I recently finished an intriguing book that is less of a book about technology, but more a book about the social shifts in how we learn due to the dramatic changes in technology. A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describes how the mechanistic nature in which we educate our students does not match the way people are learning outside of school and in the workplace.
Thomas and Brown compare a traditional education of the 20th century as a using a mechanistic approach where learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered. The result is what is valued. In the twenty-first century learning and education are changing to an organic approach where the context in which the learning happens, the boundaries that define it, and the students, teachers, and information within it all coexist and shape each other in a mutually reinforcing way. Now the process matters more than the result because the result is constantly changing.
In a traditional sense of culture: “When individuals become part of a new culture, they are generally the ones who are transformed (or leave.)” In a new type of culture: “The culture transforms in an uninhibited, completely organic way, within the constraints of the environment. You do not interfere with the process because it is the process that is interesting.” This is similar to add a new element to a petri dish the whole culture changes because of that one addition, but it is working within a constrained environment. This is how social media and online gaming communities work. Individuals connect together within a specific realm for a certain purpose and ideas take off. The product is constantly changed and reinvented by the new additions of insight to the group. This is the learning of the present and future. Brown and Seely write, “A traditional sense of culture… strives for stability and adapts to changes in its environment only when forced. A new type of culture… responds to its surroundings organically. It thrives on change.”
This book, along with the book Invent to Learn, has shifted my thinking about the ways in which we engage students in learning and how we envision subjects and technology. Technology allows an expansion of the amount of individuals bouncing ideas off one another, yet many school districts are hesitant for safety reasons to allow too much leeway with social media sites. How can students learn in school in the organic manner and style they will need in order to navigate and succeed in the twenty-first century? How can school learning match the type of learning some students are getting with technology outside of school?