New Culture of Learning Pt III

It’s taking me a while, among the other distractions in life, to work my way through the not very large book, “New Culture of Learning” by Thomas and Brown. My original two comments were more concern than praise, but I am gradually realising the good stuff, or perhaps their context is gradually opening up for me.

Thomas and Seely make the case for the impact of collective interaction in the exploration of a problem, towards learning and solution. As I read the book, I am certainly getting a sense that learning and problem solving can take a more open course among people, and that this is not loss. The question of loss (as in intellectual property), or maybe the question of examination as a tool that can only be applied to an individual for an individual, are crucial underpinnings for my concerns. These questions, rather than requiring a yes/no answer, do open the possibility of new arrangements to be developed around both intellectual property and examination. I don’t have clear answers, yet, but considering the exam has been around for a couple of hundred years, this book may be indicating the earliest phase of a change that will lead to new ‘testing’ processes. A real transformation in testing process will require clear answers to the questions: How do we learn (communication, mathematics, tool use, art and design, research and complex pattern recognition)? It may well be that the students become the testers, especially at highly complex levels of learning. By this I mean, the peer group in a learning / problem solving process will also need to learn evaluation and the communication of evaluation among each other. Thus, instead of an independent examiner making the judgement, although in some cases that process can also play a role, because there is a fuzziness within a group of who contributed how much and what skills and who learnt what, the group itself will tend to know. Part of group or collective process, then, will be to be able to communicate with advanced skills so that they can define, at every stage in the collective process, who is contributing what.  Of interest is then, the relative value of the learner developing ‘stand alone’ skills or learning, and a less cohesive style that both requires and supports the collective. And this is the insight I am gaining from Steely and Thomas’ book, that the new culture is indeed a new thing in which the learning organism is both the individual and the team or collective.

There is something particularly unnerving about this insight. And the unnerving element is that it is pointing to developing a psychological mindset in which buying / having a complete body of learning as a product is relinguished for a less ‘owned’ but more flexible skill for problem-solving and learning. Marrying this concept with learning processes which have strong evidence as supportive learning skills such as memorisation, fundamentals of math, language, etc will be all important. Nonetheless, the exciting notion here is that it is possible that these fundamentals will achieve greater momentum among children, as it is likely to be attached to a learning process that is focussed on facilitating the passion of the child.

So, thus far in summary, Thomas and Seely see a future of learning which begins with passion, play, question, and facilitates learning new things about the passion, and questions, by establishing constraint (boundaries of the problem), through the play with others, and accessible (digital) information. And that suggests another potential feature, that if my learning collective is not only people who are passionate about everything I am passionate, and vice versa, then learning about things we are not passionate will be advanced through a personal relationship with others in the attitude of service ie I will learn X (not my passion) to help you in your passion, because the learning about my passion has intersected your passion and thus our learning processes become intertwined. I would like to answer my own concern about manual skills eg carpentry, that, although the larger collective may be online, every learner must have a relationship with a face to face collective, and that, it is in this ftf network that finding ‘masters’ to train skills will ever be relevant. Of course I suspect noone is suggesting undoing the large programs of training


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