The Most Important Question


Originally posted on Half an Hour, January 25, 2010.

I was asked, what are the most important questions that need to be resolved during, say, the next five or so years?

There's only one: under what conditions can a learner manage his or her own learning?

I know this may seem like I'm being glib (and it has been that kind of day) but I am being very serious.

First of all, we are rapidly entering a period in which there will be a significant shrinkage in the public resources allocated to education. This is already the case in the developing world, and one of the reasons (not the only reason) it remains the developing world. Meanwhile, most online learning to date has been directed toward emulating in-class instruction, there is an increasingly pervasive trend such that subjects are defined as competences and learning material is automatically delivered to learners based on these competences. Could such a system be sustainable, and to what degree could it replace more traditional forms of learning. So there is a genuine human need here, to know whether we can sustain this shrinkage in funding, and if so, how.

Secondly, there is globally an even increasing onslaught of rich media and other content, including even inside schools, which is intended not to educate or to inform, but to sway or to sell. Against this, especially in web 2.0 circles, there is a school of thought modeled loosely along the lines of Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' which suggests that people, working for their own benefit and creating their own association, can take charge of their own learning, and hence, their own understanding of the world. If it possible for people to effectively mount a counter to propaganda or corporate-based 'content learning' on their own, or is some manner of public intervention required, and to what scale.

-- Stephen

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