Learning is changing
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 Now passive learning has been replaced by active participation within global communities, and the ability to create, share, repurpose and organise vast amounts of knowledge content.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
Learning is changing by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.