(E-)learning strategy for the future

I have come-up(* with a simple strategy statement — three points — for the future of learning. It works in all levels of education, from kindergartens to workplace learning.

(1) Do not select one of the good ways of teaching and learning. Do all of them.

(2) Do it all online.

(3) Get rid of all the stupidity.

In the last six months or so I have been working with a group of smart people looking for a vision (and action) to redesign education in Finland. In the New Education Forum we have been studying, debating, designing and seeking for consensus to find a new path for education in Finland. We made a vision statement:

A country where everyone loves learning.

This is a bold vision, but possible to reach. A vision is a vision. The strategy points are there to tell how to do it. Let me explain.

(1) Do not select one of the good ways of teaching and learning. Do all of them.

We know, partly from research and partly from practice, that in the era of digital and Internet there are good ways of teaching and learning. Some ways of teaching and learning work, so lets focus on them.

For instance, we know that computer supported collaborative knowledge building and organizing learning according to the principles of the Self Organised Learning Environment are good practices. From both there are research evidence.

We also know that there are good learning games. And there will be more: games, digital toys, toys mixing digital and physical. We should use them.

Opening up the classroom to the rest of the world is good. Letting people to move around and play is good. Doing stuff with your hands — art, craft and science — is good. Working in a lab and in a studio is good. The possibility to show achievements is good.

We also know that a good online videos, such as a TED talks can be very inspiring. We know that using instruction videos is a clever way to solve problems in hand. Checking facts from the Wikipedia is smart, editing Wikipedia is even smarter. We also know that for some people studying independently or with an online peer-group in an online class is good. This, however, is not for all. Everyone, however, loves when they have an easy access to all the study related materials.

Furthermore, we also know that a good classroom discussion, a debate, a seminar, un-conference and even an inspiring lecture once is a while can be awesome. Still we should use the time with others wisely. Show that we care.

The point is we should do all this. All the good practices at the same time. But this is not enough.

(2) Do it all online

Digital first. Above I was presenting a list of good practice that makes sense today. To make most out of this, all these activities should be visible online — have a web presence.

For instance, if you have a knowledge building classroom using some knowledge building tool, such as FLE4, make your activities with your students visible for the rest of the world. There are reasons why GitHub is popular. This is not only, but from large part, because it is open for anyone to study other people’s code. Same is the reason behind the popularity of Wikipedia.

To take the most out of learning games, get to know the best learning games and let your children to play them. Play them with them. Be part of their joy. Share your experience, the ways of using games with others, online. At some point start doing your own games and share them with others.

If you do a study trip to a museum or organize a mobile game with activities outdoors, again make sure you tell your story online. Write a a blog post. If you do a project of art, craft or science. Tell others about your achievements, online, of course.

If you are a great lecturer, make sure your lectures are available online. To help your students to get most out of the online sources, show them how to work with Wikipedia. Help them to find great online learning sites to study. If you are guiding your students to do research and to present their results in a form of a video essays, make sure they are put online. Share everything.

When having discussion, debate, seminar or un-conference in a shared time and space (e.g. in a classroom), let your students to contribute their thoughts — not only in the classroom — but also online. Make sure that there is a chat/IRC channel, hash tag or a blog in your class. Do this to make it possible for anyone to continue the discussions between and after the classes. When you are with people — face to face — help your students to pay all their attention to the live situation. Help them to learn to care.

(3) Get rid of all the stupidity

So what is this then? Stupidity. What is stupid? To find time to do all the things that make sense you should get rid of many things that are limiting you to do meaningful things. Here are some suggestions.

As a teacher do not lock the doors of your lab or studio from the students. It can be annoying when students are just walking in to see what you are doing, but if you are interested in learning of your students your door should always be open.

Get rid of grades as they are commonly used today. Giving grades is only a way to select people — to put them in some artificial order of superiority. They motivate only a handful of people. but do not do much good for most of us. Evaluation and assessment is important and can be done in more constructive ways than simply giving grades.

Don’t let the norms, rules of laws to keep you inside. Find all the possible loopholes to get the resources to get your students out of the classroom. Break the rules keeping you and your students out of the real world: museums, forests, parks, city space.

Do not show the great online video lectures in your classroom. Spending time to watch a movie in a shared time and space is waste of time. Instead find the best online videos for your students. Coordinate group screenings or independent watching of them outside the classroom and use the classroom time to discuss about them. You may call it flipped classroom if you wish.

Get rid of all lectures as they are commonly known in a university today. It just doesn’t make any sense to talk 2 times 45 minutes. You may ask your students to get together in a lecture hall every week to have a “town hall meeting” to inform, to discuss and to manage with organizational issues, but, please, serious, do not give a lecture (especially if you are not awesome lecturer). Instead you may give a talk of 20 minutes but let your students then to study, to find out themselves, to discuss, to debate.

Implementing these points is not easy. The hardest part is to get rid of the old: the long tradition of teaching and learning from the times when information was a scarcity and finding a place for everyone in an industrial society was one of the main reason to have an educational system. Today we need people who are inspired to get better and to go forward in their life — intellectually, skill wise, emotionally and culturally. We need love of learning.

*) The first strategy point is built on Lauri Järvilehto’s idea. Lauri has been promoting the idea that we should not think what is the best new way of teaching and learning but rather take them all in use.

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