Betsy Corcoran: "Learn All About It!"

By Betsy Corcoran     Dec 31, 2013

Betsy Corcoran: "Learn All About It!"

BoulderCreek, nestled amid the great redwoods of California’s Big Basin state park, was once a loggingtown. In this rural outpost, pavement still gives way quickly to dirtroads. But on the edge of town, there’s a coffee shop with free Wifi, and whenmy errands brought me there at the end of 2013, a snaggletooth man with a bandana wantedto chat. He gestured at the battered notebook computer in front ofhim.

“Oh, these computers are great,” he enthused. “My son taughtme all about it. I didn’t want to learn. But he made me. And I’ve thanked himseveral times. Why, I can get all kinds of books on this thing. And I looked uplots when I was dealing with my lung cancer.”

When old loggers remake themselves as learners, a new epochis upon us. Call it the “learning era.” More and more of us--in the US andaround the world--will make our living with our wits rather than our muscles. To do so, we will have to learn--actively and always.

And that meansour framework for thinking about “learning” will stretch and bend in a thousand previously unimaginable ways. 

Remember when “work” was something that happened between9:00 am and 5:00 pm, in a building away from home?  

Our attitudes toward learning--who learns, how they learn,when and where they learn and of course, what they learn--are similarly influx. 

We want our children to learn how to learn--and to realizethat each one learns differently. We want them to capitalize on thethings they do well and to get help on those things they find hard. We want ourteachers to be our boldest learners, inspiring and leading students. Wewant learning to be genuine and meaningful, rather than a forced march through random questions designed totrick. We want learners to feel emboldened to ask challenging questions--and tohave the resources to pursue answers orinvent solutions. And we want learning to be part of everyone’s life, no matterwhat the background, ability or age of the learner.

We can’t do these things without appropriate technology. Andso 2014 will be the year when we start to figure out just what--andwhen--technology is a useful lever to unlock learning for everyone, anywhere,and at any time.

Our journey has just begun. We’ve moved from the ideathat every child in a class gets exactly the same assignment to differentgroups of students getting different assignments. That’s a bit like plunkingthe first motion picture camera in Row 10 of a theater and letting actors act infront of it.

Technology transformed the dramatic arts when the cameradiscovered its freedom to roam anywhere--and began providing the close-ups,panoramas and startling perspectives that transcended the static limitations ofstaged performance. Later, when digitaltechnology began creating any effect we could imagine, movies became even richer andmore intriguing, a different experience than the stage offered.

We’re not quite there yet: We haven’t figuredout how to wield data in ways that support individualized learning withoutputting privacy at risk. We’ve been hung up on how to measure “progress” and soget embroiled in heated arguments about what to test and how to do it. We want to personalize learning for studentsbut are only beginning to figure out how to personalize the ongoing developmentand learning for teachers.

Rather than offering predictions for 2014, what I’ll be lookingfor this year are milestones of progress toward our goals of creating a culture of learning. Among them:

  • Schools where teachers and students arecollaboratively learning and making smart use of technology to reach goals thatthey have set; 
  • Teachers who are together learning and helpingmove their local communities to new ideas about what school and learning canbe;
  • Technology that is flexible enough that learnersand teachers discover ways that it supports their goals that surprise even thepeople who developed it;
  • Administrators who demonstrate their support forthe culture of learning in their schools and districts by giving more autonomyto leading educators.

What about the business of edtech, you ask? As we reachthose milestones, the entrepreneurs and companies that build tools to supportlearning will flourish.

And one wish for the New Year: A great anthem for learning. Something less anxiousthan Alanis Morisssette and more of the spirit and cadence of Michael Franti &Spearhead.

Let’s rock 2014! 

Betsy Corcoran: "Learn All About It!"

By Betsy Corcoran     Dec 31, 2013

Betsy Corcoran: "Learn All About It!"

BoulderCreek, nestled amid the great redwoods of California’s Big Basin state park, was once a loggingtown. In this rural outpost, pavement still gives way quickly to dirtroads. But on the edge of town, there’s a coffee shop with free Wifi, and whenmy errands brought me there at the end of 2013, a snaggletooth man with a bandana wantedto chat. He gestured at the battered notebook computer in front ofhim.

“Oh, these computers are great,” he enthused. “My son taughtme all about it. I didn’t want to learn. But he made me. And I’ve thanked himseveral times. Why, I can get all kinds of books on this thing. And I looked uplots when I was dealing with my lung cancer.”

When old loggers remake themselves as learners, a new epochis upon us. Call it the “learning era.” More and more of us--in the US andaround the world--will make our living with our wits rather than our muscles. To do so, we will have to learn--actively and always.

And that meansour framework for thinking about “learning” will stretch and bend in a thousand previously unimaginable ways. 

Remember when “work” was something that happened between9:00 am and 5:00 pm, in a building away from home?  

Our attitudes toward learning--who learns, how they learn,when and where they learn and of course, what they learn--are similarly influx. 

We want our children to learn how to learn--and to realizethat each one learns differently. We want them to capitalize on thethings they do well and to get help on those things they find hard. We want ourteachers to be our boldest learners, inspiring and leading students. Wewant learning to be genuine and meaningful, rather than a forced march through random questions designed totrick. We want learners to feel emboldened to ask challenging questions--and tohave the resources to pursue answers orinvent solutions. And we want learning to be part of everyone’s life, no matterwhat the background, ability or age of the learner.

We can’t do these things without appropriate technology. Andso 2014 will be the year when we start to figure out just what--andwhen--technology is a useful lever to unlock learning for everyone, anywhere,and at any time.

Our journey has just begun. We’ve moved from the ideathat every child in a class gets exactly the same assignment to differentgroups of students getting different assignments. That’s a bit like plunkingthe first motion picture camera in Row 10 of a theater and letting actors act infront of it.

Technology transformed the dramatic arts when the cameradiscovered its freedom to roam anywhere--and began providing the close-ups,panoramas and startling perspectives that transcended the static limitations ofstaged performance. Later, when digitaltechnology began creating any effect we could imagine, movies became even richer andmore intriguing, a different experience than the stage offered.

We’re not quite there yet: We haven’t figuredout how to wield data in ways that support individualized learning withoutputting privacy at risk. We’ve been hung up on how to measure “progress” and soget embroiled in heated arguments about what to test and how to do it. We want to personalize learning for studentsbut are only beginning to figure out how to personalize the ongoing developmentand learning for teachers.

Rather than offering predictions for 2014, what I’ll be lookingfor this year are milestones of progress toward our goals of creating a culture of learning. Among them:

  • Schools where teachers and students arecollaboratively learning and making smart use of technology to reach goals thatthey have set; 
  • Teachers who are together learning and helpingmove their local communities to new ideas about what school and learning canbe;
  • Technology that is flexible enough that learnersand teachers discover ways that it supports their goals that surprise even thepeople who developed it;
  • Administrators who demonstrate their support forthe culture of learning in their schools and districts by giving more autonomyto leading educators.

What about the business of edtech, you ask? As we reachthose milestones, the entrepreneurs and companies that build tools to supportlearning will flourish.

And one wish for the New Year: A great anthem for learning. Something less anxiousthan Alanis Morisssette and more of the spirit and cadence of Michael Franti &Spearhead.

Let’s rock 2014! 

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