Learning is changing

Learning is changing. In some ways learning has no need to change. In other ways, it is vital. The human race still has an innate desire to discover, to survive, to innovate, to explore. As we get older, we consolidate what we have learnt, modifying our knowledge and skills as new information and techniques become known to us. What we learn in formalised settings such as school, college and university is merely the foundation of our knowledge and the rudimentary skill sets that enable us to build our own minds and construct meaning, through individual and social contexts later in life. That has always been the nature of learning. So why am I claiming that learning is changing? This is contentious, but I believe learning is changing because what we can learn no longer has any boundaries. Learning is also changing because we can contribute to knowledge on a global scale. We now have tools at our disposal that enable us to connect to any knowledge we want, anywhere, and at any time we prefer.

It hasn't always been like this. Libraries and 'seats of learning' were traditionally the places to be when formal learning was required. All around, communities and families were also there for informal learning processes to be supported. Then along came the printing press and within a short time, mass literacy was achieved, books because widely accessible, and ordinary people were able to create their own personal libraries at home. Radio and television and eventually satellite communication gave us windows on the world, passive connections to world events, news and features, brought directly to our homes. Learning began to change as we were all exposed via mass media to a vast and previously mysterious world that was suddenly open to limitless discovery and exploration. Around this time many new disciplines began to emerge. Our opportunities for learning began to reach around the globe, across cultural and geographical boundaries.

Probably the most disruptive technology to emerge over the last few years is the computer. Specifically, I mean personalised, handheld, internet enabled mobile computing. Now passive learning has been replaced by active participation within global communities, and the ability to create, share, repurpose and organise vast amounts of knowledge content. We can also manipulate context. This in turn promotes new forms of learning. People are now auto-didactic - they teach themselves any skill and acquire any knowledge, simply by clicking, watching, making and doing.

Lord David Puttnam, the celebrated former movie producer and Oscar winner, believes that the digital tools we now have at our disposal are driving significant changes in the way we learn. He argues that our ability to use social media to connect with, and learn from, world class experts is unprecedented, and he is right. He also sees a future of learning where we will be astounded by what is possible. This is supported by other high profile commentators such as Stephen Heppell who argues that 'everything technology touches goes exponential'. Already, says Puttnam, we are witnessing our expectations changing though our demand to be informed faster, our need for instant connection and our impatience with delays. He believes we are also seeing a blurring of the boundaries, between formal and informal learning, between formal education and work based learning. Our increasing ability to work seamlessly across time zones and to connect together into global communities of practice and interest is also something we could never previously achieve without the internet and personalised technology. Lord Puttnam suggests that learning is being transformed so quickly that many of the changes will be ones 'we can only begin to guess at'.  

Whatever the changes will be in the future, learning is changing. The demands of the next generation of learners will be different from the generation that has passed before it. This has happened before, but never on the grand scale or vast differential that is happening right now. The question now is, how will schools, colleges, universities and work based learning keep pace?

Photo by Xin Li

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Learning is changing by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
Just to exemplify your point; I have reached this article through a tweet of a person who was mentioned on a website which was posted on a facebook group that was inspired by a course on coursera of which I have been aware by a video on ted.com which was suggested through e-mail by thank god a real life person. Btw I wrote this in my bed on a mobile. Don't wanna think more! Got a class to teach in the morning :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
Yes, it does indeed amplify my point. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, even though you were still in bed! ;)
Srujan said…
Great post Steve! Mobility and flexibility of learning platforms has taken learning to the present state. More new forms of delivering learning depends on those two factors.
Steve Philp said…
Is it the learning that is changing, or is it the socio-cultural context in which the learning takes place that is changing?

This might seem a slightly pedantic question, but I think it is important for the teachers who are teaching within a slightly out-of-date context. Some may think that 'good technology' is making a poster in the ICT suite, and that 'embedding ICT' means sharing some knowledge on Powerpoint. For these teachers, society has changed, but they haven't. A new socio-cultural context exists in some greater or lesser way, but the picture is complex and fragmented due to the range of sub-societies and sub-cultures that exist within the larger whole.

It used to be that teachers had a dual role: to educate their learners into the norms of society and to contribute to the collective knowledge of their learners so that those learners would have the ability to make a better society. However, if teachers have become disconnected from what society is, how can they effectively accomplish this role?
Steve Wheeler said…
Steve, the psychological or cognitive processes of learning remain the same, but our expectations, and our capacity to learn have increased - hence, learning is changing.
It contains truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more! Great visualization and unique informative article indeed.
study said…
It is interesting that the learning process in schools is mostly still the same as in the past.

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