A John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
“The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age”
Young people today are learning in new ways that are both collective and egalitarian.
They are contributing to Wikipedia, commenting on blogs, teaching themselves programming and figuring out work-arounds to online video games. They follow links embedded in articles to build a deeper understanding. They comment on papers and ideas in an interactive and immediate exchange ofideas. All these acts are collaborative and democratic, and all occur amid a worldwide community of voices.
Universities must recognize this new way of learning and adapt or risk becoming obsolete.
The university model of teaching and learning relies on a hierarchy of expertise, disciplinary divides, restricted admission to those considered worthy, and a focused, solitary area of expertise. However, with participatory learning and digital media, these conventional modes of authority break down.
Today’s learning is interactive and without walls.
Individuals learn anywhere, anytime, and with greater ease than ever before. Learning today blurs lines of expertise and tears down barriers to admission. While it has never been confined solely to the academy, today’s opportunities for independent learning have never been easier nor more diverse.
Ten Principles for Redesigning Learning Institutions
The authors offer ten principles that can guide universities and other institutions of learning in adapting to learning in a digital age. They focus on college-aged students, although the recommendations also apply generally for all age groups.
Self-learning: Today’s learners are self-learners. They browse, scan, follow links in mid-paragraph to related material. They look up information and follow new threads. They create their own paths to understanding.
Horizontal structures: Rather than top-down teaching and standardized curriculum, today’s learning is collaborative; learners multitask and work out solutions together on projects. Learning strategy shifts from a focus on information as such to learning to judge reliable information. It shifts from memorizing information to finding reliable sources. In short, it shifts from learning that to learning how.
From presumed authority to collective credibility: Reliance on the knowledge authorities or certified experts is no longer tenable amid the growing complexities of collaborative and interdisciplinary learning. A key challenge in collaborative environments will be fostering and managing levels of trust.
A de-centered pedagogy: To ban or limit collective knowledge sources such as Wikipedia in classrooms is to miss the importance of collaborative knowledge-making. Learning institutions should instead adopt a more inductive, collective pedagogy based on collective checking, inquisitive skepticism, and group assessment.
Networked learning: Learning has traditionally often assumed a winner-take-all competitive form rather than a cooperative form. One cooperates in a classroom only if it maximizes narrow self-interest. Networked learning, in contrast, is committed to a vision of the social that stresses cooperation, interactivity, mutual benefit, and social engagement. The power of ten working interactively will invariably outstrip the power of one looking to beat out the other nine.
Open source education: Traditional learning environments convey knowledge via overwhelmingly copyright-protected publications. Networked learning, contrastingly, is an ‘open source’ culture that seeks to share openly and freely in both creating and distributing knowledge and products.
Learning as connectivity and interactivity: Challenges in a networked learning environment are not an individual’s alone. Digital tools and software make working in isolation on a project unnecessary. Networking through file-sharing, data sharing, and seamless, instant communication is now possible.
Lifelong learning: The speed of change in this digital world requires individuals to learn anew, face novel conditions, and adapt at a record pace. Learning never ends. How we know has changed radically.
Learning institutions as mobilizing networks: Rather than thinking of learning institutions as a bundle of rules, regulations, and norms governing the actions within its structure, new institutions must begin to think of themselves as mobilizing networks. These institutions mobilize flexibility, interactivity, and outcomes. Issues of consideration in these institutions are ones of reliability and predictability alongside flexibility and innovation.
Flexible scalability and simulation: Learning institutions must be open to changing scale. Students may work in small groups on a specific topic or together in an open-ended and open-sourced contribution.
These ten principles, the authors argue, are the first steps in redesigning learning institutions to fit the new digital world. By assessing some of the institutional barriers to change, the authors hope to mobilize institutions to envision formal, higher education as part of a continuum of the networked world that students engage in online today.
To view the report online, visit: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/chapters/Future_of_Learning.pdf