Learning Technologies Summer Forum

Last week I went to the Learning Technologies Summer Forum combined with the Learning and Skills Group conference, and here are my thoughts on the part I enjoyed the most, that is David Price’s keynote speech.

David Price describes himself as a ‘learning futurist’ and in his keynote he spoke about concepts he discussed in his recent book OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. In his view, the times we live in are characterised by a new set of values and modes of coexistence that, despite being relatively new, are now often taken for granted. They include sharing, transparency, informality, non-linearity and inclusivity. As a result, he observes, the gap between informal social learning and formal learning is dangerously widening and educators are now often faced with an ‘epidemy of disengagement in formal learning’.

Engagement is obviously important because of its direct link with creativity, productivity and innovation. The reasons for disengagement include loss of autonomy, loss of trust and loss of job security.

Another characteristic feature of our times is disintermediation, the ‘cutting out the middleman’. It has got its pros, like closer connections between people, but there are also obvious cons, like job losses.

In David’s view, the economic value of learning is going down, however the social value of learning is skyrocketing. This is related to the recent trend towards opening and democratisation of learning. Social learning is not so much about technology, but about connecting and about values that drive motivation.

He lists six imperatives of social learning:

  • Autonomy, i.e. do it yourself
  • Immediacy, i.e. do it now
  • Collegiality, i.e. do it with friends, e.g. through study groups etc.
  • Playfulness, i.e. do it for fun
  • Generosity, i.e. do unto others
  • High visibility, i.e. do it for the world to see

This is the type of learning that, in David’s view, is now gaining momentum. At the heart of this social learning is the open learning movement with its ‘machine-shop’ culture (no hierarchies, free exchange of knowledge), encouragement for unorthodoxy and diversity, learning ‘by tinkering’, social and horizontal learning, learning in the moment of need, freedom to roam for learners, and the freedom to fail and bring one’s mistakes to the table for everyone to learn from them.

All this may come as a little unsettling to anyone involved in formal adult education who sometimes struggles with learners’ (dis)engagement. I believe the crux of the matter here is that teachers tend to be reluctant to give some control over learning over to learners. Teachers very often have (and rightly so) a very strong sense of responsibility for others’ learning, which commonly manifests itself through control and exerting authority. This may be directly related to institutional pressures on teachers as students dropping out reflect badly on the teacher (or this is at least how some teachers may feel about it). Therefore, for the open education movement to find its way to formal education settings, a new institutional worldview is necessary that would create an environment which encourages innovation, unorthodoxy, freedom, diversity and autonomy.