The users did it again: the future learning environment is here

In our research group we have been now working with the idea of “future learning environments” for more than 10 years. By the way the FLE visuals with green grass, blue sky and some clouds was designed by a colleague, a great visual designer Asta Raami, three years before this one company started to use very similiar kind of picture in a desktop of their new OS. Anyway, in 1997 we wrote about future learning environments:

“Future learning environments is the loose general term for a learning process which differs from traditional teacher and didactic-based teaching.”

It’s interesting how little – actually not at all – our research agenda has changed in ten years. In a presentation dated 1998 (long time before Slideshare) we listed the objectives of the first future learning environment project:

(1) to research and develop the use of new media in the field of learning,

(2) to generate new and innovative learning methods and practices using new media,

(3) to develop internet accessible applications supporting learning and thinking,

(4) to produce web-based multimedia learning material concerned with New Media

(5) to develop the publishing process of network-based multimedia learning materials.

So, here we are still with the progressive inquiry and knowledge building – learning methods and practices (2); with the Fle3 and Fle5, MobilED, Papanek, UNESC YDC, etc. – internet accessible applications supporting learning and thinking (3); and LeMill – web based multimedia learning material and publishing process for network-based multimedia learning materials (4 and 5).

You may ask: “so, tell me why nothing has changed?” Well, nothing has changed in our research agenda but obviously we have produced thousands of lines of code, some research papers, books and booklets and have done hundreds of demos, presentations and talks.

You may still ask: “but nothing has changed in schools and other educational institutions?” You are right. Very little has changed. In the same presentation dated 1998 we pointed out our educational reformative ideas how learning should be:

* Learning should be learner-centered – In the learning process learners are active and responsible for the results.

* Learning should be authentic knowledge building. Learners work together with real world tasks and problem-based real life examples by building new knowledge on the basis of their previous knowledge.

* Learning should be constructing and producing knowledge. Learners work together in building new knowledge in collaborative way by exploiting each other’s knowledge. ( Jonassen 1995, Bereiter 1998 ).

You may now think – maybe not saying it aloud anymore: “Great ideas, but nothing has changed”.

Trust me – things has changed. For instance in the Finnish educational circles the idea or progressive inquiry learning is very widely discussed and known. The most important publication about it, written by collagues Kai Hakkarainen et. all. is an exam entry reading in number of Faculties of Education in Finland.. Today, when studying to become a teacher you will get familiar with the pedagogical ideas listed above. This was not the case 10 years ago. The same trend is taking place in other parts of Europe, as well.

It is true, however, that using new technology in the progressive inquiry or knowledge building is much more exceptional, than the norm. It is a pity as the technology could really help in it. The whole development of new technology is also closely related to the epistemological paradigm switch needed in schools. This will still take time. Maybe another 10 years, but it will happpen.

The big change, however, is taking place among the “users”, the students living in the digital world. Like in many other areas – in educational technology as well – the real innovators are the users who are making the technology to work for them.

A good example of this is one group of University students whose use of internet and the web in one university course I have been quietly observing. They are using Jaiku to share their notes from the lectures and wiki to write their learning diaries and essays which are part of the required study work. These students truly build knowledge together, engaged in progressive inquiry and share their findings with each other – with their laptops and mobile phones. With out the technology they could not do study this way.

Now we ask: “So, why are you are designing some specific tools for education when people are doing same things with the existing tools?”

This is very good question and I am not sure if I have an answer on it. But, I’ll try. The people using Jaikus and Wikis from their laptops and mobile phones in their study work are a group of early adapters and innovators. They are like the first people who started to carve on a stone to record things. From this there is still a long way to the school blackboards widely used in teaching and learning. Someone must invent the “blackboard” of the future. No, I do not think that the company with the same name have already done it.

Finally, to avoid misunderstanding, to make it sure you didn’t get it all wrong:

We are not developing new kind of blackboard. We are still doing experimental design of future learning environment.

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