Smaller World: Technology and Today’s Learner

People claim the world is getting smaller. What they really mean is that their ability to communicate is getting larger. By the time you finish reading this post it’s likely that you will have also received at least one comment on your Facebook page, an email, an IM, a tweet, and possibly even joined a Google hangout or a Skype call. Communication tools have become available in every flavor of the rainbow.

Beyond the most obvious advances in direct communication technology, we also have new possibilities for indirect information sharing and presence awareness, keeping us in contact with the people, happenings, and ideas which most interest us. Our new found ability to obtain the exact information we need, at precisely the moment we need it, has had a profound impact on our productivity both at work and at play. In a predominantly knowledge-worker based society, readily available on-demand access to information has transformed our expectations of the essential ingredients of success. It has shaken up our long established traditions of formal education and reassigned value from process based learning to self-guided alternatives. Learners have been empowered to expand their horizons and find answers for themselves like never before.

For decades, educators have struggled to harness technology in the classroom. To their credit, they recognized its potential impact on learners, but there was no blueprint for fitting it into the pedagogical temple of our 20th century education system.  But that’s changing.  Much of our learning has now become self-directed, and learning now takes place anywhere and at any time of our choosing. The classroom is merely one possibility. In fact, self-directed learners may not need the classroom at all. Technology both empowers and accelerates this change, influencing how, when, and what we learn while equipping a new generation with both the tools and expectations to become successful as life-long self-guided learners.

While the rapid expansion of information available on the Internet isn’t a recent phenomenon, cloud based computing applications are multiplying the value of information in people’s daily lives by making information useful in amazing new ways, from just about anywhere. As personal technology in the form of netbooks and hand held communication devices grows increasingly sophisticated and open, the ability of Information Technology departments to tackle the requests of end users is completely side-stepped.   Learning Management Systems are not immune from advances in technology.  Any sacred mystery that once graced these bloated enterprise-centric systems has already been shamed by the proliferation of Sharepoint, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Dropbox, TeamViewer, and any number of similar web-connected resources, largely free to use, ridiculously easy to acquire, and miraculously powerful as tools to communicate, to share, to teach, and to learn. Open web based software has already arrived. Most industries have already begun to embrace it. The response from the LMS community has been to tack on interfaces to things like Twitter and Facebook but to completely ignore the fact that practically all of the learning is happening outside of the LMS. What the LMS vendors have failed to recognize is that it isn’t just technology that has evolved. People have evolved in their use of technology, in their acceptance of personal responsibility and empowerment as learners, and in their expectations of the learning process. It’s time for us to set aside our old notions of what constitutes learning.

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