Interesting threads running through a lot of blogs right now that I wish I had more time to dive into. Basically, they revolve around what learning is (as opposed to education) and what the future might bring in terms of “Personal Learning Environments” (PLE). And the underlying question here is what role do schools and teachers play in all of this.
Stephen sees a world where, because we now can, we manage our own learning and build our own communities:
It’s just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers – if there are any – are your peers. It is, I believe, the future – and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark.
And James thinks that future may be here already in WordPress. It’s a world of personal aggregation of learning feeds created by the user or shared by a teacher. It’s the connection of people and ideas where
“the learner actually learns through the creation and development of posts, the linking, synthesising and pinging of other posts and by commenting on yet more posts on other blogs.”
Sounds like the typical classroom, eh?
And then there’s a whole thread about whether or not we should be teaching and subsequently testing for tech literacies in our curriculum. That seems to have really stirred the pot as well in terms of how we assess learning instead of knowing and all sorts of other good stuff. (I need more hours…)
And George (and others) write that we’ve got to keep focused on the learning and not the technology:
…I don’t think learning has changed. The act of learning (how our brain stores, recognizes, and retrieves knowledge) is fairly stable. Our external environment is not. As a result, over the last 30 years, many situations have developed in society that challenge established approaches to learning. Static is replaced with dynamic. Content is replaced (or at least augmented) with connections to ensure that people stay current. My whole intent with connectivism is to present the need to design a new approach and view of learning – one that is not hamstrung by classrooms, but is a thread that runs through the entire fabric of life. Learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart.
It’s all good stuff, and I want to once again point out that these discussions and ideas are the very foundation of what these changes are all about. My brain is exploding, as are many others. At times it’s all overwhelming. And there can be no doubt that these discussions are becoming much more urgent, much more demanding. The questions are getting tougher…I’ve felt it just in the last few months.
I feel it when I look at my own children, which is the frame of reference I bring to these discussions. I look at the reams and reams of worksheets they bring home and literally shake. At 6 and 8, they have already become pieces on the assembly line, chugging along apace with their peers, everything checked, everything ordered. Tucker can’t read story #22 before #19 even though story #22 looks more interesting. Tess breezes through the homework that doesn’t challenge her and gets told she needs to be neater. (Oy.)
And I’m feeling like unless my wife and I reinvent our lives, this picture won’t change much. My kids may one day find “learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart,” but they’ll find it on their own as, luckily, their father has.
It comes down to this, for me at least. Things are different. This is a changed space. Our learning environments need to change to take advantage of the people and information and ideas that we can now connect to. We cannot continue to be enablers to our students’ dependence on a school selected, force fed curriculum that was in some ways necessary 50 years ago but is quickly becoming irrelevant today. Our students need to learn how to learn, because there is so much more to learn from, and they need to be given the license to start making some of those decisions on their own. We’ve already started to do that. What it will take for it to happen on a truly meaningful scale is as yet unclear (which is why, of course, we keep reading…)
Alex Ragone says
As I read your blog, I can’t keep writing more and more. My kids are 5, 2 and 7 weeks. I really identify with this last post as my wife and I are talking about Kindergarten in South Orange, NJ this afternoon.
The learning that I have been doing over the past few years is amazing. I get to my school in the morning after reading and writing on the train and I am so jazzed to be trying to change the place — geting our faculty to see the writing on the wall. I’m thinking of starting a reading group this Spring.
But how do we do this? What is the school of the future? Who is going to make the jump? I work at an Independent School, and honestly, with the little experience I have with NCLB and public school’s, I can’t imaging that they are going to be the places for this type of wholesale cutting down the tree change. Could a charter school make this jump? Is it some sort of hybrid? Who is going to support it?
I’m writing more at http://www.learning-blog.org. Thanks again for your inspiration.
I found the Delors Report on Education for the Twenty-first Century useful: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.
Brent MacKinnon says
I have followed you, Stephen, George and many others over the past year and your post on Learning vs. education really compelled me to respond. I have one daughter in University that breezed through school with super high grades and now in science/med school and a son who is totally out of the school world, loves the trades (carpentry) and trying hard to graduate this year.
I manage a community based non profit organization that operates 5 days a week in a larger mixed, old, rich in history, multi diverse, high school. My program is small, just me with support from student placements and youth volunteers within the high school and the local colleges and University field placements.
My program (Community Resource & Learning Room) is working hard to bring many of these ICT values and practices into the school as we have a dedicated room, suported by our Principal and the School Board. I also have IBM support (with promise of more) of 10 good pc’s, an non traditional learning atmosphere thanks to nice pc furniture donated by Bell Canada.
We are introducing a Youth Community Mapping Program in our programming and have established 4 teams of youth (about 45 youth with adult volunteers)to examine issues related to youth poverty and homelessness. Our youth mapping teams are doing community based research that is focused around health, adult-youth relations, recreation and how these factors relate/influence youth poverty and homelessness. Of course we are using a blog to keep ourselves connected, store our creative maps (metaphor for engaging youth around what youth think, feel, believe and see in their world/community) and to desiminate our outcomes and maps.
Your post really captured the moment for me. We are trying to do in our mapping work, those things that you, Stephen, George and others are expressing and working at making real and meaningful. It is a great boost for me, because many times, I’m not sure where we are going and as importantly, why we are doing what we are doing. I know we are entering such new territory and that it is the right way to go, but at times it feels quite lonely so your post resonated especially well for me. Learning together and making a mark outside the mainstream thinking is proving to be a great experience for all of us. Well, I think for now I will leave it there Will.
Thanks for capturing those key messages in your post.
All the best in your travels and challenges.
Man, I can relate to the mindless homework thing. It really is a sad thing to see. Still a lot of rote memorization going on. I haven’t done much at my kids’ schools to try and change things. The educational system seems like such a behemoth that I can’t imagine just me making any difference. And there are the parents. A lot of parents believe that this kind of education is a good thing. As long as they’re doing well on the tests, they think everything’s okay. Anyone can do well on a test given enough practice, but can they understand the underlying concepts and apply them in a different context? My guess is that many cannot. We’re struggling right now with our son who has quite an aptitude for math. He can figure out a word problem without working it out on paper. So sometimes he doesn’t exactly know how he got the answer. We talk him through it. It’s hard for some reason for him to write it out. What if he could record his thoughts as he’s working out the problem and then listen to the recording, write it out and then give both to the teacher? What if he could do his work on a tablet pc and screen-record it? I think our teachers and schools aren’t thinking about these possibilities.
Marco Polo says
Parents and teachers and employers tend to have quite different views on tests: teachers (for the most part) see tests as feedback indicators for whether learning has taken place and therefore what they need to do next. Parents and employers (assuming they’re not teachers) more often will see tests as feathers in a cap, flags that announce employability. Sometimes I think these are mutually incompatible views. Multiple Intelligences guru Howard Gardner wrote a pretty good summary of how the educational and business worlds talk past each other on the subject of education and learning, in Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (it’s just a couple of pages in that book, I’ll try and find the exact reference when I’m back at school on Tuesday). It’s worth a read for anyone dealing with parents and employers and administrators.
David Warlick says
At what point might your children just say, no more silly worksheets. No more tests. At what point might you stand behind them and say, my children know what they need to be learning. You’ve taught them to read and add. Now you help them to explore and learn from THEIR world.
Look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia on Friday, and stirring things up for the Science Leadership Academy.
It’s interesting to note your examination of learning vs. education. I’ve just posted an article you might like comparing educational, academic and life success. Are they the same, do they have commonalities, can we acutally define them?