Monday, April 6, 2009

5.*: IPTS Review of Learning 2.0 practices

A series of reports from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) examines learning 2.0 and its impact on education and training in Europe. This looks to be a thorough - and timely - study that summarises the learning 2.0 paradigm as follows:

  1. Due to information overflow, there is a need to learn how to sift, select, organise and manage information according to its relevance.
  2. Learning in the digital era is fundamentally collaborative in nature; social networks arise around common (learning) interests and aims and facilitate the learning process by providing social and cognitive guidance and support.
  3. The learner plays a central role in the learning process – not as a passive recipient of information, but as an active author, co-creator, evaluator and critical commentator.
  4. As a consequence, learning processes become increasingly personalised, tailored to the individual’s needs and interests.
This is not a critique of the value of the report, which I will get to... I just remain somewhat skeptical about this paradigm as a viable one for higher formal education. Information management is not the equivalent of conceptual learning; collaboration is not, in my view, as powerful as reflection as a means of learning; only a very poor traditional tertiary education experience can be described as encouraging 'passive' learning; and personalisation "tailored to the individual's needs and interests" is nice rhetoric, but lousy education. So: Should the tail of learning 2.0 wag the dog of formal education?

Perhaps a crude analogy. 'Car enthusiasts' like to drive fast, burn off rubber, and race on public streets. High performance cars enable them to do this. The appearance of the car is central to the experience. Rather than get from A to B, car enthusiasts enjoy the socialisation and thrills of a driving experience that suits their needs.


Laurillard's difference between everyday and academic knowledge is a handy shorthand for my concern. I also have a few difficulties with the validity of the paradigm suggested for learning 2.0:
  • Who decides what information is 'relevant'? Google? Issues here are addressed well by Jeanneney. Could it be that an expert's perspective on what is 'relevant' might be more enlightening than that of the crowd, for the purposes of education?
  • Social networks and collaboration: Are these subject to homophily (as suggested by Shirky as being characteristic of Web 2.0?) Does this not make the potential horizon for collaboration smaller? Do social networks limit, rather than stimulate, the development of broader perspectives?
  • Learner centredness: Are students in tertiary (higher) education really 'passive recipients'? Is this how they emerge from the system, as dependent passivists? Is reading or listening passive receipt?
  • Is personalisation of learning a valid goal for education to aspire to? Do my 'needs and interests' limit me to what I already want? How, then, can I be exposed to the new?
So, again my question. Should 'learning 2.0' determine how formal education is offered? Is "learner-centred collaborative information management suited to my needs" the utopia of formal education? My own desire is for "subject-centred perspective shifting conceptual development that transforms my understanding of reality"... and this more often than not involves developing a respect for the subject, individualistic reflection, considering the work and feedback of experts (rather than peers), and being taken places I did not even know existed.

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