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The Learning Age

09 Jul

There is so much to write about, following from the ICT in the Classroom Conference in Johannesburg, that I hardly know where to start. Stephen Heppell has said that this is not the Information Age, it is the Learning Age, and what a thought-provoking idea this is. At the heart of the Industrial Age was of course the organization of Industry into the engine of society. The new economy of Fast Capitalism is based on Information, and trying to unpack the notion of what it means to be living in a Learning Age is not easy because it is a quantum idea, rather than a static conceptualization of the nature of things. It’s not about how you access and act on information anymore. It’s about how you process it, re-combine it, how you learn from the stream of information that the Information Age has produced.

I guess the typical example of an Information Age economy might be the just-in-time production model, the kitchen designed and manufactured at the point of sale. But the Learning Age follows a different trajectory, and one which we can only dimly glimpse as the implications of the changes over-taking us begin to take some shape.

Back in the 12th Century, an individual consciousness emerged from the collective consciousness of the previous age. Thinkers like Peter Abelard insisted on the supremacy of experience over authority, and the Scientific method was born. Learning came to be seen as an individual activity: some people were intelligent and became learned, others were not, and the fault or credit lay with the individual. Learning resided in a person’s brain, something that could be picked, and passed on through teaching. The quintessential icon of this form of intelligence is probably Einstein, the iconic genius of the last century.

But, the new digital media have unlocked a new intelligence, the networked intelligence. I can be pretty smart on my own if I am Einstein, that is, but how much smarter if I network my knowledge with others. This is the quantum leap of the Learning Age, and it is a prospect with awesome potential which we need to learn how to harness.

This is the world of the 21st Century, and the world we need to prepare our students for, the world of the networked intelligence. We have no idea yet what it is going to be like to be always on, always connected. It is a Brave New World, and for the first time in a long while I find acquaintances who are in business actually seeking me out, at cocktail parties to find out what we teachers are going to do about it. In teacher conferences too, the sweep of what is being discussed is so wide, it is a really exciting time to be a teacher, to be a digi-teacher!

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