Our current age has been framed by the concept of the ‘information age’. Sometimes also known as the ‘computer age’. In a networked society as ours, digital technology has touched and changed many aspects of day-to-day life. For example, many long-standing societal, business and institutional systems have either lost their relevance or have transformed beyond recognition, the music, banking and travel industries being excellent examples. Education does not stand untouched and we observe emerging and declining paradigms, changing expectations from society, our students now framed as consumers, with new and emerging types of informal learning experiences (take MOOCs for example) and all too frequently operating in unstable economic and policy environments.
The powerful combination of the ’information age’ and the consequent disruption caused by these unstable environments provides the impetus to look afresh and identify new models and approaches for education (e.g. OERs, MOOCs, PLEs, Learning Analytics etc.). For learners this has taken a fantastical leap into aggregating, curating and co-curating and co-producing outside the boundaries of formal learning environments – the networked learner is sharing voluntarily and for free, spontaneously with billions of people.
How do we as a community of educators respond to these directions? What could it mean for learning and the changing socio-economic demands of society?
We are set a challenge to really understand our learning environments. To create and invent responses that are possibly not even thought of yet. Perhaps there are new business models, new policies, different ways to understand technological influences, new ways to interpret the collaborative and social-networked society that we live in: the learning environment, in its widest sense.
Following up on the results of the EDEN Research Workshop (RW8) in Oxford in 2014 and the Barcelona 2015 Annual Conference, a clear focus has been awarded to the expansion of emerging learning scenarios, identifying an ongoing shift towards greater attention to the importance of context in the learning process. The EDENRW8 report from Tony Bates highlighted that openness needs to go beyond the content-centered focus. What is driving the need for new approaches is the massification of higher education and the need to find new ways to create openness, which requires a greater focus on the contexts of learning. This implies an integrated approach to online education and the various ways of openness in education which are now developing.
More present core questions include the tension between human and machine approaches to learning – raising the important question of what in education is best done by humans and what by machines? New knowledge is also needed regarding how to combine scalability with personalisation, as well as about learning context and contextualisation.
The social and socio-economic context is more important than ever. Society itself can be understood as a learning environment, with questions of learners’ connection with the community and the empowerment of the practitioners.
In the new learning environments, the core players and stakeholders – learners, educators, government bodies, educational and learning institutions – increasingly acknowledge the chance for constructive and positive changes.
How do we as a community of educators respond to these directions? What could it mean for learning and the changing socio-economic demands of society? What can we, the community of experienced educators, say about this?
Let’s evaluate and invent better responses regarding these changing socio-economic demands, the functioning of institutions, the new tools and their usability, the collaborative learning cultures, digital pedagogy and more… In other words the learning environment in its widest sense.