Participatory Learning and the Future of Thinking

Virtually everything we hear about a globalized, networked,interconnected world emphasizes the importance of collaboration,learning by doing, working together, thinking and talking together. Yet so much of our educational system, our measures for achievement,our strategies for assessment, and our standards of excellence arebased on individual accomplishment. Are we really preparing for ourfuture? Can't we all just learn to get along?


This is a question that David and I have been pondering together--along with the other contributors to the Institute for the Future of the Book website--as we think about the Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Our institutions of learning give us so much. No one denies that. Yet they are wedded, for the most part, to the same Enlightenment, Western concept of individualism as is the rest of our society.


The World Wide Web is giving all of us a chance to rethink rationalist concepts of individuality, to rethink thinking, in other words. What if thinking works best not as some idea of the genius alone in his study but as networks of people, some of them friends, some of them anonymous, sharing ideas together? In some cases, these ideas may well be utilitarian, like the many groups of mothers who form groups to discuss everything from nannies to potty training or juggling the demands of work and home. In some cases, these ideas might be visionary: what does the future of communications look like? And in some cases, they might be playful (all the fan sites) or just fun (kids playing games on line together and learning to customize as they play together).


The point is that participatory learning need not be prescriptive. In fact, to be prescriptive would be almost a contradiction in terms. We don't want to "harness" the smart mobs and the wisdom of crowds--we want to promote it, nurture it, watch it grow, and see what flowers from it.


That is participatory learning at its best. Not a lesson plan but many different kinds of lessons, unplanned as well as focused, and as wide as our collective imaginations.





Special thanks to Flickr community member "Mr. Trona," for posting this marvelous collaboratively composited mage. For more of Mr. Trona's photostream and full documentation, please click on the image.