Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Why not play with the tools and technology a little longer and leave the hard bit until next year?

During the digital decade, ubiquitous technology and learner expectations have encouraged many to re-think the what, the when and the how of learning. Considerable national efforts are being directed towards re-purposing existing materials with the aim of exploiting the capabilities of a rapidly developing Information, Communications and Media Technology. At the same time the actual technology and evolving social ‘tools’ have attracted a lot of attention from innovators and early adopters who have enthusiam and an appetite for learning.

Educational ‘content’ and ‘tools’, capable of supporting collaboration, communication and learning are increasingly being made available to ‘learners’; that is of course everyone, regardless of age, ability, or geographic location. [Acknowledging the disparity and disadvantage resulting from digital impoverishment] The aspiration being that ‘learners’ will use them in some way, to support their learning. The original focus on harnessing the available technology has now been extended to include the available educational content. Content that exists in formats ranging from ‘How to Do It’ podcasts to complete Open University Units.

Many pieces of the learning ‘jigsaw’ are beginning to fall into place, albeit with a little enthusiastic pushing and some fine adjustment. However, no matter how many Open Educational Resources are available, or how sophisticated the Open Tools are, or how ubiquitous the enabling technology is; a learner must be motivated to engage with the available, learning opportunities. That is the challenge or in the positive parlance, the opportunity for 2010.

A challenge that forces us to focus on ‘teaching’ and what it is that a learner is told/guided/encourage to learn. The ideal; the independent learner will decide what it is that they want to, or need to learn. They will then get on and use the available content to ‘do it’. But what of the developing learner who is operating as a pre-independent (pre Level 2) learner? They might learn by simply ‘wandering’; but is that what our generation would want for our children? I suspect that most would want then to learn from our mistakews; learn the things that we value etc – we need an education system. Perhaps not the existing 19thC system; but something that allows learners to know what our generation values and thinks that they should learn as well as giving them opportunities to explore and make decisions about their own learning. A debate that will engage many folks for many years, but every learner, before addressing the how and when of learning, has to have decided ‘what’ it is that they need to, should, or want to learn. Traditionally many of these decisions have been made by others and have been parcelled-up as a national or local curriculum with the teacher as the messenger and the school as the place that it is ‘done’. The competition from internet-based, anywhere, anytime learning opportunities is threatening the monopoly that schools, colleges or universities have had on curriculum provision.

The ‘new’ competing learning opportunities are either packaged or available as Open course materials, or derive or are sign-posted by an individual’s Personal Learning network. They are available 24/7, at no cost, to any learner, anywhere in the world, who has access to an internet enabled device. The range and quality of these opportunities is increasing rapidly and is attracting a lot of attention and development resource.

Somehow the learner will need to ‘plan’ or agree their own curriculum; a learning plan or personal curriculum that he/she has ‘ownership’ of. Then the access that they have to the repositories of Open Content (OER) and to an Open Tool set, has a reason for being. Without a curriculum or learning plan the content and tools have no purpose other than entertainment or incidental learning. An information generation needs some way that lets them find and organise the ‘content’ and learning opportunities from which they will benefit. They; we; need a ‘Google’ that helps use to find and organise the learning opportunities that will help us to learn and develop. So why are so few people working on this? Have I got hold of the wrong end of the stick? Or have I missed some major curriculum development work?

We could just play with the tools and technology a little longer? Or we could grasp the greasy, elusive nettle?