Fundació Jaume Bofill Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

Thinking about future challenges of education in Catalonia

Invisible learning: learning in 3D, 360°and 24/7

About the speaker

Cristóbal Cobo

30/03/11 07.30 pm

Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and expert on digital skills

Audio (in Spanish)

Two initial considerations

• How does exchanging the stable infrastructure of the 20th century for the fluid/abstract, technology-influenced infrastructure of the 21st century affect education systems and learning?

• How do people learn nowadays? The boundaries of learning have become blurred. In addition to formal learning, there is a type of constant learning that takes place in different contexts of life and transcends formal learning. While very important, such informal or non-formal learning is difficult to quantify, appraise or embody in a curriculum. It is invisible learning.

Ten reflections on invisible learning

1. The pro-technology and pro-innovation discourse is generally accepted. The results of implementing strategies for the use of technology are not always positive, however. There is an expectation that technology in itself, its mere use, ought to be enough to solve education’s problems, but that is not the case. Cobo feels that there is a need for critical opinions regarding the use of technology.

2. Attempting to improve education by means of quick solutions is risky and unreliable. Introducing technological changes (quick solutions) to education will not have the desired results unless there is an accompanying cultural change (something not rapidly achievable). There is a tendency, for example, to copy the Nordic countries, whose educational results are excellent, but looking to apply their solutions in social and cultural contexts that differ from theirs is a mistake.

3. There is a need for diversification in forms of education, as well as for more flexible forms of learning. The employment market demonstrably rewards those who engage in constant development through non-formal education. The Peer 2 Peer University, where anyone can offer knowledge online, is an example of more flexible education. The university’s diplomas are issued by companies related to each field of study.

4. Much emphasis is still being placed on accumulating knowledge, despite flexibility presently proving to be more important. Universities continue to be viewed as hotels that provide everything on a plate rather than as laboratories where experiments are carried out, experiences are shared and mistakes are tolerated as they are a means of learning.

5. The curriculum can no longer be considered to cater for every need, as it does not reflect all an individual’s non-formal learning nor the full range of skills and abilities, particularly the so-called soft skills (such as creativity, innovation and flexibility).

6. Mechanisms for assessing soft skills must be created. A number of initiatives already exist in that respect. The OECD is carrying out the PIAAC study for the assessment of adult competencies, and one of the areas it analyses is the ability to use technology to solve complex problems (the emphasis is not on knowing how to actually use a piece of equipment, but on awareness of how it could be used in complex situations). Education systems that class work placements as an essential part of the basic curriculum (even in secondary education) are another example. Work experience inevitably involves real situations, teamwork and the development of soft skills.

7. Instruments for recognising knowledge and skills acquired through non-formal channels need to be implemented at institutional level. While it is not the case that there is no future for formal education, it is true that learning takes place both voluntarily and involuntarily, in formal and non-formal contexts. Knowledge can be acquired via social networks, as a result of travelling or during an informal discussion over a cup of coffee, for instance. All such non-formal experience is now looked upon favourably in the employment market.

8. There is a need for individuals with a combination of digital and analogue skills who are able to translate knowledge from one domain to another and interconnect it.

9. Technology is introduced with great vigour in the education arena, but without the perseverance required to achieve results, to teach students how to master it. The digital divide originally arose between those with and those without access to technology. A second divide is now being formed between those who know how to make the most of technology and those who do not, a divide that is closely related to sociocultural and economic differences.

10. Strategies for introducing technology need to be redefined. E-maturity is now more important than e-connectivity. Technology appeared to be the Trojan horse set to revolutionise education, but that has not been the case. Technology has to be accompanied by a range of skills, including some of a technological nature, a capacity for renewal and the ability to identify useful information.

Cristóbal Cobo’s reflections are included in his forthcoming book co-written with John Moravec, Aprendizaje invisible (‘Invisible Learning’), which is to be published on 10 April.

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