Interesting threads running through a lot of blogs right now that I wish I had more time to dive into. Basically, they revolve around what learning is (as opposed to education) and what the future might bring in terms of “Personal Learning Environments” (PLE). And the underlying question here is what role do schools and teachers play in all of this.

Stephen sees a world where, because we now can, we manage our own learning and build our own communities:

It’s just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers – if there are any – are your peers. It is, I believe, the future – and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark.

And James thinks that future may be here already in WordPress. It’s a world of personal aggregation of learning feeds created by the user or shared by a teacher. It’s the connection of people and ideas where

“the learner actually learns through the creation and development of posts, the linking, synthesising and pinging of other posts and by commenting on yet more posts on other blogs.”

Sounds like the typical classroom, eh?

And then there’s a whole thread about whether or not we should be teaching and subsequently testing for tech literacies in our curriculum. That seems to have really stirred the pot as well in terms of how we assess learning instead of knowing and all sorts of other good stuff. (I need more hours…)

And George (and others) write that we’ve got to keep focused on the learning and not the technology:

…I don’t think learning has changed. The act of learning (how our brain stores, recognizes, and retrieves knowledge) is fairly stable. Our external environment is not. As a result, over the last 30 years, many situations have developed in society that challenge established approaches to learning. Static is replaced with dynamic. Content is replaced (or at least augmented) with connections to ensure that people stay current. My whole intent with connectivism is to present the need to design a new approach and view of learning – one that is not hamstrung by classrooms, but is a thread that runs through the entire fabric of life. Learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart.

It’s all good stuff, and I want to once again point out that these discussions and ideas are the very foundation of what these changes are all about. My brain is exploding, as are many others. At times it’s all overwhelming. And there can be no doubt that these discussions are becoming much more urgent, much more demanding. The questions are getting tougher…I’ve felt it just in the last few months.

I feel it when I look at my own children, which is the frame of reference I bring to these discussions. I look at the reams and reams of worksheets they bring home and literally shake. At 6 and 8, they have already become pieces on the assembly line, chugging along apace with their peers, everything checked, everything ordered. Tucker can’t read story #22 before #19 even though story #22 looks more interesting. Tess breezes through the homework that doesn’t challenge her and gets told she needs to be neater. (Oy.)
And I’m feeling like unless my wife and I reinvent our lives, this picture won’t change much. My kids may one day find “learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart,” but they’ll find it on their own as, luckily, their father has.

It comes down to this, for me at least. Things are different. This is a changed space. Our learning environments need to change to take advantage of the people and information and ideas that we can now connect to. We cannot continue to be enablers to our students’ dependence on a school selected, force fed curriculum that was in some ways necessary 50 years ago but is quickly becoming irrelevant today. Our students need to learn how to learn, because there is so much more to learn from, and they need to be given the license to start making some of those decisions on their own. We’ve already started to do that. What it will take for it to happen on a truly meaningful scale is as yet unclear (which is why, of course, we keep reading…)