I remember the first time my freshman counselor handed me a class schedule. My learning opportunities were neatly arranged in 55-minute periods. It was my responsibility to get to each on time and in order. It seemed like such an ominous challenge for a 14 year old.  In each first class, the teacher handed out the syllabus and books with assignments marked for each class.  This is how real grown ups learn. I was sure of it. I had the computer print out, the syllabus and the class notebooks to prove it.

My model of education and learning was formed at that point, and nothing over the next 12 years of formal education really did anything to change it. Education was packaged. Go to this school, get this professor. Get this professor, get this reading list. On some occasions, even grades had a formula. Want an “A”? Here’s the price. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if the 55-minute periods even changed all that much.

I understand why this model of efficiency worked for institutions. It’s more organized than having people wander randomly into classes, or deciding which classes were necessary by asking students to vote with their feet. And, I still see merits of a curriculum, especially in fields where certification is required. But I’ve since come to believe that the pre packaged, organized model of education suits institutions more than students. For the most part, it taught me how to complete requirements. Not sure it taught me how to direct my own learning, which is too bad, because that’s what I needed to do in that place called “the real world.”

The biggest disruption seems to come from the outside, and so it seems with education. Technology is opening up entirely new opportunities for self-directed learning. Students of all ages, locations and needs have a range of online opportunities available to them.  Some are taught by the leading experts in their field. Many are free or nearly free. If you haven’t checked out a MOOC yet, (massive open online courses) just look to see what’s available. Here’s a place to start. If you want to anything from brush on second language skills to understand finance to discuss the great books, there is a class available for you. For free. You can watch the videos and do the work at midnight or noon.  You can participate in class in a suit from work or in your PJ’s from the couch. All you need to do is participate and learn.

My colleagues at Northwestern University’s MSLOC program have been talking about PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks). I recently joined one to find out what all the buzz is about. In my words, a PLN is a group of people interested in the same topic who connect through a variety of media. People connect and share information through online collaboration site, like Google +, through Twitter and on blogs. When you join a PLN, you set and manage a personal learning goal. It’s your responsibility to use the network to reach your goal, and to help others reach theirs. One of my goals is to understand how PLN’s work, and how they can be adapted to an organizational setting.

Many, many years after I received my first class schedule, I am still learning. The opportunities are far different.  No one decides what I need to know, when I need to know it and where I need to go. This presents the blessing of freedom and the burden of responsibility. No one decides if I study for 10 minutes, 55 minutes or for hours. Because there is no schedule, I might decide not to study at all. Sadly, this is the often the case when I frame learning as something to do when I have the time. I don’t even see the people I learn with, which is really interesting because I often learn so much more from them than the person I sat next to for ten weeks and now can’t remember their name. Instead of neat blocks of designated time, I now have access to 24 hour learning.

As I jump into the brave new frontier of learning, I’m interested in your experience. Have you participated in a MOOC or a Personal Learning Network? What’s your advice to get the most from it?

5 thoughts on “

  1. Susan – As I read your post it made me wonder how different my Kindergarten and 3rd grade sons’ education is from what you have described as your education. I don’t think that much has changed in the K-12 space. As I participate in the blended/online learning/MOOC/social media space I fear that the next generation is not being prepared for this new kind of learning. It takes some serious self-regulation and intrinsic motivation. In order to be successful you often have to create your own learning goals. I wonder what higher education will look like by the time my children graduate from high school. I hope that I am able to supplement their very traditional learning environment along the way with some other experiences that push them out of their tightly regulated learning blocks, standardized tests and worksheet-driven education. I actually think that my children’s education is more “in the box” than my own was in the 80s.

    • You raise a really good point, Keeley. Haven’t thought about is so clearly before. Before “now”, that is the internet, social networking, collaborative learning online, formal education didn’t really have much of a choice. So, it always did what it always did. Now, the options are different. The delivery remains the same.

      On another point, this is also very tough. We expect schools to deliver commonly accepted standards of learning. Every student can’t come up with their own answer for “2X2” or what R-E-D means when they read it. In some ways, the Core Curriculum is an attempt to describes what students should know when matters. That doesn’t mean students have to get to this outcome in the same way. To me, the challenge (and the opportunity) is how can we have common standards but not common methods. Hhmmm. Darn you, Keeley, you always make me think.

  2. I think that young children need to be introduced to structure, so school is a great place to develop oganizational skills, higher order thinking skills, learning skills that will take them through life. I also think that creative learning and teaching styles, alternative delivery methods included, have a place and that schools understand that kids need this and introduce it at the right time. Hence, there are field trips, computer labs, art classes, library hour, etc. Plus, blended learning is happening in the schools. I think it’s a balance that good teachers succeed in providing. While the schools are still “teaching to the tests” I think many are aware that more is needed, and they are working towards providing it.

    • Jeanne,

      I agree that many schools try to enhance learning. And, younger children need structure. Think I see the overall picture a bit differently,though. It’s my impression that schools don’t do a great job in teaching children how to learn, but spend most of their focus on what to learn. Let’s face it, the world of information and access has exploded, yet high schools are largely based on the same structure found in the Industrial revolution.

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