It doesn’t come pre-packaged anymore…

While preparing for a presentation I’m delivering later this week, I was struck (again) by how significantly things have changed due to the internet’s affordance of connectivity.

I don’t use textbooks in my courses. I use a combination of my own writings, augmented with websites, and supported through dialogue and learner to learner interaction. My intent is to provide learners a diverse set of voices. A textbook is most often a one-sided view of the knowledge of a particular space (and, in certain fields, they can be dated by the time they are published). I don’t view content as something that learners need to consume in order to learn. As I’ve stated before…learning is like opening a door, not filling a container. Content is something that is created in the process of learning, not only in advance of learning.

In previous posts, I’ve stated my preference of connections over content. However, it’s impossible to ignore the valuable role that content has in the learning process. Content is a core of society. Content is the codification of our knowledge, our art, our vision, our dreams, and our aspirations. As little as five years ago, content came pre-packaged. You could get your content fix in the form of a textbook, a CD, a newscast, a newspaper, or a classroom. Not any more. I think the subtlety of the transition leaves many unable to see its depth.

We can now acquire our information in any manner that we desire. Learning, seen as content consumption, doesn’t fit this model anymore. Learners piece together (connect) various content and conversation elements to create an integrated (though at time contradictory) network of issues and concerns. Our learning and information acquisition is a mashup. We take pieces, add pieces, dialogue, reframe, rethink, connect, and ultimately, we end up with some type of pattern (meme?) that symbolizes what’s happening “out there” and what it means to us. And it changes daily. Instead of a CD with the songs of only one artist, we have iPods with a full range of music, video, audio files/books, images, etc. Our classrooms, instead of the pre-packaged views of an instructor or designers should include similar diverse elements.

It’s easy to make predictions when trends are substantially developed…and this is so obvious that many know it intuitively: Learning is no longer pre-packaged. Tomorrow’s courses and learning experiences will be structured with different tools (bye-bye LMS’ as we know them today)…and learning itself will be perceived more as an activity that occurs in networks and ecologies, not hierarchical, pre-organized structures. The central filtering agent is no longer the teacher or institution. It’s the learner. Think about what that means to our education system as we know it today. It changes everything.

Re-reading this post, I recognize that I really haven’t said anything new…but it just strikes me that as educators, we are not grasping (or prepared for) the depth of the change that is occurring under our feet. If it’s happened (breaking apart the center) in every other industry – movies, music, software, business – what makes us think that our educational structures are immune? And what does it mean to us? What should we be doing now to prepare our institutions? Ourselves? Our learners?

4 Responses to “It doesn’t come pre-packaged anymore…”

  1. Meg Ormiston says:

    Maybe it is not all new content, but you are so right. I just wrapped up two days working with private school teachers and I showed example after example about how we can engage students by closing the textbooks and engaging the brains. There were a few people totally with me, but my guess is the vast majority were back in their classrooms today lecturing. This was a pre-packaged group, yet sadly the package was created back in 1978 during their first year of teaching. Back then in the bell bottom era, a dear teaching partner said, “this is how we do it here”. and way too many years later that pre-package is set in cement!
    Time to break the mold and close the textbook!

  2. Yes, you’ve said it all before, but not as eloquently or as succinctly as this.
    One point I got caught on though…
    You said “The central filtering agent is no longer the teacher or institution. It’s the learner.”
    I wonder whether seeing the individual learner as the centre is a reflection of the Western idea of the individual ego being at the centre.
    I think about how the new learning is much more collaborative and I think about the new filtering and recommendation systems (eBay, Amazon, Digg) and I wonder – is it the individual learner that is the central filtering agent, or is it our networks, or some sort of collective intelligence?
    Perhaps it’s just the learners, collectively.

  3. Jill Armstrong says:

    I take issue that how we do it (learning) has really changed. We took ‘pieces’ before, from books and journals, and talking to others and lectures and articles etc. until we ended up with some pattern of knowledge and understanding. What has changed are the ways we get to various bits of content, the extent to which we can communicate with others about such content and amount of content there is to absorb, which has made us reliant on others in a wider network to know things we don’t, but can make use of for our own applications.
    The idea that the model of content-centric learning was a (past, but once) effective model I think is the great fallacy upon which our education system has been built!

  4. I agree totally with the comment of Sean about importance of collaboration and ‘filtering of learners collectivity’.
    Instructors task will be to give advice about how filters have to be set.