Learning in the Industrial Age
Industrial age education generally took place throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, ending (apart from occasional training courses) once working life began.
In the traditional model students sat in rows of chairs facing a teacher standing before a blackboard. The teacher would speak and the students made notes, occasionally asking questions. Students would complete exercises to test their comprehension and practice their ability to apply the subject matter. The teacher would monitor progress and offer guidance before demonstrating the correct solution and method.
Students might be given assignments to complete outside class which drew upon what they should have learned. At the end of the session students sat a timed examination and were expected to recall appropriate parts of the material in response to the exam questions. Students would often “cram” for exams – memorising large amounts of relevant facts and figures immediately prior to the exam, only to forget most of them just as quickly as soon as the paper had been completed.
The traditional educational model could be described as a behaviourist approach to learning, although its methods were in used long before the development of behaviourist theory. This style of education was well suited to industrial age society where individuals had rigidly defined roles in which carrying out certain actions under certain circumstances would generally yield the desired results.
Learning in the Information Age
The information age has replaced the relative predictability of the industrial age with an increased degree of uncertainty that will require greater levels of flexibility and adaptability in order to survive and thrive.
Workers will be more involved in the planning and decision-making processes. Individuals will need to develop the discernment required to make sense of the mass of facts, figures claims and counter-claims that surround them.
Education will need to change from being a process of conditioning to one of empowerment. Learning will need to change from being a homogeneous commodity to a customized experience tailored to the needs and characteristics of the individual. Learning will no longer end in the teens or early-twenties. Instead it will continue throughout life as individuals need to continually update knowledge and skills to keep pace with ever-changing technical and social conditions.
In order to meet the learning requirements of the information age learning opportunity providers should adopt a more constructivist approach to learning, creating conditions in which learners may learn by actively engaging with realistic scenarios and exchanging views and experiences with peers and mentors. The following section describes bow technology may provide powerful solutions for the delivery of high-quality learning suited to the needs of the age.
The Potential of Learning Technology
In addition to shaping the desirable outcomes of the learning process the information age offers potential enhancements to the ways in which learning may take place.
Technology provides near instantaneous access to vast quantities of information and learning materials at near zero cost to anyone with Internet access. Educationalists may provide a pathway through the mass of available content by means of selective, quality-assured directories and search engines, effectively forming subject-specific “digital libraries”.
Technology may relieve the “loneliness of the long distance learner” by providing asynchronous communication channels bridging both temporal and geographic distance. A major function of learning environments is the ability they offer learners to communicate with both peers and tutors irrespective of physical locality or time zone. There is enormous learning potential in the exchange and discussion of ideas.
Technology offers the potential of delivering a personalized learning experience to individual learners. People have different strengths and weaknesses and learn in different ways. In a classroom setting the same experience is delivered to every student. In technology mediated learning a unique learning experience may be presented to every learner based upon individual characteristics and performance in previous lessons.
Technology can provide models and simulations that actively involve the learner to a greater degree than was ever possible in classroom-based learning. The learner is able to receive feedback on his/her interactions with the system and is thus able to learn by doing within the safety of the virtual world.
For further detail on the potential of learning technology see Finnis .
Society is moving into a new era. An era of rapid change and inherent unpredictability driven by ongoing advancements in information and communication technology. This new era will impact upon every aspect of society.
Citizens of the information age will need different kinds of skills to those that served them in the industrial age. They will need to be managers of their own destiny. They will need to find relevant information from the morass of freely available data. They will need to interpret and evaluate what they find. They will need to adapt to ever-changing conditions. And they will need to learn throughout their lives.
Traditional behaviourist approaches to education will no longer be sufficient in the industrial age. Education will need to adopt constructivist principles to empower learners through an individualised and active learning experience. However, constantly improving technology can provide exciting new ways of delivering that learning.
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