Saturday, June 18, 2011

Are You a Learner?

Eric Hoffer’s quote really resonates with me…

"In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

I connected for breakfast the other morning with twitter colleague and learner, Chris Wejr (@mrwejr).  Chris is a principal in an elementary school in a fairly remote school district.  He talked about the power of social media, in particular twitter and blogging, to iStock_000006664728XSmallfacilitate his learning.  It is amazing how titles and hierarchies of the bricks and mortar world seem to disappear in the digital realm.  We talked about how we connect and learn along side teachers, principals, superintendents, and renowned speakers.  Last week Chris and another twitter colleague David Wees (@davidwees) facilitated a tweet-up learning event with the BC Minister of Education George Abbott (@georgeabbottbc).  Chris shares his learning freely, shares others learning and ideas freely, and connects with colleagues around the world to ensure he is learning in real time.  Chris is an excellent example of a 21st Century learner!

It used to be that the only practical way to be truly educated was through attending K12 school for 13 years and then to get a higher education, another 2, 4, 8, or more years at a potentially very expensive college, university, or technical institute.  A college degree was the ticket to the best paying and most rewarding careers and jobs.  The digital revolution is upsetting this accepted norm.  This article ‘Is our students learning?’ in the Globe and Mail is a rather scathing report (their view) of the state of higher learning.  Assuming there is some truth to the article, what does / will this mean to be the learner of today and the future?  What should our learning institutions be providing to students, and how?

“If you make some very logical, and even conservative, assumptions about where technology is likely to lead in the coming years, much of the conventional wisdom about what the future will look like becomes unsupportable”, Lights in the Tunnel (kindle 222)

Our world is being reshaped before our eyes and technology is a major driving force.  There are those that would argue technology is just a tool but in my opinion that ignores the pervasiveness of technology’s role in all facets of modern life.  Our modern society would not be possible without the relentless development of technology.  Educational organizations were designed in a very iStock_000003160702XSmalldifferent era for a very different societal context.  We need to ensure that our learning institutions meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s citizens and society.  Institutions like MIT offer their course content online, for free.  A learner would have to pay the full tuition to receive an MIT credential. At some point will society move away from valuing “credentials” to valuing knowledge and skill without credentials?  How do you think this will play out?

I attended Maria Andersen’s (@busynessgirl) presentation of Levers of Change in Higher Education at the 2010 World Future Society conference.  If you haven’t viewed her presentation before, it’s a must see in my opinion.  It paints her thought-provoking picture of the forces of change pressing on higher education.  Information and knowledge to some degree, is becoming free and accessible without being required to pay tuition fees, buy books, and attend classes. 

Higher learning institutions need to design compelling and engaging learning experiences for students that are not available in other ways.  I would say K12 school systems are equally under pressure to reinvent…  as learning increasingly becomes a blend of a physical and 3D immersive virtual world experiences that blur together, a purely face to face experience will be insufficient.

I think the key message is that continuous learning is essential today.  The modes and methods must evolve to be relevant and iStock_000005304585XSmallengaging for learners.  Learning can not end with 13 years in K12 and some years of post secondary attendance.  We must all be “learners”, which has no determined end point in time.  I believe if you stop learning in this era of accelerating change, you increasingly risk irrelevance (re: Eric Hoffer’s quote).  My fear is that we too often pay mere lip service to “life long learning” and the changes necessary to reinvent education. 

If you aren’t a continuous learner, yet, you might want to make that a priority…