I pitched an idea that I’ve found exciting to the eLearning Guild, and they gave me the opportunity to present it at their DevLearn conference. Owing to my own mistake, I thought I was doing something else, but I’m thrilled to find out that I’m getting to do this cutting edge content!
What’s driving the idea is the recognition that our old approach to learning is broken in so many ways. There was an intriguing research project done for the Army that recognized that the standard classroom approach is about the worst thing you could do if you were trying to achieve successful learning!
In short, our learning goals are retention over time until it’s needed, and transfer to all appropriate situations. Most learning events are based upon a learning event with a concentrated learning experience and assessment. Of course, that learning atrophies relatively quickly, without reactivation.
So what do we have as opportunities? Several things cognitive, and several things technological.
Cognitively, we recognize that learning is better when it is contextualized, is better when the learning is spaced, is better when we negotiate understanding, and better when we have the appropriate resources to hand. We realize that most active cognition includes external representations, contextual cues, and shared responsibility. Distributed cognition is a nice way to view the overall process. The fact that spaced learning is more effective than massed practice is also relevant. An approach that develops learners over a long period of time, a slow learning approach, makes sense.
Technologically, we have mobile technologies, social technologies, and semantic technologies. We can deliver information when and where we need it, given both the ubiquity and power of the emerging devices, and their increasingly ability to be ‘always on’, and aware of their location.
When we put these together, we have new ways to match learning to real needs. The goal is to contextualize learning, to space learning, and to provide performance support while we develop learners. We can do this with the technologies we cite.
With semantic technologies we can deliver customized information to the learner. We can ensure that it’s appropriate to the context, we can ensure it’s appropriate to the learner, and we can deliver to the appropriate device. We can also connect learners with other learners and with the output of joint thinking. With content models, we can ensure we have careful definition around the content and use rules to pull out the appropriate content. With user models, we know what they know, what their role is, and what their task is. Together, we can optimize learning delivery.
The point is, we can move beyond the old models of learning. We can provide performance support, and wrap learning material around it. We can turn real-world experiences into learning experiences. We can develop learners slowly over time systematically. And this isn’t to preclude the ability to categorize and characterize real interpersonal interactions and build them into the learning experience as well.
Frankly, we’re at a new stage where our only limitations are our imagination. It’s time to pull together our real understanding of learning and the ideal ways to support performers. The technology we have is, essentially, indistinguishable from magic. Now that we have magic, what should we do?