OEB 2016: Limitless Learning

Limitless learning was the general topic of one of the planary debates which opened Friday’s sessions.

Among other things, Alec Couros notes the expansion of the types of sources available in what he called the network/teacher diagram. The insight that knowledge is now available in many more formats obviously makes the task of teachers more complex but learners/students also face a more complicated world.

On the positive side, some creative students (in all ages) are able to use the internet actively no only by searching for and applying existing knowledge but also by presenting problems and asking for help or guidance. In this way, a service like YouTube has developed into a huge, sprawling repository of learning objects and this has happend without anyone ever designing YouTube as such. On the negative side, the development of the net also has created a number of problems, including the supply of all kinds of false information, and the abuse of individuals’ digital identities (Couros gave some chilling examples by presenting his fakes digital dobbelgangers). Finally, Couros also raised the question of the future availability of the free internet as an issue.

Diana Laurillard took a slighly different perspective to the debate by discussing the various roles and activities involved in learning. One point related to the topic of e-learning is the relative importance of acquiring knowledge vs. inquiring, discussing and applying knowledge. Teachers will have very different roles in these four types of learning, but e-learning platforms and the design of courses will have to take the possiblities for interaction between teachers and students and between students themselves into account. Laurillard also pointed out the MOOCs could only partially realise the potentials of e-learning as they lacked the element of individualisation which students at the basic or bachelor level need. In this way MOOCs in their original form could be a useful tool for learners in mid-career, but they wouldn’t supplant more traditional forms of contact between students and between students and teachers, at least not without a serious loss of quality in education.

A second point raised by Laurillard was that the drivers of digital learning – both in form of technological developments and actors pushing for e-learning – might be strong but that they in general were badly aligned with the different needs and behaviours of learners.

Due to a conflict of schedules I had to leave before Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation had finished his contribution but I noted some important points in his speech: The internet and digitalisation hasn’t overcome traditional social cleavages – there is still a massive difference between younger and older people when it came to the use of digital technology, variations in educational background and income still play a crucial role in acces to and use of the digital world and finally he, like Alec Cuoros, was worried about the tendency toward centralisation of services on the internet.