New Year to all readers! Thank you for reading Online Learning Insights, providing the incentive for me to continue writing and sharing.

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Need-to-Know News: 8 Cutting-edge Tech Trends, MOOCs in 2016, Engaging Sites Featuring Books-of-the-Year

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

MOOC-newsIf you are looking for some light reading over the holidays or ideas for some good reads for yourself or others, look no further. I’ve rounded up some articles of interest and a couple of good websites that feature books-of-the year in an interactive and creative format.

1. HBR Tech Review: Eight Trends to Watch
An article in this month’s Harvard Business Review “8 Tech Trends to Watch in 2016” written by CEO and founder of an international digital strategy firm, is not your average trends-to-watch for article. It’s cutting edge stuff. Of the eight tech trends only one, blockchain was somewhat familiar (used by Bitcoin, it’s a complex transaction system that enables buyers and sellers to engage in “trustless” transactions). The article describes up-and-coming technology such as drone lanes, glitches and algorithmic personality detection. Fascinating stuff.

Insight: The education sector isn’t always on the cutting edge of technology, as we’ve seen with MOOCs, e.g. an innovative delivery system delivering education via traditional methods, yet there is potential in some of the technologies mentioned for application to education. For instance algorithmic personality detection might be used for student services such as career planning and academic support, bots as personal tutors, and augmented knowledge also known as digital telepathy which may make us question ‘what is learning’?

2. MOOCs: (Not just) From a European Perspective
The open journal, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL) features a special issue this November with it’s a collection of papers that explore the MOOC phenomenon from the perspective of the higher education community in Europe. Though the majority of papers focus on the European perspective, a handful address themes universal to the MOOC phenomenon such as open access and course design.

The paper “MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data explores the controversial claim that MOOCs are vehicles that democratize education, which as we know now, hasn’t quite panned out. The excerpt below summarizes the paper:

Despite the hope for more equal access to education through MOOCs, the empirical data show (section 4) that MOOCs potentially reinforce inequality. In this article we will give a theoretical background to explain why MOOCs are mostly used by more highly educated people (section 2) and stimulate a discussion on if and how MOOCs can contribute to equal access to education promoted by Open Educational Resources. (Rohs & Ganz, 2015).

Another, “Dimensions of Openness: Beyond the Course as an Open Format in Online Education” argues that openness in education via MOOCs should not only be viewed as opening access to existing resources and courses for a broader audience, but as the removal of barriers for interaction and exchange (Dalsgarrd & Thestrup, 2015).

Another paper with universal applicability is “Theories and Applications of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs): The Case for Hybrid Design“. This paper outlines a hybrid design model and discusses appropriate application as well the significant design challenges specific to MOOCs.

Insight: The term MOOCs now covers a breadth of education programs that are not always open, massive or meet the definition of a course (with a start and end date). The articles in this special issue are a good representation of the current themes. Though I go further and suggest that 2016 will be the year of the MOOC reckoning, as alluded to in a recent post on the Ed Techie blog, “2016 – The year of MOOC hard questions”.

3. Nifty Sites featuring Books-of-the-Year
I came across a couple of engaging, interactive sites by NPR, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail featuring best books of 2015 in various categories. These sites go beyond the traditional, static webpage; they invite the user to engage with the content.  We’ll likely be seeing more of this interactive home page format in 2016, as according to Fast Company this is the new look of webpages.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 2.08.47 PM
NPR’s Book Concierge features an interactive site where you can filter by genre, read highlights, and look at NPR’s Best-Book lists for each year starting in 2008

Closing Thoughts
Speaking of books, I’ll be publishing “Seven Must-Read Education Books for 2016” by the end of the year. Stay tuned. Following that I’ll also share my views in a post on the ed tech trends that will affect education in 2016.

Happy Holidays to all and thanks for reading and making Online Learning Insights happen by your continued reading and sharing!