November 20, 2019
The traditional structures of work and education were forged in the fires of the Industrial Revolution, based on a patriarchal approach to achieving their aims. For some time now, people have been questioning this structure and, the design of learning environments. Over the past few decades, we have not only developed the technologies to allow us to learn in new ways, we have also developed a far better understanding of the processes involved.
Technology is the core driver of change in the modern world. We may now consider technology to be the core strategic enabler of learning in higher education
just as it is in the workplace. This is not merely about seeing technology as infrastructure but instead as part of the learning environment in exactly the same
way as a building. Social changes have also encouraged us to reconsider the roles and structures of education to become more inclusive and diverse. It is one of the new tenets of modern learning theory that different kinds of learning goals require different approaches. Just as students are offered greater choice in their learning pathways as part of a modular, technology based curriculum based across a number of platforms, so too are we able to create different spaces in which they can learn and work.
This can gear the experience both to their specific interests and personal preferences. The most widely talked about manifestation of this in recent years has been the MOOC (massive open online class) that allows students to access materials and lectures from a remote educational institution. It has proved to be one of the tipping points in the uptake of new ways of creating learning environments.
Everybody needs time to acquire and develop the knowledge they need to support their ideas, creativity and interactions with others. Focus is essential.
The traditional setting for such work was often the library or a private room and those remain essential, often providing us with a model setting for such work. Such settings are inherently rich in the information needed to acquire a deep and broad knowledge of a particular subject or discipline.
This is particularly important when it comes to contextualising knowledge by providing the context for knowledge, offering up different sources of information to enrich the learning process and a setting that allows for focus and critical thought. Students should be surprised by what they learn and discover, not the interruptions of neighbours or devices.
The shift in the use of physical space towards more active and collaborative learning models is inevitably reflected in its design. The shift away from rooms in which desks are arranged in lines facing a tutor or lecturer towards more relaxed and collaborative settings.
A team based environment on the other hand is learner focussed. It may consist of circular tables or soft seating. It is unlikely to focus its attention on the ‘front of the room’. Teams of students work collaboratively with the instructor working as their mentor or guide. It is likely that technology will support this idea. Rather than having a single projector operated at the front of the room, wireless networking enables everybody to act as presenter, either projecting work from their own device or sharing it remotely with others.
Community based environments are essential in the context of what we now understand about how people learn. These are the settings that can create positive feedback loops of development for those people that use them to collaborate. Mistakes or a lack of understanding are not punished as they had been in the past, but treated as a chance for individuals and the group to improve. This encourages personal development and the formation of new ideas.
As it is in a business setting, this could include focus on the centre of the group, not its apex. This should emphasise that the contributions of all members of the group are valid and not just those of the instructor or the extroverts of the group itself.
In a modern context this is most obviously manifested in the chance to offer students feedback and guidance on their work and development. Formative assessments of this type typically work best with direct, face to face interactions. This might include feedback on reports, papers, work in progress. Often these will take place on a one to one basis and in private.
Summative assessments on the other hand take place at the end of a period of work and often in a single hit. The exam room, with its constraints on interactions and interruptions remains the closest remaining adaptation we have of the traditional didactic model.