Advanced personal learning? Can we get solar power instead?

by Viv on March 24, 2008

The National Academy of Engineering of the USA’s National Science Foundation, has released 14 “Great Challenges”, which includes a focus on “Advancing Personalized Learning” and others such as making solar power economical. I remember being 12 and trying to work out how you could generate electricity using the chemical reactions in photosynthesis. It seemed a simple enough equation, so I puzzled over it for a while, until my sister who was studying Biology A level at the time told me with a knowing smile that photosynthesis was way more complicated than that, and that I was wasting my time.

Since then, my education and career seems to have taken me into the arena of advancing personalized learning…and as the name challenge would suggest, I wonder how much this resembles world peace…a much desired thing, but fraught with practical difficulties…

The vision of ultimate personalized learning can be summarized roughly as: “I get the information and skills that I need in a way that helps me learn them most quickly, easily and effectively”.

The main challenges that need to be overcome:

1. Learner maturity. Most learners in most organizations seem not to have the motivation and the self awareness to seek out learning opportunities that are optimal for them. There are relatively few occupations where people learn for the love of it e.g. computer programmers. In professional services the focus on billable hours tends to mean that learners want their learning packaged by experts so that it is over as quickly as possible. It will take considerable cultural shift and leadership to empower learners to act as mature learners.

2. Too much top down. Power and budgets are centralized. However it’s unfeasible for L&D departments to know what each person’s individual need is in a top down manner. This is only exacerbated by the rapid pace of change in technology and the competitive environment. Systems of personal recommendation enabled over a network e.g. Amazon’s book recommending process, perhaps offer a way that organizations can generate more personalization on a bottom up basis.

3. Lazy segmentation. The approach of segmenting a target audience e.g. by Honey & Mumford learning styles, MBTI, learner maturity or other models has typically been done in an over simplistic way e.g. If I self-report as a Pragmatist will doing modules designed for Pragmatists be the best learning experience for me? Surely not – this approach puts people in boxes and fails to recognize that part of learning may be to get out of comfort zone and behave in a non-preferred style. Playing devil’s advocate, I wonder if the segmentation by style is a cop out – does saying that something will only appeal to a learner of X style mean that you’ve not put enough thought or energy into making it good enough to appeal to everyone?

There’s exciting changes in the sphere of Web 2.0 which appear to be empowering learners to get more personalized learning. The widespread adoption of Google, RSS and wikipedia also seem like steps in the right direction (as does the increased uptake of coaching). Meanwhile some of the more innovative L&D functions are seeing themselves more as provides of methodology and skills rather than publishers of content.

But given that research grants are finite, personally I’ll be hoping that the government money gets spent on cracking the mysteries of photosynthesis. This would give us greener electricity and given oil’s role in many of today’s conflicts, probably go a lot further in the creation of world peace.

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