Saturday, October 23, 2010

Get out of the classroom

Hundreds of years of tradition are very hard to break. If we were to invent education from scratch today would anyone come up with the classroom model? For most people education takes place in a classroom under the leadership of a teacher - anything else is simply not real education. Even when we move education out on the net it takes place in "virtual classrooms" using tools with names like "blackboard." School is such a central part of our upbringing that we assume that learning can only take place when we gather in a room that resembles the classroom of our youth and take part in an organised pre-determined course.

UF HHP Classroom Plastic Wooden Desks De by cdsessums, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  cdsessums 

We demand hard research-based evidence that flexible net-based learning really works but I seldom hear any demands to justify the traditional model. What is so good about gathering 30+ children of the same age (but varying skill-levels and interests) in a classroom and teaching them as if they all learn in the same way? How many kids are turned off education for life because they don't fit in to the classroom model? However because the classroom has such deep symbolic value in society we simply can't imagine any other models for learning. Those who enjoy classroom learning tend to become teachers and thus perpetuate the system. Maybe it's time to recruit teachers who didn't enjoy school.

I have learned much more from colleagues, friends and self study than I probably did in the classroom. It's probably the same for most people, we just don't realize it. We learn every day but the only learning that is officially recognized is the sort that is based around a classroom and a set syllabus. Infomal learning on the net offers enormous opportunities for everyone and the most important task for the established school system is to help pupils to learn how to learn. I've heard many people say that they need to learn a certain skill or subject but they don't have time to go on a course or that there aren't any courses at suitable times. We're stuck in classroom mode and can't see that we can learn whenever and wherever we want - we just need to know how to network and use the material that's freely available out there.

Today we have the opportunity to create a new infrastructure for learning. We have a vast range of open educational resources plus tools that enable collaboration and discussion. Many people are already involved in collaborative learning but the vast majority are not. Society is changing more rapidly than ever before and the traditional classroom is too limited to cope with the accelerating need for life-long learning. People simply can't wait for a suitable classroom course to become available in their town at the right time. We need to be able to take charge of our own learning and network with others who share that need. We need to get out of the classroom.

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