Readings for the Seminar: A New Culture of Learning

8 August, 2011

New Culture of LearningA New Culture of Learning:
Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change

Authors: Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown

The 21st century is a world in constant change. In A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown pursue an understanding of how the forces of change, and emerging waves of interest associated with these forces, inspire and invite us to imagine a future of learning that is as powerful as it is optimistic. Our understanding of what constitutes “a new culture of learning” is based on several basic assumptions about the world and how learning occurs.

The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter and shorter life

Strategies which resist or even adapt to a constantly changing world are insufficient to keep up. We need ways to embrace change and even enjoy making sense out of a constantly changing work.. Denying change has become a losing strategy.

We need to fundamentally rethink learning and strive for ways to amplify learning and make it scalable.

Understanding play is critical to understanding learning

Play is universally recognized as a critical tool for children. It is how they come to understand, experience, and know the world. As we get older, play is seen as unimportant, trivial, or as a means of relaxation and learning switches to something you do in school where now you are taught. What we fail to fully grasp is that play is the way that children manage new, unexpected and changing conditions, exactly the situation we now all face in the fast-paced world of the 21st century. Play is more than a tool to manage change; it allows us to make new things familiar, to perfect new skills, to experiment with moves and crucially to embrace change —a key disposition for succeeding in the 21st century

The world is getting more connected that ever before – can that be a resource?

Access to information and to other people is both unparalleled in modern history. Our “connectedness” is not only to resources, but to people who are helping to manage, organize, disseminate and make sense of those resources as well. This interconnectedness is creating a new sense of peer mentoring enabled by access to multiple levels and degrees of expertise.

In this connected world, mentorship takes on new importance and meaning

Where traditionally mentoring was a means of enculturating members into a community, mentoring in the collective relies more on the sense of learning and developing temporary, peer-to-peer relationships that are fluid and impermanent. Expertise is shared openly and willingly, without regard to an institutional mission. Instead, expertise is shared conditionally and situationally, as a way to enable the agency of other members of the collective.

Challenges we face are multi-faceted requiring systems thinking & socio-technical sensibilities

As part of what Hagel & Brown call “The Big Shift” change is happening on an exponential scale. This requires our learning environments to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us. Our current educational models neither scale sufficiently nor provide a robust enough set of solutions to meet the needs of the current complexities that we face.

Skills are important but so are mind sets and dispositions

It is no longer sufficient to teach skills or even meta-skills (e.g. learning how to learn). These approaches only tell us what needs to be taught, whereas dispositions shift the ground back to learning, grounding education in passion, imagination, and arc of life learning.

Innovation is more important than ever – but turns on our ability to cultivate imagination

Contrary to popular myth, imagination and innovation are actually spurred by constraints. Too much freedom can be paralyzing, too many constraints can be stifling and we currently have a situation where our classrooms are suffocating and the outside resources (e.g. the Net) are unstructured and unguided (apart from the collectives that form to manage that issue). What a new culture of learning points to is the fusion of freedom and constraint, helping us understand how collectives can provide a sense of institutional structure while enabling personal and individual agency.

A new culture of learning needs to leverage social & technical infrastructures in new ways

We believe a new culture of learning does this in four ways:

1) By thinking about the problem as a crisis in learning rather than teaching
2) By looking at the incredible power of new cultures of learning that are happening already and understanding what makes them successful
3) By tapping new resources: peer to peer learning, amplified by the power of the collective, which favors things like questing dispositions over transfer models of education and embraces play as a modality of exploration, experimentation, and engagement.
4) By understanding how to optimize the resources (and freedom) of large networks, while at the same time affording personal and individual agency constrained within a problem space created by a bounded learning environment.

Play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation

The essence of play is twofold: 1) the freedom to act in new ways which are different from “everyday life” and 2) a set of rules that constrain that freedom. Think of any game a kid creates of make-believe. It is both fantasy and it has to have rules (which may be arbitrary and even ridiculous), but what it results in is a world of imagination and something entirely new and innovative.

It is easy to understand that play is a perspective or modality for learning. But we have been framing innovation too narrowly. Innovation is not an outcome. It too is a perspective and that perspective is governed by play which in some cases might be thought of as tinkering.

More information |

About the author


Add comment