The Open Learning Revolution


One of the  Ted talks that’s been most downloaded is Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Bring On The Learning Revolution’. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past two years, here it is:

A subsequent TedX event in London, which I attended last year, was intended to find practical solutions to the problems Ken describes. I was, however, frustrated by the tendency of people to look to apps and iPads to change hearts, minds and teaching practices. Nevertheless, I know how transformative digital technologies have been, so I knew there was something that people were grasping for, in their desire to see education change. Since then, I’ve been researching and writing a book on this issue, I think I now understand why we get so excited in the kit, and and so often see it as The Solution.

By the way, I’m talking now about learning, not just in school or college, but at work too.

The reality is that the learning revolution is already taking place.It’s just limited to the social spaces we inhabit, not, unless we’re very lucky, the places in which we study and work. And I believe part of the reason that we get so excited in those social spaces isn’t down to the platforms, or software we use – it’s the behaviours we adopt. If it was the technology alone, then some of the best equipped schools in the world wouldn’t be some of the least innovative. We get excited, and learn more effectively and efficiently in these spaces than anywhere else, because, to put it bluntly, we realise we’re better than we’ve been led to believe.

Ken’s talk quotes Abraham Lincoln urging us to ‘think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves’. This is what social media and all of social learning enables us to do – to disenthrall ourselves of behaviours and values, which, we were told, were just ‘common sense’.

We were told that competition enables us to innovate – it turned out that collaborating does the job better (look at Finnish schools); were we warned to protect ideas at all costs – actually, change happens faster when we give those ideas away for others to adapt and improve upon Linux, Wikipedia, Human Genome Project); we were told that knowledge would make us rich – when really, we prefer it to be free; we were told not to trust strangers – but we do it all the time, to great effect, because good reputations (as buyers, sellers, experts and mentors) matter; we were told that there are experts called teachers and beginners called students – but forums, twitter and the like prove we’re all both, and that we not only deepen our learning when we teach others, but that we have a responsibility to share what we’ve learned with others. This is the real revolution. And the real challenge we face is in bringing those behaviours into schools and workplaces, because it’s there that we come slap up against dogma and ‘common sense’.

When we’re learning socially, no-one is telling us how to think – it’s ‘free’ time in all senses of the word. But, if we’re to learn as effectively as this in school and work, we need to change those cultures and structures which promulgate the old, irrelevant behaviours. Giving every student an iPad isn’t enough, if the behaviours governing its use don’t change.

Ken also talks of the need to change metaphors for learning from industrial to agricultural – growing the environment in which learning can happen.  This is why I personally find the metaphor of the Global Learning Commons so powerful, because it re-presents learning as a shared, open, free resource, in which everyone – students, teachers, parents, experts – uses the commons responsibly.  One of the hardest behaviours to change is the systemic view of learning as a ‘rivalrous’ property – something which some schools/countries possess in abundance and other are at the bottom of the league table. A candle is a ‘non-rivalrous’ property, like learning. There’s no loss of illumination when I use my candle to light another, and I still have my idea if I share it with you. Understanding this is what’s made social learning so powerful, and, literally changes the world every day.

I’m committed to sharing my own learning with others, through a concurrent blog  (launching in March) where I’ll offer drafts of the book for comments and crits, and the up-coming Open Learning Revolution event. If you’re in Sydney on March 21st, please come along. We’ll be exploring ideas and solutions, values and behaviours to make the Learning Revolution truly open.To paraphrase William Gibson, ‘the Learning Revolution’s already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’!

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