Everything Old is New Again

Mike Caulfield reminds us this week that many concepts we associate with the latest and greatest trends in technology-supported learning have in fact been around for a long time.  He linked to a B.F. Skinner film on teaching machines to support his point and asked the important question, “Why will this work this time around?”

Several interesting things have come up in the comment thread and I’ll put in my 2 cents (not Canadian, however) here.

Mike refers to the importance of learning structure and the comparative ineffectiveness of discovery learning.  My concern is that discovery learning is in and of itself a real-world skill.  There are times when you find yourself in a situation where there isn’t much structure and you must, with little guidance, figure stuff out.  Is that a skill that can be taught in a highly structured way, or does it need to be practiced?

I liked Skinner’s analogy of programmer to textbook author/teacher (“It is the author of the program, not the machines, who teaches.”)  Perhaps where we went wrong was in not making learning design and programming an essential part , or perhaps even the core, of education curricula.

Mike refers to the importance of presence.  Hasn’t telepresence come a very long way in the last decade? The existence of tools like Google Hangouts has begun to break a constraint which restricted learning for thousands of years, the limitation that one had to be studying the same things as those physically near them.  Ben Rimes has begun an interesting experiment in this direction with Book Club 106, a distributed book discussion group operating via Google Hangout.

Finally, Mike talks about the balance between individualization and shared experience.  I think Ben’s experiment is a good example of how , with some help from networks, groups of people learning together can develop, if not spontaneously, at least with fairly low overhead.  To be fair to Mike, this doesn’t address the role of common experience in building a society, that is to say, what common experiences and knowledge ought I share with my neighbors down the block?

As is usual , I’ve ask more questions than I’ve answered, but my one or two regular readers know that’s pretty typical.

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