What a learner studies, and when and where they access the learning material, is a prime area for innovation. Learning no longer needs to be limited to a class schedule in which the day is divided up into arbitrary periods separated by the ringing of a bell. The “Networked Learning Project”, which I completed as part of my coursework at MSU, forced students to learn any topic using only the assistance of YouTube videos and online forums. Khan Academy is currently the largest producer of online learning content, but pick your subject and there are a multitude of YouTube channels devoted to the topic. MOOCs (massive open online course) are everywhere and promise to offer self-directed learning to anyone.
However, what is missing from current innovations is a true sense of community. Each member of a true community needs to be both fully known by the community and able to contribute in a meaningful way to that community. This explains why in their current form MOOCs are a fundamentally flawed delivery mechanism. Due to their massive nature they create a space where no one is known as a whole person and due to their open nature there is nothing to bind an individual to the group. PLN’s (personal learning networks) are similarly not the right solution to lifelong learning; following one hundred brilliant minds on Twitter cannot replicate the strength and insights of being mentored by one. John Taylor Gatto best summarizes the dangers of replacing communities with networks in “We Need Less School, Not More”:
“People interact on thousands of invisible pathways in a community and the emotional payoff is correspondingly rich and complex. But networks can only manage a cartoon simulation of community and a very limited payoff.”
It is fascinating to see education developing and innovating. While some of our current solutions to fundamental challenges are still cartoonish, someone, somewhere, has already found a better iteration. “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson