In our recent post, “The Future of Teaching” https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/the-future-of-teaching/ , we highlighted the “Constructivism” symposium in Thailand where prominent experts on learning gathered to discuss “child-centred theory that encourages learning via active experience, rather than passively by rote”. We also wrote about the shifting possibilities for learning through the introduction of computer technology, as predicted by Seymour Papert.
It’s now over thirty years since he wrote that “a new learning environment demands free contact between children and computers, and [ideally] every student to have his or her own powerful personal computer.”
In the news this week and prevalent for some time now, there have been discussions about MOOC: Massive Open Online Courses. With Papert’s hope that everyone could have a personal computer now a reality, enabling people to have the resources to create their own personal learning programmes, there’s been an acknowledgement from the world’s leading universities that learning has to change. These universities are now offering MOOCs for those who can’t afford to pay the full university fees, for those who have to be in employment but don’t want to give up academic learning, and for those who are simply interested in particular subjects for the sheer love of learning.
This has impacted on what universities are offering to the traditional, campus based student. Nowadays in the UK, you will find far more students being offered a wider choice of units within a degree course rather than the more traditional prescribed curriculum with little flexibility in the content of learning, other than the individual’s choice for their dissertations.
In other recent posts we’ve been asking what the purpose of education is in the 21st century. In relation to our “Future of Teaching” post and the continued rise of MOOCs, we also need to consider the purpose of schools in the 21st Century,
At the annual BETT (ICT exhibition) the hall was full of the most incredible, innovative and exciting technological developments that could enhance learning enormously. Many of these related to the development of personalised learning and the opportunities to broaden the experiences and capabilities of both the teacher and the learner. Many advances in the area of ICT and learning should be embraced, but it also occurred to us that many of the programs and equipment on offer were aimed at enhancing traditional learning rather than embracing the notion of self-directed learning.
There were wonderful programs that enable children to gather factual information. They were aesthetically engaging, relevant to the child and enabled learning to take place at the pace of the individual learner. They were also carefully aligned with National Curriculum learning outcomes and clearly focused on how to make the National Curriculum work through computer technology.
These programs were also something that, in the right conditions, a child could use outside the traditional setting of a classroom.
In another recent post, https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/reinventing-education-in-chile/ we described how the Chilean earthquake of 2010 forced the government and educationalists to rethink the whole purpose of schools and schooling when so many of the physical structures had been irreparably damaged or destroyed. In certain parts of the country there were no schools, so how could they maintain learning? They did this, for those who were lucky enough to attend state schools in the first place, by developing a strong network for learning, which enabled children and young people to continue with their learning in a home environment – with the support from an online teacher.
(Please note, we are aware of the concerns about private ownership of “state” education in Chile and the devastating effect of the market economy for the poor of the country who don’t have equal and fair access to education.)
At the time, what struck us was that if Chile, after a natural disaster, could create such as network, then why couldn’t we as a nation do something similar as a proactive and positive response to the changing shape of learning rather than a reactive need to facilitate learning in times of adversity?
Education in England, through the existing National Curriculum and its increasingly knowledge-based changes, presumes a continued emphasis on didactic and traditional forms of learning. Yet we’re now in a new world, with new pathways to explore and more and better means to travel those pathways. If, as Mr Gove would have us think, schools are essentially learning factories for factual information, then what would be the purpose of schools if, potentially, all that learning could take place outside the classroom in the comfort of learners’ own homes, at the pace of learner, with the guidance of an online learning facilitator?
This is a serious question. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the majority of factual learning within the coming decades could take place through the use of a personalised computer rather than sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher disseminating facts that might be more exciting to learn on your own through the visual and audio stimulation that the excellent learning programs seen at BETT could offer.
[Many readers will already be familiar with the concept of the “flipped classroom” – which is a subject that’s now entered mainstream thinking amongst educators – though not one that 3D Eye has paid massive attention to until now. This style of teaching – which focuses classroom time on discussing and evaluating factual information that has already been learnt outside the classroom – has attracted many adherents. However, as Shelley Wright has said through her work as a teacher and a writer, the flipped classroom is actually a variation of the original model of learning – the teacher (as an agent of the government) is still in total control of what is learnt. In her article for Voices of the Learning Revolution she makes it clear that students’ empowerment and enthusiasm for learning must be the ultimate goal:
Seymour Papert also said, “the role of the teacher is to create conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge”, and this statement was never more true than it is now – decades after it was written.
Schools need to consider what their role in society is – in the light of the enormous advances in information technology that can enable the majority of factual learning to take place outside the classroom. Of course, not everything can be learned from a computer, and there’s always going to be the need for facilitators of learning to guide and support children and young people as they learn both collectively and independently. However, we have to consider why we gather students together in one place to facilitate learning, and whether the acquisition of knowledge plus the passing of tests and exams really is the driving force, and the “be all and end all” of education.
Schools and other educational settings are enormously important for children, young people and their families. A good school, with a shared values framework that everyone within the school owns and understands, is an absolute asset to the individual, to the local community and to society as a whole. But we cannot pretend any longer that a school’s only purpose is to “prepare children for adulthood” – or for employment – through the acquisition of knowledge and a portfolio of examination successes.
Preparing for adulthood, understanding and appreciating, and getting the most out of childhood, is not solely limited to learning how to read, write and decipher information. Shared experiences, learning together, socialising, developing our personal and social intelligences, looking at the world together, learning about human nature, working how to manage destructive emotions, developing empathy through being in group situations, loving learning, considering justice, equity, fairness – all of these are vital components of learning, all of these are aspects of learning that are an integral part of schools and should be the future of schooling.
In the future, we would have a serious dystopia if all of the factual learning took place between a computer and the learner, yet we have to accept that much learning is going to take place in this way. So how do we make our schools relevant and integral to society in such a situation? How do we ensure that there’s a healthy balance between individual and collective learning? How do we broaden our minds to what education is and therefore what is the purpose of schools? In other words – to what extent do schools add value above and beyond the gaining of exam success?
Knowledge is important but so are many other aspects of learning that have been seriously undervalued over decades of imposed teaching and learning in this country. Perhaps one way to look at the future of schools is to fully appreciate the value and purpose of a school in establishing its role in the Personal and Social Development (PSD) of the child, and this goes far wider than making PSHE education a statutory subject for learning.
Our next post on this subject will look at how a school can develop all of the intelligences for children and young people and make schools and learning in the 21st Century fit for purpose.