What about our target audience, the learners themselves? Well, some changes are incontrovertible. First of all, the percentage of graduates in the workforce has risen enormously, as a result of the increased numbers of students now enrolled in tertiary education (UNESCO figures show a growth from 68m worldwide in 1991 to 132m in 2004). This is significant because graduates are more likely, as a result of their experiences in higher education where they have to be much more self-reliant, to have developed study skills, to be more independent as learners. Independent learners require less structure and less hand-holding. In some cases, you can just allow them to get on with it.
We clearly also have a more diverse workforce, with women taking up increasingly senior positions, and immigration and globalisation resulting in a melting pot of races, religions and nationalities. Coping with such a breadth of cultural expectations places a greater strain on less flexible training methods which depend for their success on homogeneity.
Over the last few years we have witnessed the dramatic effects of second generation web technology (sometimes called Web 2.0). Increasingly everyone is a teacher as well as a learner; nobody knows everything and everyone knows something. As Glen Reynolds writes: “Until pretty recently, self-expression on any sizable scale was the limited province of the rich and powerful, or their clients. Only a few people could publish books, or write screenplays that might be filmed, or see their artwork or photographs widely circulated, or hear their music performed before a crowd. Now, pretty much anyone can do that. And now that more people can do that, more people are doing it, and it seems to make them happy.”
George Siemens endorses this view: “Mass media and education have been largely designed on a one-way flow model (structure imposed by hierarchy). Hierarchies, unlike networks and ecologies, do not permit rapid adaptation to trends outside of established structure. Structure is created by a select few and imposed on the many: The newspaper publishes, we consume. The teacher instructs, we learn. The news is broadcast, we listen. Now we are entering a two-way flow model, where original sources receive feedback from end-users, we need to adjust our models to fit the changed nature of what it means to know.” He goes on, “We are co-creators, not knowledge consumers. We are no longer willing to have others think for us.”
And computer games have had their effect too. According to William Winn, the new digital natives (those brought up with technology, as opposed to the ‘digital immigrants’, who’ve had to learn later in life) “think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.” As Mark Prensky points out, “Traditional training and schooling just doesn’t engage them. It’s not that they can’t pay attention, they just choose not to. What today’s learners really crave is interactivity – the rest basically bores them to death.”
Yep, learners are changing.
Knowing Knowledge by George Siemens, Lulu, 2006.
An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds, Nelson Current, 2006.
William D Winn quoted by Peter Moore in Inferential Focus Briefing, September 1997.
Digital game-based learning by Mark Prensky, McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Coming next in chapter 2: Have the opportunities and constraints changed?
Return to Chapter 1
Obtain your copy of The New Learning Architect