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One of history’s earliest education disruptions came with the invention of the printing press.   The book, of course, followed, and both had huge implications for education — just as new technologies do today.

Federick Hess

But it is how we use these technologies that really matters most, says Frederick (Rick) Hess of the American Enterprise Institute,  who happens to be the author of a new book out this week with Kaplan’s Bror Saxberg. Hess calls the book “a guide to thinking about technology in more powerful and constructive ways,’’ and argues that digital learning is just a variation on an old theme.

“With the advent of the printing press, education moved from the lessons taught in church to book studies,’’  Hess said earlier this week.  “But the learning tools were only as dramatic as the book. There was no customization for the student’s skills.”

In “Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age” (Corwin, October 2014),  Hess and Saxberg argue that educators will have to become learning engineers who can change the classroom conversation from, “what shiny, new products should we buy?” to “how are these new tools helping solve my problem?

As Hess notes in a blog post this week. “The truth is that today’s education technology does hold immense promise, but what matters far more than the tools are what skilled hands do with them. And that’s where I’m afraid we’ve consistently gotten things wrong, and need to do much, much better.”

Saxberg — who is responsible for research and development of innovative learning strategies, technologies and products at Kaplan — delivered the keynote speech with Hess this week at the packed iNacol Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Orlando, Fla., which carried the theme of “transforming education to student-centric learning.”

There’s often a lot of jargon and buzzwords in the education world, so what should we make of the term “learning engineer?”

The sharp observers over at EdSurge  say it amounts to diagnosing the educational problem; determining the non-technology solution; testing the solution and if good, finding technology to enhance it.

The premise is that “technology can make solutions affordable, reliable, available, customizable and data rich.”

The book offers several fascinating case studies to foster a better understanding of blended learning and other “transformative models.’’

You can listen to a conversation about the many ways technology is changing education with Hess, Saxberg and other educators here.

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