Ever since The Social Life of Information came out in 2000, John Seely Brown has been one of my favorite thinkers and authors around how learning and schools are changed by social media. I loved Pull, and his Big Shift blog at Harvard Business Review is always one of my favorite reads. Most of his work to date has been centered on business shifts and informal learning in the work environment. But this week, he’s releasing a new book that’s aimed directly at learning in school titled “A New Culture of Learning,” the first three chapters of which have already been released in pdf format. It offers an interesting, shifted view of schools away from the mechanistic “learning as a series of steps to be mastered” current system to schools as a “learning environment” where “digital media provide access to a rich source of information and play, and the processes that occur within those environments are integral to the results.” It’s not teaching about the world as much as it is “learning within the world” which reminds me of Chris Lehmann’s oft asked question “What if school wasn’t just preparation for real life; what if school is real life?”
I love this snip especially:
Finally, in the teaching-based approach, students must prove that they have received the information transferred to them—that they quite literally “get it.” As we will see, however, in the new culture of learning the point is to embrace what we don’t know, come up with better questions about it, and continue asking those questions in order to learn more and more, both incrementally and exponentially. The goal is for each of us to take the world in and make it part of ourselves. In doing so, it turns out, we can re-create it.
Brown hammers home the idea that schools in their current configuration simply cannot serve students in a time of huge, hairy, fast change:
Many educators, for example, consider the principle underlying the adage, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime,” to represent the height of educational practice today. Yet it is hardly cutting edge. It assumes that there will always be an endless supply of fish to catch and that the techniques for catching them will last a lifetime. And therein lies the major pitfall of the twenty-first century’s teaching model—namely, the belief that most of what we know will remain relatively unchanged for a long enough period of time to be worth the effort of transferring it. Certainly there are some ideas, facts, and concepts for which this holds true. But our contention is that the pool of unchanging resources is shrinking, and that the pond is providing us with fewer and fewer things that we can even identify as fish anymore.
The whole “embracing change” idea has been one on my mind a lot of late as we put the finishing touches on a new book that is attempting to create a road map for existing schools to create, as Brown suggests, a different culture around learning. The fish = facts and knowledge metaphor will not work any longer, not now when we have immediate access to information and people that will allow us to learn whatever we want to learn at the moment. Now, the “fish” so to speak are more about the learning skills we need to navigate that interaction between anytime, anywhere content and teachers really well. That’s a very difficult new emphasis for most schools which are all about stability. How do we become places that “thrive on change” instead of avoid it?
This isn’t deconstructivist when it comes to school, either.
By reframing the discussion this way, we can see how the new culture of learning will augment—rather than replace— traditional educational venues. For example, people today often describe schools as “broken.” At first, it seems hard to argue with that. But what the proponents of that position mean is that schools have ceased to function efficiently; they are failing as machines. If we change the vocabulary and consider schools as learning environments, however, it makes no sense to talk about them being broken because environments don’t break.
It’s a lot to ask, but I think in many ways, that captures the size of the re-envision work we have in front of us. It’s more than about the language and the lens we bring, but that’s an important starting point in the work
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