I really enjoyed reading this chapter of New Literacies this week because the authors hit on a number of themes that really hit home with me and my motivation for studying instructional technology. I will start my response by sharing a personal story.
When I started college, I attended the freshman orientation which took place the weekend prior to the first week of classes. At one point during the orientation, a student could attend a speech by of the professors of the program they wanted to major in (science majors attended a science lecture, engineer majors attended an engineering lecture, etc.). For those that did not yet know what they wanted to study (this was me), they could hear a lecture from one of the student development professors.
So I attended the lecture, and the professor speaking made sure to make the point that it often did not matter what one studied in college because one could find a job doing anything. For example, English majors have become lawyers, Humanities majors have become HR representatives, math majors have become doctors, and so on. I know the professor was trying to emphasize to his audience that they should study what they love - which I think is a justified message. The thing that has bugged me since about that speech is that no one ever said HOW the humanities major became an HR representative. Becoming an HR representative still requires learning so where did that learning take place?
Throughout this chapter, Lankshear and Knoble often referred to works published by Brown and Adler. One thing they shared from the book “Minds on fire: Open education, the long tail and learning 2.0” was that populations in the future “will increasingly depend on the availability of robust local ecosystems of resources that support innovation and productiveness “(2008: 17). I believe this is the answer to the question posed above. The paradigm shift from “pushing” education onto students to having them “pull” information based on their passions or needs is already in full swing.
Lankshear and Knoble note that societies have historically depended on formal education to support such learning but that option seems to be running out of time (2011: 215). The authors note that the type of learning needed for future sustainability and viability cannot be obtained through traditional teaching methods of pre-set courses and curriculum. In higher education, decontextualized and abstract content absorption have proven to be ineffective means of innovation and productivity (2011:215).
This appears to be a pretty hard knock on formal education. There still is value in theoretical and abstract content because it enables student to exercise their mind and develop critical and analytical thinking. However, as for innovation and productivity, such a method of learning does us no good. I go back to the example of the Humanities major turned HR representative. This example happens to be my wife’s own story. She studied something she loved which was Humanities. Upon graduation she found a job as an executive assistant for a financial planner. The position did not require any knowledge of finance just the ability to perform administrative duties. After gaining experience performing those duties for a year or so, my wife sought out another job as an executive assistant for another company. Her experience as an executive assistant qualified her for the job – not her knowledge of classical literature and art. Yet this time, she was the assistant to a vice president of human resources. Now exposed, indirectly, to a new competency which she personally found interesting, my wife began gleaning knowledge from co-workers over time. This enable her to seek out a position and obtain a position as an HR representative and begin her career in that field. Did it matter that she studied Humanities in college? No. But it did matter that she obtain some learning which she “pulled” from her social network.
Such a practice takes place all the time. What we need to do is utilize the technological literacies which we have to magnify social learning. We can create the resources and give people access. In a way, it’s offering on-the-job training without having the job.
I personally find this subject matter exciting and relevant in my work life. Formal education can still expand our minds and teach us how to think but social learning through organized platforms can enable us to glean the knowledge that we need and/or want.