Spurred by the readings for this week, I continue to think about the shifts in learning that are taking place because of technology. What I experienced in school bears little resemblance to what lies ahead, and I continue to pause when confronting the current trends in learning.
One thing that is certainly different today is that books are no longer the principle content source in education. Faculty and students alike are now turning to online sources of information that can be used as teaching tools. YouTube offers thousands of videos teaching everything from knitting to statistics. Moreover, books have been turned into YouTube videos, as have sites from museums and institutions such as NASA and the Smithsonian. The result is thousands of available online educational resources have come to represent a primary source for learning and curriculum development. Additionally, the open source movement extends online content to include the creation of new content. In this course, for example, we are creating coursework out of editing Wikipedia pages. In the larger picture, what this means is that open-source sites are making up part of the curriculum by providing new avenues for students to generate information around their particular interests.
All of which leads me to wonder how formal education will be impacted in the future by the expected proliferation of a learner-centered curriculum. The idea behind using technology to enhance individualized learning is that we achieve more when we are passionate about what we are learning. And while it’s true that I tend to retain pretty much forever what I learn when in the throes of inspiration, unfortunately I do not live in an inspired state most of the time. What will education look like if (or when) students become the primary content-creators of their own learning? How can an integrated, connected, comprehensive body of course material be developed based on individualized passions?
Certainly there is an argument to be made for learning from others with whom we share a passion, but I am less clear about an actual curriculum that is focused around navigating through one’s interests in a digital, networked world. In his opening paragraph, Halavais says that the “essential element of the scholarly endeavor is engaging in texts and discussing them,” and he believes that if technology helps the engagement/discussion process then it absolutely should be used. No doubt, but is there a difference between discussing texts online, learning procedures and skills from YouTube, and tweeting out an idea? Does one fit the definition of curriculum better than another, or nowadays is a curriculum incomplete without all three?
Answers to these questions would seem to depend on how we define curriculum, which relates to the larger question of what it means to be well-educated these days. Are individuals considered educated if they know how to engage with texts by using technology to access and manage course material over the Internet? Or can one only be considered well-educated when s/he is able to contribute meaningfully to the collective wisdom of the global community? And in either case, is the focus of formal curricula primarily on the academic or technological side of education? Are students considered well-educated if they understand global communication skills and learn algebra from YouTube?
In essence, I am asking whether anything of my old education can be salvaged, or have we reached the end of our abstract, classical notions of what it means to be well-educated, which also brings us to the end of our 19th century notions about classical curricula. Maybe the direction of future learning is actually a demand to begin anew with updated ideas and subjects aligned with what students will need to technologically know and do in the upcoming decades. Creativity, collaboration and global connections did not really play much of a role in education during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Shakespeare may have been a little off – all the world is not a stage, it’s a classroom, and life is the real education.