“The future you imagine is probably here now!” So says Steve Wheeler, learning futurist. Steve is Associate Professor at the UK’s Plymouth University, one of Britain’s largest, where online learning is not a fashion—it is a way of life. “New pedagogies are needed to align with the reality that our future visions are rapidly becoming our present” asserts Steve. “Our old ways of thinking will only make the brokenness of education and learning worse. We have to change, and change fast.”
Steve Wheeler is not quite everyone’s image of a university professor or of a leading thinker and globally known keynote speaker on the topics of learning theory and the impact of technology on learning. His usual tee-shirt and jeans, a disarmingly engaging big personality, and charisma contrast with his deeply thoughtful intellect, vision, and a vast energy for fostering networks to create new ideas. The combination makes Steve one of the most respected figures in modern learning.
New paradigms, new pedagogy
A prolific blogger and one of the best-known Twitterati (Twitter handle: @timbuckteeth), Steve has huge passion for learning being about connections and networks to encourage and enable discovery. He does not talk about "the generations," preferring instead to discuss a new paradigm of the 21st century worker—living in a connected society, keen to create and develop connections with people we care about. He says, “The perceptions that lead us to talk about a generational divide are wrong—it is a contextual issue.”
So what is the new pedagogy that Steve has come to understand through his research at Plymouth? “It is about kids creating for themselves. It is no longer about teachers passing on knowledge and controlling classes. It is about facilitating a mindset and lifestyle that is the reality of the modern child entering education.”
"The implications are massive," says Steve. Like many futurists and learning theoreticians he believes hierarchies are dying. “We have exhausted and moved on from taxonomies. The bottom-up folksonomy has been explored, and we are now entering the rhizonomy, the un-organization (of which MOOCs are an example), chaotic, non-rule-based learning that happens regardless of organization.”
Listen to Steve explaining his background and thinking. You will soon get the idea.
What does it mean then for us in facilitating learning? Anyone who, like me, has had the privilege of experiencing the schools afternoon at the annual PELeCON (Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference) will come away awed and inspired by the results of what Steve describes as the "nodes of production" that exist in schools working with his ideas around Plymouth. The results are truly mind-bending! Essentially, it means working with communities of learners, with a clear intended learning outcome, to assist members in creating an environment of exploration, sharing, and excitement in discovering knowledge. Gone are the traditional emphases on curriculum, marking, and reporting, replaced by teachers stretching their creativity to free their young charges to undertake their own learning journeys. In comes a necessity to stimulate learning through advanced technologies, awakening and fostering that entrepreneurial curiosity that is essential to learning.
Of course there has to be assessment of progress, but methodologies need to change, taking advantage of the connectedness of the learner’s world. Peer feedback becomes critically important (compare this with my piece in April of this year about Nigel Paine’s insight).
How fast, how far?
The conclusion is the same. Designing learning is not the way forward. The workplace learning community has to morph (fast) to ensure an environment exists that will foster habits, practices, and the learning imperatives of a generation now beginning to enter the workforce. We have to become experts in the technologies available to learning, conversant with the rapidly changing understanding of relevant pedagogies, and able to fit that understanding to the needs for information and skill of employees as they seek to learn at their workplace. Succeed, and our lives become exciting and easier, breaking the stranglehold of course and content delivery, freeing us instead to be helpers alongside our customers’ journeys to optimum performance.
What is happening around Steve and at Plymouth is not unique. The Wheeler model is not the only one. There are many insights and experiments happening around the planet. For the workplace learning community, and the enterprise leaders who fund it, there is a stark warning—change is not an option if we are to foster knowledge and skill development. The issue is “How fast and how far are we able to change our methodologies to align ourselves with a new workforce that understands learning in a new way?” The rhizonomy is a threat, but also an amazing opportunity to foster true performance improvement.
Steve Wheeler is best contacted on Twitter as @timbuckteeth.