Relearning Learning-Applying the Long Tail to Learning

From the MIT World website:
In a digitally connected, rapidly evolving world, we must transcend the traditional Cartesian models of learning that prescribe “pouring knowledge into somebody’s head,” says John Seely Brown. We learn through our interactions with others and the world, he says, and there’s no more perfect medium for enabling this than an increasingly open and organized World Wide Web.

Relearning Learning–Applying the Long Tail to Learning

While the wired world may be flat, it now also features “spikes,” interactive communities organized around a wealth of subjects. For kids growing up in a digital world, these unique web resources are becoming central to popular culture, notes Brown. Now, educators must begin to incorporate the features of mash-ups and remixes in learning, to stimulate “creative tinkering and the play of imagination.”

With the avid participation of online users, the distinction between producers and consumers blurs. In the same way, says Brown, knowledge ‘production’ must flow more from ‘amateurs’ – the students, life-long learners, and professionals learning new skills. Brown describes amateur astronomers who observe the sky 24/7, supplementing the work of professionals in critical ways. A website devoted to Boccaccio’s Decameron welcomes both scholars and students, opening up the world of professional humanities research to all.

The challenge of 21st century education will be leveraging the abundant resources of the web – this very long tail of interests – into a “circle of knowledge-building and sharing.” Perhaps, Brown proposes, the formal curriculum of schools will encompass both a minimal core “that gets at the essence of critical thinking,” paired with “passion-based learning,” where kids connect to niche communities on the web, deeply exploring certain subjects. Brown envisions education becoming “an act of re-creation and productive inquiry,” that will form the basis for a new culture of learning.

There are many ideas here that I agree with:

  • deeply exploring subjects instead of the “mile wide, inch thick” curriculum currently popular in the U.S. that seeks to “cover content” rather than inspire students
  • exploring the idea of the “long tail” with enthusiasm for the talents and contributions of amateurs and veterans alike, instead of protecting the kingdom of experts who have control of information, or worse, advocating some kind of “noble savage” ideal that only amateurs have valuable ideas.
  • creative tinkering as a valid learning style instead of the vaunted “scientific method” that seems to exist only in school
  • emphasis on creation and production as a critical part of learning, instead of viewing students as passive recipients of knowledge

It’s a long video, but give it a shot. There is a timeline at the bottom of the page so you can fast forward past the introductions if you like. Enjoy!


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