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The Future of Learning

(To those of you who have already read the German version, “Zukunft des Lernens”: Diagnose und Therapie: most of this blogpost is the same – but there are new elements as well, in particular Steve Wheeler’s fabulous slideshow presentation at the bottom.)

For speakers of German, a very interesting OpenCourse started six weeks ago. It is called “The Future of Learning” (see the German agenda here: OpenCourse “Zukunft des Lernens”). It has been set up and organised by lecturers and professors at the University of Frankfurt a. M. (Veranstalter: Dr. Jochen Robes et al.); week 6 was to be on the topic “Where are we standing today: User and Learner Scenarios”.

As for all of the eleven weeks, there was one live event, streamed and recorded, in this case there was Prof. Dr. Rolf Schulmeister (Universität Hamburg) in front of his webcam. Schulmeister was also the prominent author on the reading list for that week (four out of nine titles), e.g. with his essay “Is There a Net Gener in the House? Dispelling a Mystification. (eLeed – eLearning and education, Nr. 5, Juli 2009) (see note at the bottom of this post).
The recording of his lecture (with a question and answer round at the end) is available online, only in German though (Schulmeister lecture recording).

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the live session, and when I watched the recording, I noticed to my disappointment that the only point Schulmeister seems to have been trying to make was that there is no “net generation” – he seems to have made “dispelling this mystification” his mission, ever since he started researching that particular topic several years ago (as regards the wide field of e-learning, he is one of the most experienced scholars in Germany, with a list of publications spanning almost two decades).

What I can’t understand is that somebody as learned as Prof. Schulmeister is spending so much energy on proving that today’s youth are not the “Digital Natives” that were once expected in some very enthusiastic publications at the beginning of the web2.0 development. Today’s young people – at least the ones I teach at secondary school in Southern Germany – are not proficient in the use of every platform on the web, nor are they experienced enough in judging how trustworthy the websites are that they find via Google.

Around ninety per cent of my pupils between 13 and 18 years of age are on Facebook, they love YouTube, and they use Wikipedia. That’s why I call them my FaYoWi generation – if I really need a label (actually I don’t). Only one of the 60 pupils between 15 and 18 that I teach this year used to use Twitter (there are a couple more now since I showed them what it’s good for), none of them had heard of Prezi or Glogster or Wallwisher … all of which is not just their fault, of course, but also mine, and my colleagues’.

What I think is necessary if school education is to include the internet more sensibly (which is an unavoidable development in my view), are three things:

  1. a curriculum which not only provides a basis for web competencies (judging reliability of content, using sites that enable them to work productively and collaboratively, awareness of privacy issues), but also offers principles of teaching that integrate the sensible use of the web for research and display of results, making collaboration and sharing a matter of course;
  2. technical equipment that enables teachers and pupils to work in such a way;
  3. more interest and much better web competencies on the side of the majority of teachers.

This is going to take time. My guess: two more decades. – It is true, even ten years ago nobody could have predicted how the Internet would develop, and how powerful Smartphones might become. But I think that the inertia of existing education systems and of those that have found their cosy places within those systems will make change very difficult.
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Note: What I like about this article is Schulmeister’s admission that there is something more important than the question whether or not there is a “net generation” – it is his concern about the “Digital Divide”, the development of the web becoming the world of the affluent (cf. section 8). Precisely this ought to spur him on, trying to get the education systems to do their best to level the playing field in this respect, with computer equipment at affordable prices (subsidized), with equipment that can be borrowed at school labs, and – most importantly – by giving every pupil the same chance to become a proficient user and active participant in the web2.0.
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Many thanks to Steve Wheeler for sharing the extraordinary presentation embedded below; he put it in a blog post on “New technology and the future of learning”, at his blog “Learning with ‘e’s”.

2 comments to The Future of Learning

  • I don’t understand why you criticize Mr. Schulmeister so much. Maybe you heard his thesis too often but for me it’s rather new and I can acknowledge the work. Mr. Wheelers presentation is nice and visionary. But he gives you absolutely no evidence that the situation is really as he says it is. He works with emotions and cites these repeatedly cited numbers of klicks on YouTube. But that doesn’t tell you anything about the way this channel is being used. He cites other visionaries and illustrates their citations with some random pictures. But all this is no evidence in a scientific way. It’s only a vision. An attractive one without a doubt. But the basis is totally vague and the problems on the way to a realisation of the vision are totally left out. And that’s really something I can’t stand. Schulmeister instead is sceptical and wants some evidence for those things. That’s totally okay in my opinion – especially as you need not share his conclusions. What is more, I did not have the impression that he’s so negative and denies the task to work with the new options of web 2.0. It’s more some kind of resignation as there are far more problems than those visions admit. They concentrate on the technology and think that students are automatically motivated – but that’s simply not the case as his evidence shows. So you need to do far more than these visions do. Schulmeister does not have a simple formula or some kind of recipe how to solve the problem (J. Robes’ vicious circle). But anyway he keeps trying.

  • rip

    Basti Hirsch (@cervus on Twitter) drew my attention to a good article in the current “Atlantic”. Amanda Ripley writes about Andreas “Pisa” Schleicher, and she says about him:

    “He likes to end his presentation with a slide that reads, in a continuously scrolling ticker, ‘Without data, you are just another person with an opinion … Without data, you are just another person with an opinion …’” (Amanda Ripley, “The World’s Schoolmaster”, /The Atlantic/ July/August 2011).

    With this in mind, I’ll have to agree, of course, that Prof. Schulmeister’s work is valuable indeed. Maybe the reason why he is getting on my nerves is that his results are just what I keep seeing at school every day: I know that today’s young people (in general) are no internet and computer experts. I’ve been struggling with this fact, again and again. And there he comes, tells me (more or less): I can prove what you only feel. Full stop.

    This is … frustrating.

    On the other hand, I don’t understand why you, Harald Jakobs, criticize Steve Wheeler’s presentation in such a harsh way. – Maybe, after all, it is also a matter of taste how you deal with the reality you see. It even influences how you see this reality. I prefer an optimistic approach: Our students don’t know (yet) how to do it. So let’s teach them and instruct them, until they are experts enough to decide on their own whether they want to use the internet and its platforms and tools in what is a meaningful way to them.