If our focus is on the learner and “personalized learning in the digital age”, then we have crossed the threshold from a “teaching universe” into a “learning universe.” And in the learning universe, the human element is dominant. There are three components that, collectively, help us understand the human element.
The first involves our coming professional ability to understand, reference and incorporate learnings which, while not always or even primarily school-based, are both deeply personal and powerfully influential on the learner, as the stories I recounted were on me. The hard truth is that, although degrees and certificates may qualify us for the jobs we hold, our personal and experiential learning and traits developed through those learning experiences often determine whether or how successful we will be in the workplace and in life. In my case, for instance, I got my degrees from Princeton and Harvard. But I got, and continue to get, my education from the remarkable group of men and women with whom I have associated and worked throughout my life – at those institutions, at CCV, CAEL, NCHEMS, FIPSE, the Education Commission of the States, CSUMB, The US Congress, WCET and others.
In the New Universe, all of our personal and experiential learning can be recognized and harnessed as significant influencers in our personal, social, civic, and professional development. Some may argue that experiential learning is neither new nor revolutionary. While conceding that fact, I will assert that the surface of its value has barely been scratched. I believe that personal and experiential learning will be mainstreamed in the New Universe of learning, by being integrated not only in course design, assessment processes, and portfolio transcripts, but also in ways we have yet to imagine.
Not all learning is academic, or school-based. But all learning is, most assuredly, personal. Whether you are working at a computer on a military base in Spain, in waders scooping water samples in the Elkhorn Slough north of Monterey, at a professional meeting discussing new issues and ideas, or just going through life one day and one step at a time, the situations, and the learning derived from them, are personal to you. No one else can do it for you. No one else can give it your meaning.
The second component is creating supportive and natural communities for the learner to rely on. Wherever and however learning occurs, learners need community. Campuses have provided a community of sorts, depending on the college and the mission, since their inception. As we enter the social-mobile, anytime-anywhere world of the new universe, however, campuses can be seen, in many cases, as arbitrary and expensive replacement communities compared to the natural communities of our lives – homes, neighborhoods, shared interest groups, the workplace, social clubs, and virtual communities. Taking the learner’s life, including community, into serious account as an integral component of her learning aspirations and learning support environment is essential to supporting constructive learning.
And, the third component is creating a continuing cycle of sense-making support for each learner. While “sense-making” may sound a trifle low brow, it is the critical third strand of this trilogy which supports the person doing the learning in the new universe. We know that learners do better when they know why they are taking the courses they are taking, what constitutes success, and the value of success to them both personally and in terms of their career. And we know that, in general, higher education has done a poor job in advising students, helping them make sense out of what they are doing and why.
If we expand this problem to the world of personal and informal learning, it only gets worse. There are few, if any, available processes or services that help learners, be they personal, informal, or formal, make sense out of
- where they are on their learning journey,
- where they want to go,
- what are the resources and the costs needed to get there, and
- how will they know and be able to describe the “end-state” of their learning.
Answering these questions again and again throughout learning projects helps the learner develop her power of reflection. Reflection is the process of extracting meaning from experience, differentiating “what I know and how I have changed” from the actual experience that generated the learning. Consequently, helping a learner develop her capacity to reflect consciously becomes a critical component for success in the New Universe of learning. In the new universe, reflection and assessment are the key pedagogical processes for enabling sense-making that will give meaning to personal learning of all types while capitalizing on the support of the learner’s community.
Next, we will explore some of the biggest challenges that we face as we move from the place-based and on-line world to the new universe of personalized learning.