Monday, 4 May 2009

New Way of Learning

This month's Big Question - Social Grid Value and a comment by Ken Allan on my Learning Goals post really got me to thinking. Ken said:
I don't really think there's any new way of learning, but we may need to experiment with its delivery.
At first I nodded my head, but then I started to wonder...

Is there really no new way of learning?

This is similar to the question raised in Brain 2.0 and I'm not really sure where we landed in that discussion. At the time, I said:
I'm not claiming that the brain itself has changed, but instead what's changing is:
  • metacognition
  • metamemory
  • access to information
  • access to other people
  • access to smart systems
And I still feel we are vastly underestimating what is happening around all of this.
In fact, I still believe that this is THE challenge of the next 50 years plus. How do we accommodate the dramatic changes in the ways that humans interact with computers, information and each other? In 30 years we will be able to have implants that give us full, instant access to the web (no typing) including the social grid. Today, our access to all that information and other people is just a bit slower (we have to type). Sorry, I digress ...

So, back to the original question - new way of learning?

Part of the answer of whether there are new ways of learning is how we interpret the "way of learning." What is learning? Some definitions:
  • the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge
  • refers to the acquisition, and transfer to long-term memory, of experience, Information, and Knowledge, which may subsequently be used for solving problems, making decisions, and creating new knowledge
If we are talking about brain function, I don't know enough to know whether there really is something different going on in how the brain works. So, if we interpret learning to be purely at that level, then an argument can be made that there's not anything different here because the brain still "learns" in the same way. Therefore the "way of learning" are the same. It's still some kind of physical activity within the brain. Once we are able to bypass visual / reading as our input mechanism from computers and have direct input into the brain that may be interpreted separate from those normal brain signals, then we can be assured that learning is different at this level. But I'm not sure that should be the hurdle we need to achieve in order to start to claim "new way of learning."

If I look at the result of learning which according to the above definitions:
  • skill or knowledge
  • subsequently be used for solving problems, making decisions, and creating new knowledge
I believe that so much is changed around this that it really has a profound impact on learning. We are already beginning down the 30 year path I'm describing above. Essentially we've begun to use computers as an extended brain. The social grid represents a Borg-like extended brain that gives us incredible access to expertise and problem solving. All of this changes:
  • what we learn
  • how we choose what needs to be committed to long term memory vs. electronic memory
  • what we need from a future look up standpoint
  • how we solve problems and make decisions
So while the physical level of learning may not be changing, the context has and is changing. It's changing enough that while it's technically accurate to claim there is no "new way of learning" - it feels misleading.

I believe the way I learn today is very different than the way I learned 10 years ago. And dramatically differently than I the way I learned 25 years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment