A new year and a new enterprise… The Learning Renaissance Blog!
My name is David Hughes and I am an educator and writer from the United Kingdom. I always said I wouldn’t write a blog as I’m already involved in a number of social media and a blog seemed a commitment too far!
However, it struck me that one consequence of the burgeoning social network enabled by the internet is that it is difficult to develop some coherent understanding of the big picture because of all the white noise of competing opinions. This is particularly true in the sphere of education, or, to be more precise, in the realm of learning.
I make a distinction between education, the formal process of learning which is structured and delivered within the school, and learning, the internal process of making sense of the world and building the foundations to operate as an autonomous independent learner.
I’ve called the blog The Learning Renaissance because I am optimistic enough to believe that there are opportunities to move forward rapidly in learning so that every world citizen will be able to contribute to their own development, and that of their communities. I believe that the pace with which learning will move forward will be as fast and as fundamental as the step change presaged by the invention of the printing press in igniting the medieval Renaissance in promoting the dissemination of ideas and knowledge.
I justify the term Renaissance because the scope of change is precisely that fundamental. One pillar of the new Renaissance is, like the original one, technological, the development of the internet, and more precisely of Web 2.0 and 3.0. As originally conceived, the internet, and related world wide web, was an international library of resources and information presided over by technocrats and moderators. Within a generation of its widespread introduction, which is often assumed to be around 1995, a new iteration of the internet was in place which did not require a specialised language (Hyper Text Mark Up Language -HTML) but allowed correspondents to communicate freely in their native language through social media outlets such as Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. In terms of pace here the generation from Web 1.0, that controlled by professional computer experts, and Web 2.0, which enfranchised anyone with access to the internet to publish and be read internationally was less than ten years!
We are currently in the realm of Web 3.0, the intuitive web which uses your pattern of online behaviours to customise the web to your perceived preferences. This is the iteration of the web which profiles you and delivers those advertisements to your screen that it believes reflect your interests. This is the era of big information which has its potential for frightening social control… for Big Brother is not only watching you, he is able to predict your current and future actions.
It would be naïve in the extreme to place one’s faith in the benign march of technology for the internet is clearly a double-edged sword, giving a new voice to millions, whilst delivering new avenues of social control to political leaders of all persuasions. The control of personal information to political and economic ends is as much a cause for concern in democracies as in tyrannies.
Most erosions of political and economic freedoms start off from wanting to protect individuals, and end up enslaving them. In an age in which an unspecified, indeterminate and unremitting ‘war on terror’ is being fought democracies are justifying unlimited access to personal information on the basis of securing our safety. All tyrannies begin in this way, the appeal to personal, community and national security from shadowy dark forces, as the previous century has amply demonstrated.
That is why a second strand of optimism for the future has been found not in technology per se, but from our growing understanding of the way the brain works as a learning organ. These insights are being gleaned from Neuroscience and Metacognition research in which technology is enabling ‘real time’ study of the brain as a learning organ. It is notoriously difficult to have a neuroscientist commit to any practical outcomes to their research, they deal in nuanced observations and balances of probability, however the thrust of their work shows that the great leap forward in learning will concentrate on the learning process, rather than information content.
Despite this, the great and continuous reforms demanded by government of education, tend to be of content rather than of fundamental structure. All governments want to top the OECD educational effectiveness tables, whilst maintaining their distinctive cultural heritage intact. As formal education is the medium for transmitting the DNA of the nation from one generation to the next, it is formidably resistant to change.
Ironically, across the globe, the greatest voice for changing learning paradigms probably comes from industry and commerce, which sees untapped potential going to waste in the innate conservatism of educational institutions. This is supremely ironic in that the structure and shape of formal educational institutions was not constructing on a learning narrative, but was based on the crystallising models of industrial production which was coming to resemble the production line structure.
Indeed schools most resemble production plants in their structure and paradigms, students enter one end as raw materials and emerge the other as finished products, or in too many cases, as rejects from the quality control process. Leaders of industry worldwide complain that students leave formal education not ‘job ready’ and without the requisite skills, attitudes and behaviours to succeed in the modern ever changing economy.
It is significant that such leaders of industry stress functional skills such as teamwork, the ability to problem solve, flexibility, presentation skills and facility with word, text and numbers as key attributes of the modern worker and leader, whilst schools are still mired in a content-based curriculum which stresses subject knowledge over personal competences and organises the curriculum and learning around this priority. Industry wants learning to be related to ‘real life’ problem solving, whereas our schools are staffed by teachers who have only known school, college and school.
The Learning Renaissance blog aims to explore these dimensions and to chart a clearer pathway to learning success for more learners. The blog will act as a digest for interesting research and practice. I claim no special insights here and welcome the critical and creative contributions of others to help triangulate the points on the map of future effective learning.