Learning/unlearning. On the crest of digital learning
In and of themselves, Information and Communication Technologies for Education (ICTEs) do not make teachers better educators, teach better or make society more knowledgeable. From blackboards, school bags, textbooks, and exercises to the teacher-learner relationship and learner exchanges, it is not just a question of replacing analogue tools with digital tools to, as if by magic, improve learning outcomes, remove educational inequalities and develop greater creativity. A great deal of energy and money invested in educational infrastructures and facilities have rapidly demonstrated their limitations. Guided by a naive technological determinism and driven by business interests, proactive equipment policies are undoubtedly less effective than those which focus on the learning, and if they do, they will give rise to new practices and the equipment and market will follow. The recent emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) is a perfect example. These online video courses, published by top American Universities, are aiming to conquer the global market. However, this conquest will only succeed if we can flip the temporal and spatial organisation of learning i.e. learning alone at home and then practising in the classroom - a 180 degree about-turn from traditional teaching methods.
Looking at different approachesNew forms of learning are not to be found in technologies but in the transformation of the educational system they make possible. Rather than give a long list of educational technologies, this documents seeks to look at different approaches. By first examining the meteoric advancements in the knowledge of brain function that have taken place over the recent years. But what can we take away from our new neuroscientific knowledge about the learning process and how can it help inform and guide the provision of education? Looking at different approaches means examining how the digital transformation of our societies directly questions the way in which we learn and the place of knowledge in a range of increasingly varied social situations. How do we learn when educational establishments are no longer the main sources of knowledge? How do we educate when dispersion, distraction and the desire for immediacy characterise so many new network uses? The challenge is huge and requires in-depth examination, if we want to avoid a paralysing debate between nostalgic conservatives and zealous revolutionaries. Consider: technology can both enhance learning and unlearning and because the dividing line is unstable, fragile and incredibly sensitive to the human balance that makes up any educational situation, it is important for teachers to know how to guide their students wisely.
Digital technologies are radicalising a historical movement which started with the advent of the written word i.e. externalising knowledge as pointed out by Bernard Stiegler, using a term coined by Michel Foucault to describe ancient philosophies, digital technologies constitute a new form of hypomnemata: objects created by the artificialisation and externalization of the human memory. In counterpoint, individual amnesia has developed mnemonic hypomnesia techniques enabling us to deposit our memory in tools. From Wikipedia, to mp3 books, to lists of academic articles on Google Scholar, the 'technification' of our societies means that we are constantly exporting the knowledge in our brains to digital hypomnemata to free up our minds to perform higher cognitive activities. Never before has such a variety of knowledge - expert, trivial and false - been so readily accessible; only a click away for those who know how to navigate digital networks. Never before has knowledge been at the heart of so many professional, everyday, and entertainment activities resulting in the mass phenomenon of intellectualising our social lives.
What should we learn?If knowledge is constantly and readily available on the Internet, do we still need to learn? We must "learn to learn" reply the educators who are not intimidated by the fact that students sometimes refer to Wikipedia in class to flag a factual error. Externalizing knowledge does not do away with the need to pass on and acquire knowledge, but surely it does makes education based on rote learning and the evaluation of schooling, obsessed with checking the transmission of information from the teacher to the student, somewhat obsolete. There is now room to learn, seek, appropriate, critique, and historicize knowledge in order to put knowledge to good use in a variety of contexts. Developing cross-cutting skills to find and activate the knowledge deposited in hypomnemata does not mean resolving practical questions by performing a Google search. Learning to interpret rather than store information assumes familiarity with the knowledge structure and requires our making sense of multiple, disparate and readily available information but which can not be organised and re-articulated without comprehensive and in-depth understanding. The educator, the "ignorant master", who does not transmit knowledge as content but constantly strives to ensure that the student directs his intelligence; this is something that requires attention, practice, critical concern and care at all times from the teacher. "Guidance" pedagogy, which patiently guides learners through the forest of digital knowledge ' must not give in to the devotees of knowledge content transmission. Learning to learn is not a trivial and functional task that devalues the role of the noble and omniscient teacher. It does not give free rein to learners by allowing them to fend for themselves, without rule or method, in the chaotic flow of digital information with so many distractions.
Emphasising this point means underling the fact that there is a risk of new digital learning methods espousing, without opposition, societal trends that can cause new inequalities. Three factors distinguish new educational requirements. The first concerns the need for individual and personalised teaching, which promotes the singularisation of creative potentialities and leads to lifelong learning. The second is the increasingly important role of collaborative actives and team work. All new teaching methods try to promote interaction and personalised contact between learners and between learners and educators. If the role of technology in learning were limited to reducing contact with students by installing them in a giant virtual lecture hall with a remote lecturer, then it has completely missed what is increasingly at the very heart of the learning processes: the existence of a living vital place where knowledge is shared and put into practice. Many innovative uses of digital pedagogy embrace all forms of communication - happy, curious and talkative - which transpire from networks of learners; this art of multiplying communication, cross-evaluations, multi-disciplinary exchanges between and joint projects. Even if they pose evaluation problems to teachers, accustomed as they are to giving individual marks, the development of collective frameworks directs the group's attention towards shared ownership and responsibility for their learning. Finally, the importance of the informal aspects of teaching, practical skills, gentle encouragement, incitements, guidance and praise, all these seemingly insignificant gestures that imbue the learning process with meaning and which give students a feeling of worth and recognition.
Digital natives arrive at school already competent in the use of computers and digital technologies. However, Petite Poucette, the inspirational fable written by Michel Serres, can be misleading. The rise of digital access to knowledge has clearly shown that each individual is his or her own teacher, therefore, it would be naive to assume that all free and emancipated peoples enjoy the same opportunities and resources to make the best possible use of this freedom. Initial feedback from participants on the use of American University MOOCs show that far from reducing social, cultural and geographical divides, MOOCS are mainly used by those with high-level qualifications and high incomes. The digital transformation of our societies is also contributing to a process of unlearning and the permanent risk of the "proletarianization of minds", highlights Bernard Stiegler: reading crisis, disqualification of knowledge, attention dispersion, bombardment of advertising, the tyranny of immediacy, lack of curiosity, etc. Many digital natives' practices clash with demanding academic learning. The fact that knowledge is readily available does not mean that it is internalised. Dumbed down, simplified and packaged, information can seem like a piece of merchandise to be used without truly being learned. The "knowledge society" promotes behavioural skills, navigating information flows, the race for innovation, the incessant renewal of consumption and the flexibility of employees. But does it really promote the development of critical thinking in institutions dedicated to this purpose where patient pedagogues ensure that all students have the same opportunities to access this free knowledge?
Digital manufacturingThere seems to be something missing from education policies; a digital education that is not content just to teach students how to use these technologies (e.g. b2i) but teach them how to manufacture digital. IT code has become the new alphabet of our societies, its language, its vehicle and its décor. How can we close this black box on admittedly agile users but users incapable of understanding its manufacture (not to mention modifying, improving and reinventing it)? Learning digital manufacture, understanding what lies behind interfaces and the user experience should be seen as a key skill in training critical and creative citizens. It is not a question of producing developers capable of mastering the most complex programming languages but rather ensuring that we understand the principles and can write and produce digital content. It is important to construct a society where each and every one of us is capable of digital manufacturing.
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