The digital world is full of educational experiences. People who wish to learn can now much more easily acquire a lot of the skills and knowledge they need in order to effectively translate what they’ve learned into practical workplace applications as well as pleasing educational or creative experiences.
Who among us as writers, or students or the merely curious have not followed a trail of thinking through the internet’s wealth of websites, definitions, essays, images, references and other sources of information? Look at the number of photographers who have found in the digital world new access and control over their art. Music will never be the same, though literally now it can be. TV, movies, radio, books and computer programs are converging, while HD is morphing into 3-D. The ease of access to much of this is improving daily, as is the range of subject matter and expertise, all of which just about anyone can acquire without the benefit of a set of instructions, a school room or university, books, a guide or an instructor.
As someone with several years experience in writing, publishing, photography, editing, management and education, I recognize the creative kinship among many of these fields, and the role the digital world has played in each. In particular, my role as an educator makes me wonder about whether education now needs to be understood and practiced in an entirely different way.
With this digital world as an alternative source of just about any information and knowledge, we as creators and educators need to prove our worth to students every day. So, in this emerging digital world, what does a student need most from an instructor or educational provider?
The first thing we have to realize is that the old and new educational worlds are light years apart in their cultures. The classroom setting is an environment where the teacher-to-student delivery method is linear in nature, whereas the digital is decidedly nonlinear, even metaphoric in the way it presents alternatives the student can explore. The two processes are distinct, clearly impacting how someone learns, the paths of learning they take, and, in fact, the kind of knowledge they emerge with from the other end. The classroom is heavy on guided thought, sometimes featuring mentoring, nurturing, one-on-one relationships. The digital setting relies more on independent thought and exploration, and relies more on number and data driven solutions or experiences which are a direct result of the design structures and meta-data algorithms of search engines.
Traditional educators tend to think of themselves as providers (keepers) of knowledge, content and skills, whereas perhaps our new role has less to do with merely providing information. Perhaps it is more along the lines of knowledgeable guide, mentor, coordinator. We need to create environments where we help students coordinate together in combining and making sense of the knowledge and information. The best education always seems to come in groups, where people learn from each other in an incremental map of discovery followed by application.
The educational experience needs to swing equally between information gathering and what to do with it. In a way, both the classroom and the internet are ideal environments for this, and so the much discussed hybrid version of education (some classroom time/ some online) seems to be the right direction. The goal would be to accelerate both the range and pace of learning in communities of learners. When people feel a connect to what they are a part of, then you get a whole different set of behaviors and learning outcomes. Add to this a student group version of a social network, and you have the makings of a powerful engine of interactivity that can self-organize, share information, and support the growth, development and progress of the group.