I’m going to make what will sound like an absurd suggestion: future learning endeavors need to separate knowledge from learners. Here’s my rationale:
Over the last three years, XML has grown substantially in use for data organization. HTML tied together content and presentation (i.e. the data and presentation were treated largely as one entity). When a company decided a new website was required, both data and presentation had to be created. XML separates data and presentation. Data can be managed in one document, and the presentation handled by CSS. It allows a designer to alter a web page simply by writing a new style sheet.
In a learning sense, we have treated the learner and the content as one entity. We fill the learner with content and release them into the corporate world. As their content runs low, they attend evening/continuing education classes in order to “refill”. This model works fairly well when the half-life of knowledge (how long it takes for knowledge to lose relevance) is long. In today’s world, knowledge is short – it survives only a short period of time before it is outdated. Most individuals need to spend an enormous amount of time in continuing education classes to stay current. It’s not good for business, and it’s not good for employee’s sanity.
We need to separate the learner from the knowledge they hold. It’s not really as absurd as it sounds. Consider the tools and processes we currently use for learning. Courses are static, textbooks are written years before actual use, classrooms are available at set times, etc. The underlying assumption of corporate training and higher education centers on the notion that the world hasn’t really changed.
But it has. Employees can’t stay current by taking a course periodically. Content distribution models (books and courses) can’t keep pace with information and knowledge growth. Problems are becoming so complex that they cannot be contained in the mind of one individual – problems are held in a distributed manner across networks, with each node holding a part of the entire puzzle.
How do we separate the learner from the knowledge? By focusing not on the content they need to know (content changes constantly and requires continual updating), but on the connections to nodes which continually filter and update content. Instead of buying a book on elearning, subscribe to Stephen’s site, Maish’s or Jay’s blog (or elearnspace ). Read a few wikipedia articles (and contribute), join discussion forums, a list serv, follow tags on technorati or del.icio.us, attend a virtual conference, take a few workshops…you get the idea. When we stop seeing knowledge as an entity that is possessed within a person and start to cast it as a function of elements distributed across a system, we notice a dramatic impact on the education process: the educator becomes a supporter (not the center), the content is not as critical as the connections, learners find value in their aggregated perspectives, learners become content creators, and learning is continuous, exploratory and sustained (not controlled or filtered by only one agent).