The relevance of the learning profession

The world is not flat, it’s kind of lumpy. By the time it’s truly flat, we’ll take it for granted. One flattener is the ability to create any digital artifact and post it for immediate worldwide access on the web. These posts can then be hyperlinked to any other post; it’s extremely democratic but also chaotic.

Most bloggers (including me) have been echoing the Cluetrain refrain that “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”. Many edubloggers have been saying that the educational system is no longer relevant to the needs of a knowledge society and none more succinctly than Chris Lehmann. As the world flattens, so will corporate and bureaucratic structures, but not without struggle and confusion.

The challenge for learning professionals will be to change their toolsets from prescriptive to supportive. For instance, in our informl learning unworkshops we’re trying to foster a community with the tools and connections needed to address that essential 80% of learning that is ignored by formal training and education. I really do not believe that formal approaches, like instructional systems design, will be able to help these learning needs.

Changes in business, public education and corporate training will happen in fits and spurts and those in bypassed jobs will not notice that they’re irrelevant until it’s too late. That’s the way with revolutions; you don’t know you’re in one until it’s almost over. The indicators though, are pretty clear.

Look at the advances that open source software has made in the past three years. Three years ago I strongly suggested to my LearnNB colleagues that this region should develop expertise in open source learning applications and become a major node of skills and knowledge on these tools that were available to anyone for free. Of course I was seen as an open source radical and ignored. Imagine if a few companies had started to develop expertise in Moodle, now adopted by major universities around the world, three years ago.

Today we are are seeing the beginning of the turning of the tide, in spite of the current market success of a few large vendors. There is now a general acceptance of open source software and even open source content (e.g. Wikipedia) as viable options. We are also seeing the subversion of institutional software systems via quick and dirty web applications (free IP telephony, free blogs, tagging as our own semantic web, and a multitude of social networks) that can be set up in minutes.

It’s not just open source that will change our institutions; it’s the realisation that individuals now own the means of knowledge production. In a knowledge economy, the individual is the knowledge creator and relationships are the currency. It’s getting easier to set up alternative systems if you know who to connect with and get things done.

Democracy is subversive and so is the Web. In a connected world, every learner brings his or her own network with them. Learners no longer integrate into the educational system, they connect their network to it – if they want to. How relevant is an educational system that does not allow learners to connect their personal, professional or vocational networks to the “system”?

As a learning professional, it’s time to take a stance. Enabling learning is no longer about disseminating good content. Enabling learning is about being a learner yourself, sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm and then taking a back seat. In a flattened learning system there are no more experts, only fellow learners on paths that may cross.

14 Responses to “The relevance of the learning profession”

  1. Joan Vinall-Cox

    I agree! Totally!
    “As a learning professional, it’s time to take a stance. Enabling learning is no longer about disseminating good content. Enabling learning is about being a learner yourself, sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm and then taking a back seat. In a flattened learning system there are no more experts, only fellow learners on paths that may cross.”

    Reply
  2. Todd Vanek

    I like your analogy of the world being lumpy. Do you think Freedman would agree?

    I was struck by something Freeman said on Charlie Rose (I believe). He was describing how he had been contributing to a negative outlook on the US. But then he noted that his outlook was changing based on two things. The first was the “potential” for innovations in energy production and use. The second was innovations in education. He noted that he was impressed by some of the innovations that people were creating and using to improve learning. That really caught me off guard because in his book (The World is Flat) he builds a negative picture of the US education system (at least from my perspective he does). I didn’t get to hear all of it as my son thought that Dad playing trains with him was more important than listening to some guy on the TV. I agreed…

    Anyway, the overall message of your post fits well with the tag line on my email. “You will teach like you learn, so learn to teach.” To me, the best teachers are the best learners.

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  3. Frances Bell

    Completely unrelated to this post, can I just ask if I saw you walking through Manchester Piccadilly railway station at 6 p.m. this evening? I was taken aback and rushing to meet friends so did not go and say hello. Anyway, if it wasn’t you, you have a double ;=)
    And I do agree with your last para above, except I would say that instead of expertise (a notion that sets teachers apart from students hiding behind the illusion of holding the keys to disciplinary knowledge), I would say that teachers should be confident to practice their skills AND be open to admission of their limitations. I never pretend to know all about the subject matter to students but I am confident that I can set them activities and guide them in learning in ways that stand a good chance of them learning more.

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  4. Harold

    Todd, I think that many of innovations in education are outside the officially sanctioned curriculum. Perhaps that’s what Friedman was talking about. Not sure.

    Frances, I must have a twin (I’ve been sitting here in Sackville, NB, Canada all day). I also believe that there will be a continuing role for guides in all fields. Just look at the rise in corporate coaching.

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