Learning is about to be disrupted and I believe education is on the verge of a complete makeover. Brown and Adler make a great point in their article, “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0″ about social learning:
The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interaction, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.
I like how they state that “the most profound impact of the Internet…has yet to be fully realized.” I think institutions and schools are finally beginning to catch on to how social learning can be stimulated by the use of Web 2.0 tools. In today’s age, it’s not what we are learning that counts. What counts is if we are learning to learn. I was fortunate enough to attend a keynote speech by Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and former CTO of Best Buy, at a lifelong learning conference last November in San Francisco. He spoke about the implications of social media and what that means for our society. His business card is all white with his twitter handle on it. He questions why there is even a need for business cards anymore. He also told us that, “people are learning how to learn.” A great example he used was YouTube. He asked how many of us in the audience have watched a YouTube video in the past year to learn something. Almost the whole audience raised their hands.
If used properly, learning within and outside of the classroom with Web 2.0 tools would stir up passion and excitement amongst students. Take for example a group facilitation and team-building class that was offered last semester. The instructor utilized Google Communities and QR codes to organize a digital scavenge hunt as a final project for the students. The students then took their learning outside of the classroom and was able to use their smartphones and a QR reader app to progress through a digital scavenger hunt, and the instructor was able to keep up-to-date as the students posted their progress to the class-designated Google Community. This is just one way how instructors are embracing Web 2.0 tools to create a different kind of learning environment, an environment that is rich in Web 2.0 tools in which students are fully engaged and asking for more.
This also brings up a crucial shift in the relationship between the learner and the teacher/facilitator. In the traditional learning environment, the teacher would stand in the front of the classroom and lecture. This is slowly changing in that the teacher is now becoming more of a facilitator than a lecturer. The teacher is still knowledgeable in the subject matter, but the difference is that the teacher is now an expert navigator in how to find more knowledge. In John Seely Brown’s article “Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age“, he predicts that navigation will be a new form of literacy in the 21st century:
What I want to suggest, though, is that the new literacy, the one beyond just text and image, is one of information navigation. I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that. So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century.
I think this was and still is a great prediction. In today’s classroom, the teacher must be able to facilitate people and navigate knowledge. This opens doorways for students to lead discussions, challenge beliefs, and explore new ideas. And the teacher is there to help share information and guide the discussions.
The onset of these learning shifts must be met with open minds. We can’t expect to embrace these new technologies in the current school system. Schools must be redesigned. Classrooms must be rethought. And our education system must be reevaluated. I’m not saying change everything, but more of don’t be afraid of the inevitable change. Last semester I had the privilege of being able to work with the professor of Design Studio and the department of educational technology in “re-imagining Design Studio”. We experimented with several technologies, including: Google Communities, Adobe Connect, Second Life, twitter, and video conferencing. During the semester we came up with four main points and used those to “re-imagine” Design Studio for the future.
- Foster design thinking and a design mindset.
- Develop technology skills and expertise within a “customized experience”.
- Encourage participation through a community.
- Provide opportunities to work on collaborative in-class design projects.
These four points would be a great starting point for designing any learning environment, whether that is online or in a physical classroom.