Thursday, October 30, 2003

E-learning evolution?

Maybe the way we learn best is the way we are taught to learn as children, and maybe that can be self-perpetuating. Though I bet you dollars to donuts that if we could map a wiring diagram of the brain, today's pre-teens would have very different CPU than when I was a kid -- despite their formal teaching being very similar to that of their parents.

There are many things that we have done in certain ways over the centuries, and essentially the processes that we used did not start to change much till around 50 years ago when technology acceleration really started kicking in dramatically. We now use tools intuitively that had huge gee-whiz factors a few decades ago. And the tools have in many ways changed our processes.

Once when we calculated numbers we used an abacus, then a slide rule, then a pocket calculator. Same goal, same end result, different tool, different process. I remember the debate in the 70's about whether calculators should be allowed in university exams, now it's wi-fi PDAs. Should we prevent people from learning to use a more efficient process to get to the same result just because it's not the way we learned how to do it?

The way we prepare a meal today is in many ways similar to how we did it in Roman times. Except that we acquire the ingredients differently, we keep them under refrigeration, we wash them in running water, we pre-heat an oven instead of lighting a fire. Or we take a prepared meal out of a freezer and nuke it in a microwave. At the cellular level, of course, not a lot has changed -- raw food gets cooked and we still chew it before swallowing. But the processes we use to get there have improved and become more efficient and more effective.

The basic ways in which teaching and learning have taken place over the centuries should be just as subject to accelerating technological improvement as the processes in any other field. If anyone should be actively seeking better ways to accomplish their task, it should be those engaged in teaching -- after all, the generic goal of teachers is to prepare people for the future, not to shackle them to the past.

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