Learning in and for the Knowledge Society
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It has been said that the Knowledge Society has made change a permanent condition. The concept of lifelong learning reminds us that personal development is a continuous objective, necessity and challenge, driving changes in the way we learn, teach and obtain information. elearningeuropa has interviewed several experts to know their thoughts and opinions about learning in this Knowledge Society.
The interviewees are:
- Marita Aho, Senior adviser at the Confederation of Finnish Industries
- Matti Sinko, Development expert at the Lifelong Learning Institute Dipoli, Helsinki University of Technology
- Jouni Kangasniemi, Senior Adviser at the Finnish Ministry of Education
- Wim Van Petegem, Associate professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
- Jari Koivisto, Counsellor of Education at the Finnish National Board of Education
The experts were first challenged to explain their views about tomorrow’s learning.
Marita Aho believes that the main characteristic of tomorrow’s learning is "blending", combining for example eLearning and face-to-face classes, taking a formal course and working at the same time, learning with people with different backgrounds and nationalities, studying part-time and using learning services of both private and public providers.
Matti Sinko predicts that the role of learning will grow more pivotal to social change and economic development and learning will become more contradictory and polarised depending on one’s position and resources. He sums up that learning will be more social, more individualised, more culturally uniform, more massive and more “e”.
Lifelong learning is a real-life challenge more than ever before, according to Jouni Kangasniemi. He states that learning outside schools and educational institutions has a much larger role than before; learning is becoming more and more ubiquitous. He points out, however, that the basic principles behind learning do not change, but a more collaborative approach to knowledge creation is already commonly accepted.
According to Wim Van Petegem, lifelong learning should be an attitude, and proper skills are necessary to be trained (‘learn how to lifelong learn’). He explains that lifelong learning is a personal combination of formal, non-formal and informal learning, with individual and collaborative activities: this improves our adaptability to new trends and changes in the social context of a globalised world. The balance between living, working and learning is the new challenge for the future, he concludes.
Jari Koivisto believes the trend is towards individualised learning. This means that the learning goals, plans, methods and schedules should be defined on an individual basis, enabling students to study according to their personal interests and learning abilities. This requires a flexible framework, using all available learning technologies. He adds that, unfortunately, the economical reality tends to drive learning arrangements to exactly the opposite direction.
How do the experts see the role of ICT applications, such as social computing, web 2.0, “learning 2.0”, mobile and game-based learning, in the new learning?
Several experts consider ICT an important factor for enabling advanced collaborative learning and knowledge creation.
Marita Aho also highlights the new learning environments and spaces, which allow students to experience the learning process in a deeper way than with traditional methods. She also points out that ICT help to keep track of the learning process and outcomes, making the behaviour of the learner visible.
Jouni Kangasniemi says that the web 2.0 world demands new concepts such as “prosumer” (producer and consumer roles in one) or “trialogue” (dialog made visible to others with new tools) - a more emancipated approach to dialogue.
The importance of ICT applications as a way to support individualised learning is emphasised by Jari Koivisto, as they offer a range of possibilities to plan the daily, weekly and annual schedule of students, as well as the place and contents to learn.
Wim Van Petegem claims that we have moved "from learning to eLearning and back to learning again”. He says that ICT are so ubiquitous nowadays that we can’t afford learning without them. Any learning nowadays is eLearning, or even ‘(e)learning 2.0’ and beyond.
Matti Sinko presents a more negative estimation. According to him there seem to be enormous difficulties in introducing and consolidating technological innovations in formal education. In fact, systematic ICT innovations in formal education are less frequent and profound than the “eLearning preachers” have made us believe. He states that while the potential of ICT tools to enhance education is becoming ever better, schools at all levels have fewer resources to exploit these emerging opportunities.
Both collaborative and individualised aspects of learning are presented in this discussion. In the light of the future perspectives, how do the experts see these two and their relation?
In today's individualised world we could say that we are now in the stage of MyLearning (cf. MySpace), says Wim Van Petegem. On the other hand, he adds, we can’t deny the fruitful effect of collaborative learning activities, and therefore we should better talk about WeLearning. We still have to cater for the individuals learning with ICT, but he believes we should make a beneficial use of the new educational technologies in order to integrate more social and community-based aspects in lifelong learning.
The relations between collaborative and personalisation tools do suggest activities and working methods that can be contradictory as such, but they can be seen as easily complementary to each other, according to Matti Sinko. He explains that study programme designers and educational researchers and developers will have an impact on how the future learning environments will evolve. Individual learners have now a more versatile palette of tools to choose for their learning activities. Thus, technically enriched learning environments empower learners to become more active, not only in the learning process itself but in shaping up the methods and usage of tools as well.
Other experts stress out that learning is both collaborative and individualised. According to Marita Aho, ICT can help to create for example personal feedback mechanisms and allow contacts and interaction without limits of time and space. Thus, ICT helps to combine personal fulfilment and interaction with others. Jouni Kangasniemi says that collaborative platforms can provide a good support to produce and consume difference contents; at the same time information and content can be reused and modified according to personal or collective needs. Learning collaboratively requires open mind and respect to other's views. Jari Koivisto crystallises that learning can be collaborative and personalised at the same time, and this is already the case in most of the schools. The interaction between the learner and the reference group is always important and productive, he concludes.
The experts were asked what they think about innovation in the actual school system. How would they improve innovation and creativity in the teaching and learning methods?
According to Jari Koivisto the current traditional school system triggers creativity in many ways, and a creative student can benefit from it. He suspects, however, that in some countries the school atmosphere is very strict and formal, and this might sometimes be an obstacle for creativity.
Marita Aho says that innovation and creativity could be improved if books are seen as a source of information, knowledge and understanding similar to other methods such as discussions, group projects, crafts, internet and other media. Learning should not be only solution-finding but also problem-defining.
Matti Sinko highlights that schools should allow students exploit freely their daily informal communication methods and environments in order to pursue their curriculum objectives. Although this would lead to conflicts with the curriculum, schools should be ready to accept such a challenge. Curricula would change gradually, but exams would undergo a radical revamp. For example, if students were allowed to collaborate as well as access and use internet freely in their examinations the assessment criteria and evaluations would have to be completely reconstructed.
Jouni Kangasniemi opts for keeping a clear vision on what you want to achieve, empowering learners as actors and also empowering teachers to become researchers of their own practises.
Wim Van Petegem claims that any educational institution should adapt its pedagogical framework and didactical approaches to modern trends. This is important to keep the link with the societal environment. He suggests maintaining a continuous reflection over the teaching and learning practices, together with a careful benchmarking with international partners, as an utmost way to innovate creatively and to keep up with modern trends.
Knowledge and innovation are commonly acknowledged as key factors for enhancing the societal and financial development. In your opinion, can innovation and creativity be taught?
Creativity and innovation are a matter of keeping up motivation, encouraging, giving feed-back (both negative and positive) in a constructive way and even letting people make mistakes, explains Marita Aho. Innovation and creativity can be learnt with teaching philosophies, methods and environments, she says. There are also some fundamental theories, or at least “tips”, we can all learn to enhance our own creativity and allow others to be creative.
Matti Sinko and Wim Van Petegem claim both that the capacities and characteristics of students should be fostered and nourished. Wim Van Petegem also explains that, when contextualised in a broader perspective, learning outcomes can flourish forever, to the benefit of the individual learner and of society in general.