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Learning is innate. How the changing world can help education

The evolution of learning is a fascinating topic. Learning is my strength because I was brought up to think that learning is innate and every challenge is surmountable. In fact, learning is never really changing; only the tools and processes we use to learn will change. The education industry has been struggling to figure out how these new tools can help people learn.

I’ve never thought it was that difficult because learning is about the human process, the tools are just facilitators. I’ve been waiting for my employer, the Open University, to realise this for years.

Listening to a 2012 HEA conference keynote by Martin Bean my CEO/Vice Chancellor excites me because he seems to get it. So much of what he says in this keynote reflects what I think. That is why I really like what is happening under his watch at the OU. I feel that all the new things we can do these days are simply what we have been waiting for.

The most sophisticated technology in the learning process is always the learner, not the tool used to teach them. Learning is just a case of getting information into a person’s head and body and then helping them figure out how to use it to get something done. You have to learn something when you overcome a challenge that you previously couldn’t. That is how I see it.

Humans have an incredible capacity to consume information and get it into their brains. We have senses, including eyes, ears, and touch, which we can use all at once. The quantity and quality of data these senses can consume is terrific. Newer tools are just making it easier to make full use of these senses. Humans are also able to combine their senses to achieve secondary or tertiary senses like proprioception and kinaesthetic awareness. It is now possible to speak to these senses through devices like the Kinect.

The point here is that people will pay for the ability to overcome a challenge that matters to them. If you can make this happen faster and more easily, people will pay more. So, learning isn’t really changing because humans aren’t changing. They’re just doing what they always did but with better tools and more support. So standards have risen, content is now cheap, and the market is exponentially larger. Surely, that is a huge opportunity.

What is needed is simply going back to the essence of learning and re interpreting existing content, tools and assessment methods in light of what is possible today. Surely we can make the learning process the innate, natural and easy process humans are designed for?

Many thanks to Jonathan Vernon (@mymindbursts) who inspired this post by sharing Are we at the Napster moment in HIgher Education. A thought provoking article.

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