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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No more learners

Jay Cross posted an interesting video blog the other day about changing the way we look at learning. He used the analogy of a preacher guiding a congregation, given them direction but talking down to them from a pulpit as representative of the old forms of learning. He then introduced the story of Hans Mondermann a Dutch Traffic Management expert who removed road signs to improve road safety as an indication of the new.

Mondermann's idea on traffic management is simple. To make roads safer, you must first make them more dangerous. Road users have become lazy and overdependent on signs and signals to tell them what to do. By removing most of the road signs and markings you make the road users uncertain. Result, they pay more attention to their surroundings, other road users and pedestrians.

As usual, I agree with Jay on the need to reduce our dependency on overly directed spoon feeding in education and training in favour of teaching people to think and learn for themselves. But I don't think it is as easy as just removing the signs or preachers.

I risk upsetting a lot of people here but Jay introduced the religious analogy. The reason the directed form of learning persists is the same reason that organised religion continues to flourish. Many people like to be told what to do and in some cases how to think. It provides security and certainty.

Removing the road signs only works if people have already developed the expertise to evaluate what is presented to them (be it whilst driving their car, whilst doing their job or living their lives). Hence the reasons that Mondermann's ideas have only been implemented in a few areas of the more civilized countries in Europe .

I have written before about George Siemens's insightful comment earlier in the year about information now being, "validated at the point of consumption, not creation". The trouble is I don't think it is yet. We are still too credulous and if we simply remove the prophets and the road signs, nature abhoring a vacuum as she does, they will simply be replace by other agents who will tell us what to do.


However it may be simply that Jay is in sunny Berkeley, California and I am in rain and wind lashed London so my outlook is not so bright. Perhaps I should just watch Sugata Mitra's life affirming video of how slum children in India taught themselves to use a computer without any outside help and not be so negative.

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