From Education to Learning; A Brief History of Open (2)
Last Week I asked; what have we learnt from Web-enabled Education? Has the Web begun to enable more learning-centred approaches? Have we used the affordances of new technology to improve our learning, lives and society? This was in answer to @aleksk on Untangling the Web observation who said she would focus on ‘pedagogical theories, online education enablers, novel learning techniques and approaches that the web affords’. In fact her brief article in todays Observer disappointingly focusses on university research issues, a customary mistake by academics and policy-makers. Shockingly she quotes the complacent Hamish MacLeod (who he?) at Edinburgh “I wouldn’t say there are any profound changes in the way we should be thinking about theories of learning”. I beg to differ! So let’s look a little more inclusively at what the web has afforded us for learning.
What have we learnt from Web-enabled Education; in terms of pedagogical theories, online education enablers, novel learning techniques and approaches as Aleks Krotoski asked? Well last week as I argued that in ‘untangling the web on education’ we are only taking a fifteen-year snapshot of a 50-year process of social change. Picking out the educational consequences of the web is a small and partial view of a broader ongoing set of social processes. Primarily we can say that the web has resulted more in changes to the processes of learning than in changes to the nature of the institutions of education; the consequences of the web on those institutions are yet to be fully realised.
However in terms of pedagogy there can’t have been a richer 15-year period since books were permanently unchained from University libraries 500 years ago. During this time we have moved from theories of knowledge transmission to models of the co-creation of learning (partly by putting context into knowledge). We can identify discussion groups, communities of practice, collaborative learning, formative assessments, open learning, social learning, learning design, participatory learning, co-creation and knowledge creation, amongst areas of pedagogic change. The Machine is Us/ing Us but we are both a complicit and dynamic element in that process. As James Dalziel says we need to use pedagogy to design the technology, which has increasingly been the case in the past ten years.
In terms of online education enablers, we have seen a shift from Access to Content to Context; in the 1990s access to the Internet was the major concern, followed by distributed virtual learning environments (coming out of an instructionally-based training tradition and so qualitatively different to the learning pedagogies that come from distributed networks), resource exchanges (FERL) and Communities of Practice (TeachMeet), Open Course Ware initiatives, folksonomies and cloud-based aggregators. We now Like+1 being Digital by Default in emerging social personalised networks. Whilst GLOW in Scotland (driven by their Curriculum for Excellence) are doing interesting things in the managed learning environment world, if you read the work of Graham Attwell, or Su White you could describe the last fifteen years as seeing a move from VLE’s (which themselves moved from rigid classrooms in the sky to the contextualised drag & drop constructions of Moodle) to Personal Learning Networks. In this world there is an ‘ecology of resources‘ available differentially for learning, depending on how you set the institutional ‘filters’, as Rose Luckin and her doctoral students have been mapping out. The work of George Siemens (Connectivism), Stephen Downes (e-learn 2.0) Caroline Haythornthwaite (New forms of doctorates), and others, all theorise these possible learning changes in profound terms, leading to MOOCs #ds106 and more distributed fireside models of learning.
Since Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, LOGO programming and the Year of IT (1984) when the BBC Micro was launched we have had a range of novel learning techniques and approaches, all of which in some way might be seen as growing out of the sixties Home Brew Computer Club and Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib. Diana Laurillard’s great book Rethinking University Teaching (1993) almost pre-dated the web but was already investigating new approaches to education that new media and new theories offered, around concepts of conversational scaffolding. The Web allowed many earlier niche theories on Computer-Mediated Communication and Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning approaches to develop and be adopted, and many new technologies further enable novel learning techniques and approaches. Most significant of all perhaps might be Bernie Dodge’s discovery that ‘browsing is learning’ and his creation of WebQuests as a result; which the School of Everything has extended in part. Perhaps the most obvious one is mobile learning which, as Mike Sharples puts it, disruptively brings informal learning into the formal environment of the classroom. Now, with the rise of smart phones, mobiles become a multi-function tool accessing a range of resources on the move which can now become context-responsive. Meanwhile a generation brought up on games will be expecting immersive learning experiences and whilst Second Life has proved limited, World of Warcraft has had a profound effect. Many games now provide toolkits for developers to embed learning and in the UK places like Dundee and John Moores Universities provide degrees in Digital content creation of various kinds. As smart phones get smarter and the cloud becomes the new platform for apps further novelty and new pedagogical challenges are promised.
What NeXT; Whilst the mainstream education system gets ever-more individualised, elitist, costly and socially divisive, thus mirroring the fragmented society it is design to promote, web-enabled learning gets more participative, discursive and open, driven by the elaboration of the digital paradigm Kondratieff predicts will last until 2021; more and deeper change is coming. The discourse between those promoting hierarchical social division and those enabling participative socialised learning will determine whether we will have either a double-dip society, or a revitalised one based on participative democracy, fuelled by ‘adaptive institutions working across collaborative networks’. The web can enable that by letting informal learning drive education. What we can say is that networks and digitisation have changed learning, what we havent yet seen is the full working out of the consequences of that change across the education system, let alone us.
Only such a thing as Society will let us know if our education system is any good. Check the news this week to see if we have a functioning participatory society based on respect and mutuality that is in balance with its environment, if not education must and can change. However ignorant and paralysed policy makers are, hypnotized by the banker of “high-stakes assessment” at which they succeed, and in which they have invested their status, the web has enabled many wonderful ordinary people to do marvelous things with learning. The affordances of the web on learning are such that it is only social factors that block the fulsome opportunities for an inclusive. Untangling the Web on education and learning means taking decisions about the society you want to live in. In the end that is about values; more things or richer discussions? Do you want more elitism for special people or more participation for everyone? Learning isn’t just for institutions.
Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate; As the title suggests ALT-C, Learning Technologists all, will be holding their annual conference 2011 this week and addressing the larger socio-economic context in which learning takes place. People like Gilly Salmon, with her 5-stage e-moderating model have developed responses to how CMC has changed learning, Sugata Mitra has developed the SOLE model, very much a post-web approach to learning, and @JosieFraser is working on city-wide approaches to learning. I think much will be discussed about the social consequences of the post-web changes in learning, although I dont hold out much hope for academics addressing social justice. What will be said anew about pedagogy? Will Sugata Mitra’s SOLE become acceptable or marginalised like Learning Styles? What will be new in the world of online education and enablers, maybe it will be re-imagined with the JISC Learning Design Studio? Or are we waiting for Anya Kamenetz to report for the Gates Foundation? What novel learning techniques and approaches will be revealed? Maybe Plan Ceibal from Uruguay will reveal something novel? Maybe the corridors at tweetwalls (#altc2011) will be more discursively revealing?
What have I missed? What else has happened? Am I right that the web has helped changed learning or are Alex Krotoski and Hamish MacLead right that nothing new has happened pedagogically because of the web? What else might cause changes in learning, education and society in the next 10 years? Are networks and digitisation key enablers of social change? Should traditional politicians welcome the Arab Spring, or worry that demand for changes in democracy might go viral? Comments welcome :-)