The world of lifelong learning has changed quite dramatically over the course of the last several years – and, almost entirely for the better, in my opinion. So, with Thanksgiving upon us here in the U.S., I thought it would be good to take a few minutes and jot down thoughts on some of the really big trends I have been grateful to see emerge. In no particular order:
1. Rapidly expanding access to learning opportunities
Wow. Even as recently as the year 2000, who would have thought that top universities around the world would start putting courses online for free (e.g., EdX, Coursera, Open Courseware Consortium)? Or that something like Khan Academy would exist?
Or that you could easily download any number of podcasts and videos onto a mobile phone or tablet (which, of course, didn’t even exist then) for free? Or that the major encyclopedia used around the world would be free and online? Or that you would be able easily to search and find high quality information on pretty much anything from any Web-enabled device?
That’s just scratching the surface, of course. I can’t possibly name all of the great sources for educational content, or all the places to connect with and learn from experts and other learners. It’s mind-boggling. Breathtaking. I’ll simply say, to all involved, thanks!
2. Amazing technologies to support learning
This one is related to the first point above, but I think it is worth calling out separately the incredible toolset now available to learners. I wrote this post in Evernote, which has become indispensable to me for all forms of writing and information management. I published it to WordPress, a platform that has empowered millions globally to create and share content at a level never possible before.
I use Feedly to track and manage great content created by others. I share – and receive – valuable links shared by others on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms. I could go on and on and on, but you get the point. And I’m sure you have a huge number of tools you use yourself as part of your ongoing learning activities. To all you tool tech innovators out there, thanks!
3. Vastly better understanding of how learning works
One of the by-products of the previous two points is that things have gotten pretty chaotic out there. The standard teacher-in-front-of-a-classroom model now has more competition than ever. Fortunately, we are coming to understand that the old “sage on the stage” model is not always the best one. In fact, most of our learning happens in much less formal ways and is fueled by the array of social connections we all maintain. (See Jay Cross’s excellent Informal Learning if you want to did deeper on that.)
Over the past couple of decades, we seen a lot more investigation not only into social and informal learning but also into how the human mind works. Brain science and learning psychology have made big leaps forward. I think it is not much of an an exaggeration to say that we have learned more about how we learn in the past few decades than we did in the entire history of humanity before that.
Of course, it will be a long while before all that new knowledge makes its way effectively into everyday teaching and learning practices, but we’re on our way. And I, for one, am grateful.
4. Incredible generosity of other learners
It is more true than ever that everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. A huge part of what makes all of the new learning opportunities possible is that ordinary people – along with some extraordinary ones – from all around the world are contributing their time, content, and insights.
I’ll keep this one short: thanks, everyone!
5. Massive potential for diversity
Finally, everything above points to a benefit that I think often gets overlooked. As I wrote in Leading the Learning Revolution:
An often-overlooked silver lining in the chaotic “cloud” of the Internet is the potential for embracing the diversity that it offers. In no previous time has it been possible for people to connect so rapidly, so easily, and so intimately across the globe—or even, for that matter, across town. We now have the opportunity to listen to, interact with, and learn from a much more diverse range of people and ideas than we might ever have encountered had we lived in other times
The opportunity is one of cultural diversity, but also of cognitive diversity, both of which can be significant factors in sparking the innovative thinking we need to tackle the many tough problems we now face.
Of course, there is also the possibility of squandering this opportunity. Of moving not toward greater mutual understanding and innovation, but rather toward isolation and dogmatism. Many of the same technologies that make it possible to increase diversity also make it possible for us to connect only with those who are exactly like us. I am grateful for those who choose to expand their horizons.
So, those are my big five. How have these impacted you, and what other trends are you thankful for?