Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learning Is A Team Sport...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how learning is changing (has changed?), influenced by paradigm shifts away from books and content towards the Internet, connections, and learning communities.

I chaired a round table discussion on "Learning Is a Team Sport" at our college's Festival of Learning. This post covers the highlights of that discussion and some of the thoughts we all came up with.

Here are my opening premises for the discussion:
  • There is so much information out there and so many information sources, that it is becoming (or maybe already is) impossible to learn on your own, that as educators we need to be aware of this fundamental change and be prepared to teach and learn differently.
  • This means more collaboration and cooperation between learners and between educators, an awareness of learning styles and a need to develop authentic curriculum and assessment
  • Technology of all types will be increasingly important
With these points in mind we began our discussion. One of the first points raised is how different our learning environments were to the learning environments of our learners. When I went to school, individual learning was paramount - the term paper and tests were king. The main sources of my learning information were:
  • Books
  • Encyclopedia
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
Today's learners have a different set of information sources:
  • Internet - Podcasts, RSS, Web sites, vidcasts...
  • YouTube
  • iTunes
  • 24/7 500 Channel TV
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
  • And more not yet even thought of...
The sheer volume of information is overwhelming - how do you make sense of it all? What is true and what is false? How do you apply context to all this "stuff"? (In this instance, "stuff" is a technical term...)

So what does all this information mean? It means that new approaches to learning are required:
  • New approaches to information gathering
  • Information evaluation, validation and interpretation - new literacy skills
  • Collaboration and cooperation in information gathering and analysis
  • “Skimming” or “Diving” the information sea - breadth or depth of knowledge
The rest of our discussions centred around the so whats - here are some of the highlights:
  • Need to understand learners and how the not only learn but how they find information and what they do with it -“while N-Gens interact with the world through multimedia, online social networking, and routine multitasking, their professors tend to approach learning linearly, one task at a time, and as an individual activity that is centered largely around printed text…” - Innovate - Will Richardson
  • When does collaboration become cheating?
    “Students see collaboration where their teachers see cheating. They're not even talking the same language. They don't have the same understanding of the world.” - NSCC Colleague
There was an awful lot of discussion around the second point as it is a current "hot button" topic. We encourage collaboration and cooperation and then we accuse learners of cheating. I personally think we need to re-invent exactly what we mean by cheating (plagiarism, copying, non-citing of sources, cutting and pasting from the Web...) so that we are on the same page as our learners (see the first bullet).

So what do we have to do as educators to engage in this new playing field?
  • Be Tech savvy
  • Understand our learners
  • Use project and problem-based approaches to learning (connecting learners to their world)
  • Stay in touch with industry
  • Allow learners to learn how THEY learn, not how WE learn
  • Emphasize collaboration and cooperation - know the new paradigm
These were the main points presented for discussion - there was a level of concern expressed about how to best do this - it's a work in progress for many educators who not only learned in the individual learning days, but have delivered that style of learning for many years. Most see the need to engage in team learning, the problem is we need to know the rules in order to play the game.

It was an interesting, informative, and somewhat passionate discussion that gave all of us lots to think about. The key from my perspective is that learning is now a team sport and we have to get on the field and into the game. If we don't we will be doing our learners a great disservice. Hmmm...

(If you want to see my presentation it's up on SlideShare)

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