How to learn in the new digital Alexandria


What was the last thing you learned online? In recent years, navigators of the digital world come across online courses from the best universities in the world. We discover inspiring talks in which the greatest global leaders share questions, dilemmas and discoveries.

We find documentaries in which entertainment and education are combined in an amalgam of edutainment (a combination of the English words education and entertainment ) that we forget to look at the clock.

We explore platforms that help develop our professional skills to stay up-to-date in our work. We work remotely, collaborating with others. And we can learn through video tutorials on the most diverse issues, from growing an organic garden on our terrace to advanced mathematics.

Online learning has been combined in many cases with face-to-face instances, generating hybrid or blended modalities that enhance the best of both worlds: the flexibility that digital offers with the necessary affective containment that gives us face-to-face contact with others.

The pandemic, driver of change

In the context of the global pandemic, many of us have come to realize how irreplaceable is that physical encounter that school, university and other spaces provide that we miss so much in times of confinement. But, at the same time, we explore as never before the potential that remote education offers, which opens the doors to a world full of treasures to be found.

In the current complex and changing context in which lifelong learning is one of the keys to personal and professional success, it seems that we are facing a panacea never seen before. It is a phenomenon that had already been developing strongly, but that put one foot on the accelerator in the COVID-19 pandemic in which the digital education ecosystem expanded in record time.

In this new digital Alexandria we are all learners, yes, but also teachers. Today teachers from all disciplines teach us what they know online, from kung fu classes to visual arts workshops.

Even people with a vocation to teach and help have begun to dare to do so, from amateur cooks to young people who explain how to use the computer to do bank procedures to older adults, to mothers and fathers who share games with their children to inspire others.

Perhaps more than ever, we are learning in community. A global community that brings us together, in a two-way path, with those who have our same needs and interests. An expanded tribe that allows us to learn and teach in a continuum where we are protagonists and users of the generation of collective knowledge.

Learn to learn

However, not all that glitters is gold. For the dream of ubiquitous learning to become a reality, like the magic wand that transforms the pumpkin into a royal carriage, it is necessary to solve at least two major previous challenges.

The first is to universalize access to the digital world, a social debt that has not yet been resolved in many regions of the world. According to the United Nations , at the end of 2019 54% of the global population had access to the internet, with enormous differences between continents. Connectivity for all is a goal that is being achieved more slowly than we would like. Many already speak of internet access as a new human right.

But there is a second challenge, perhaps less visible and of tremendous importance. To harness the potential of ubiquitous learning, it is not enough to have global knowledge at your fingertips. Nor is it enough that there are quality educational proposals available. Something more is necessary: ​​we must learn to learn. A habit that, like everyone else, is learned. And that provides us with a launch pad for the rest of our lives.

Learning to learn has two fundamental ingredients. I’m going to call them spark and autonomy. The spark is that desire that moves us to know something new and the intrinsic motivation that leads us to set goals for ourselves, not for others, without expecting rewards or fearing punishment. It requires finding that flame that, in many cases, traditional education has been extinguishing over the years and which is key to rediscover to initiate and sustain any learning process.

Curiosity as a motor

To ignite – or reignite – that spark, the key is to cultivate our curiosity, exploring what interests us or intrigues us. It also helps to identify those pending accounts: those topics or skills that we always wanted to know or have but never found when – or how, or where, or with whom – to learn them. For some, it will be Mandarin Chinese; for others, pastries or oriental philosophy.

Making a list of what we would like to learn and having it visible (on the refrigerator, the desk or the nightstand) can be a strategy to put our curiosity on the agenda and not forget that the world is a fascinating place of learning.

It also helps to learn with others. Learning with our sons and daughters, something that many of us have done during confinement by accompanying them in school assignments, can be a starting point to look for that spark together, starting from school topics. We can take advantage of these topics as pretexts to learn and enjoy that knowledge that we learned poorly and forced during our own schooling, but that we suspect are interesting if we approach them from curiosity. Or look for common interests to explore together and share the adventure of learning as a family.

Because it is not about teaching, but about spreading the love of learning. And for that, it is not so necessary to know, but to be emotionally available to investigate together. That loving bond with the knowledge that is woven from childhood is probably the greatest legacy that we can leave to the new generations. Only wanting to know and always learn, will they be able to solve the challenges, both individually and collectively, in an increasingly uncertain world.

Autonomy, another key factor

The second key ingredient in learning to learn is autonomy. The same flexibility that online education offers is demanded by those who learn a series of skills that the Swiss pedagogue Philippe Perrenoud dubbed the “student trade”.

We talk about fundamental skills to learn anything. From the ability to organize our times, establish work routines and plan how to tackle a new task. To learn to focus and develop perseverance. To understand the instructions, process what we learn, establishing connections with what we know before and with our own life. And to reflect on what we have learned and evaluate ourselves.

Decades of research show that good performance – or failure – in school or any instance of learning tends to occur not so much because of understanding or not the content, but precisely because of having developed – or not – this capacity for self-regulation.

To take advantage of the educational potential of the digital world, this is even more necessary, because the reins of the process are held by the learner. And it is not always so easy to manage yourself. To cite just one example, an analysis of research on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), one of the most exciting professional upgrade offerings out there today, reveals that these self-administered courses tend to have high rates. dropout rates and that students drop out after a few classes.

Learning at a distance requires, much more than other modalities, the ability to plan and sustain effort. The good news is that this autonomy can be learned. It is not a quality of our personality, but a capacity that grows stronger as we dedicate time to it and realize that it is the cornerstone of any learning process. Sometimes we can do it alone. Others, the most, we need others to encourage us, help us and challenge us to continue.

Learning throughout life helps us feel current, young, updated. It gives us new energy to undertake daily activities and keeps us on a permanent one-way journey. The ubiquitous learning world is full of undiscovered treasures. Perhaps more than ever, education today is a two-way street in which we can all be, simultaneously, learners and teachers.

Author Bio: Melina Furman is Professor in educational innovation at the Universidad de San Andrés (Argentina)