As knowledge expands

Christian Long’s post on the required use of handheld computing devices (PDA’s) for medical students is a good indicator of the changing nature of knowledge in all professions:

Sometimes schools get scared and annoyed, banning Google searches and iPods in the classrooms. Sometimes they go the opposite direction, believing that technology may actually make the world a better place one PDA at a time. Over at Brown University, Providence, RI, the second tact seems to be the case.

As an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island College of Nursing notes :

“If we had students buy a book, by the time the book hits the bookstore, it’s outdated,” Lauzon Clabo said. “And with using PDAs, they can update their software weekly.”

Learners need up to date information and access to knowledgeable people in their own, as well as other, fields. Textbooks no longer meet that need. Unfortunately for specialists and texbook writers, the digital medium is making many of them redundant. The texbook is no longer the primary source of knowledge; instead it’s the messy, disorganised worldwide web. A similar debate of whether experts and school boards should pre-authorise the content of wiki textbooks went on for a while at Education Bridges.

First it’s the professional schools, soon it will be public schools who reject the textbook and the small circle of experts who write and publish them. I look forward to this democratisation of educational resources. The more the merrier.

6 Responses to “As knowledge expands”

  1. Dave Lee

    Harold:

    While I agree with adoption of technologies which enable more student empowerment, I sometimes fear that we are forgetting one of the primary purposes of teachers, textbook writers, instructional designers, and others who over time have served as guides in the learning process.

    A good teacher has learned how to best present the particulars of a body of knowledge to accelerate the learning process for their students. For example, a Spanish teacher knows that to try to learn the language without a solid grasp of the difference between ser and estar is nearly a hopeless proposition.

    Course Developers in corporate settings are being pressured to develop programs, traditional to workflow embedded, that increase student retention and application to their work with less and less instructional contact.

    Pure democratization of educational resources, in which students are “enabled” to learn whatever they want, whenever they want, has the potential downside of slowing the learning process as students have to find their way to the “good” knowledge on their own. If I need to learn something fast, I’d rather have a good teacher (or book or authoritative website)than to be left to try to Google my way to the right answer. Of course, I’d probably use Google to find that teacher (or book, or authoritative website) so I clearly believe that more freedom of choice is good, but I wonder if there is a point of diminishing returns.

    Reply
  2. Harold

    Points well taken, Dave. I agree that there will continue to be a need for good designers or good teachers, but what I see with ubiquitous digital resources is that there will no longer be one authoritative voice in a field.

    There will be many divergent opinions, and every learner will have to independently make sense of these. With expanding knowledge, mastery of a field is getting to be very difficult. This means that the best teachers will help people learn for themselves, a skill that is not taught well in our schools or training departments.

    Preparing learners for unstructured, lifelong learning will be one of the key challenges for learning professionals. Unlearning the habits developed in industrial age classrooms (“is this on the test?”) will be another.

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  3. Jane

    A view from the UK ….

    Whilst the effectiveness of learning activity is measured by success rates (combined retention & achievement) and thus through the attainment of qualifications, the intrinsic value of preparation for the unstructured form of lifelong learning will be overlooked.

    Even when so called vocational qualifications embed employability skills, they are held securely within a time constrained and strictly measured programme; financial viability within limited funded contexts further restricting potential for extra curricular enrichment.

    Believe it or not, I’m not one of the cynics!

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  4. Christian

    Harold — inspired by your willingness to blog-push this conversation, and humbled that you linked back to my very rudimentary post.

    Love what you said here: “Preparing learners for unstructured, lifelong learning will be one of the key challenges for learning professionals. Unlearning the habits developed in industrial age classrooms (”is this on the test?”) will be another.” Can I hear an amen?!

    What Dave wrote: “Pure democratization of educational resources, in which students are “enabled” to learn whatever they want, whenever they want, has the potential downside of slowing the learning process as students have to find their way to the “good” knowledge on their own.” concerns me in one simple way. Knowledge happens. Period. And the second the world of schools (and all relevant stakeholders) realize that schools have lost their monopoly on ‘learning’ (they still own ‘schooling’, but that’s becoming less and less relevant every day), then the good vs. bad theory begins to lose steam.

    It’s not about protecting the teachers. I was a teacher. My wife still is. Teachers are a blessed breed. Got it. Agree. But the simple truth is that schools do not exist to validate teachers, although in the last 100 years one would be hard-pressed to argue that schools are NOT about teachers, but are actually about learning.

    So, perhaps the ‘validate the teacher’ argument can be put away…and we can all turn our collective energies to one truly relevant mission:

    Re-focus schools (and all learning environments, all learning communities, all learning nexus locales) around learning. Let all participants be both teacher and student simultaneously. Let real-world problems sets and mental models and trial-n-error adventures become the norm.

    And let’s get out of the industrial warehouse model and move on into the brave new ‘future of learning’. It’ll be okay. Not only will we manage to survive, but potentially even thrive!

    Finally, to Dave’s point, perhaps if we teach our kids not so much how to ‘learn from an expert’ but ‘learn how to learn’ and manage content/info and analyze systems and sources and create a gestalt pattern of expertise to target and embrace…then teachers can be freed up to guide rather than to have to be an expert.

    Once the monks were replaced by the printing press, and once all info became free (hello, Internet), the idea that a teacher is the end-of-the-road knowledge wise seems antiquated at best.

    Our kids deserve better. So do our teachers. Period.

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  5. Harold

    From Jane and Christian’s comments I see that there is a singular enemy of learning, and that is corporatism. Whether it be the corporations control vocational training or educational systems that are more about retaining control by their monopolistic bureaucracy; it all boils down to the system versus the individual. However, only people can learn (no matter what the AI folks say), and systems should be created to support their learning.

    In all of the this, from kindergarten to graduate school, the learners have the least control.

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