Learn by doing

John Dewey

John Dewey

This post is a continuation of my review of “ubiquitous learning” and the idea that Asimov’s dream of computer-facilitated learning for all has been achieved by the ways that the internet has transformed learning. In my last blog post I discussed a critique of ubiquitous learning by Caroline Haythornthwaite in which she expressed concerns about online learning environments where peers and other learners become information sources and teachers.

In Ubiquitous Learning: An Agenda for Educational Transformation by Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope they wrote: “we need to guard against any reduction of the richness of person-to-person or hands-on activity,” and they insist on the importance of keeping the needs of learners in control of the computing technology that learners use.

Kalantzis and Cope list seven features of learning that takes place within a learning environment that is created by computing technology:

  1. collapse of the spatial and temporal boundaries that characterize traditional education institutions
  2. blurring distinctions between teachers and learners
  3. recognition of the diversity of learners who each are empowered to follow a unique learning path
  4. increasingly diverse, cheap and accessible modes of information transmission such as digital video
  5. a requirement that learners understand and can navigate the digital information environment
  6. knowing where to go for needed facts is more important than keeping those facts in the learner’s mind
  7. a need to create and utilize collaborative learning communities that empower learners

That final emphasis on, “skills in building learning communities to ensure inclusivity and that all learners reach their potential,” seems like a keystone for the entire online learning phenomenon if it is truly a revolution in education. “The journey of ubiquitous learning is only just beginning. Along that journey we need to develop breakthrough practices and technologies that allow us to reconceive and rebuild the content, procedures and human relationships of teaching and learning.”

If we conceptualize the “we” of that last statement to mean everyone who is engaged in creating the learning communities of the internet then we can ask: what form do those communities currently take and can we imagine improvements to our online learning communities?

In Ubiquitous learning, ubiquitous computing, and lived experience by Bertram C. Bruce, he wrote about ubiquitous learning as what happens when we live our lives: “learning becomes part of doing”. Bruce argues that given the current ubiquity of computing technology, “Dewey’s dream of schooling that links the mind and the body, theory and action, or disciplines and ordinary experience seems more realizable than ever.”

A. S. Neill

A. S. Neill

“We feel that ubiquitous computing technologies help us solve problems, create/access knowledge, and build community. We feel that they do it in a way that links work, family and friends, learning, and life. “

I think the perspective provided by Bertram Bruce is useful. Rather than view online learning communities as “virtual communities” that are distinct and detached from the “real world” we can instead view online communities as technology-enabled extensions of our off-line lives. We learn by doing in all parts of our daily lives and internet technology simply allows us to continue our natural social learning in the virtual online world.

Every time we upload internet content (email, blog post, a video, a comment in a discussion forum, etc) we can function in the role of “teacher”, every time we seek out and explore online resources we can function in the role of learner. The online people who we link ourselves to through networked blogs, shared wiki editing projects and all other social internet tools become parts of our personal learning community. Our success as an online learner depends on our skills in using internet technology to search out and connect with like-minded people who share our interests and who can propel us along our individual learning paths.

Online learners will naturally gravitate towards online social interactions that facilitate learning. Are educators leading the way in the creation of new online learning tools or simply looking on in awe as the internet expands and learners adopt the tools that they find useful? Can we concisely describe and summarize the current best online learning tools or is the pace of change so rapid, the options and individual learning paths so diverse that codification is futile?

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One Response to “Learn by doing”

  1. Collaborative Learning Says:

    This blog post was linked to by a later post.

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