Towards a ‘New Learning’

We set out to explore new territory in this book. Our aim is to build a vision for the future of education: ‘New Learning’. Social, cultural and technological changes are throwing into question the relevance and appropriateness of the heritage institutions and practices of schooling. So, although our counterpoint is the educational processes of our recent past, the focus of this book is the design of New Learning environments that are more engaging, more effective and more appropriate to our contemporary times and our imaginable near futures. How do we create learning environments that work better and that provide more equitable outcomes for learners?

Some foundational values and principles underlie the theory and practice of New Learning. The first is that diversity, understood in a broad and all-encompassing way, is a key feature of contemporary cultures. The differences between learners must figure at the core of our thinking about education. One-size-its-all schooling may have worked in the past as a form of social control and a strategy for selecting the few into higher education. Today, it is widely acknowledged that this approach to education is not working very well. For a host of reasons, it is not well suited to the needs of today’s society. Our contemporary designs for learning must accommodate the differences in knowledge, life experience and interests amongst our learners, as well as a wider range of rapidly changing occupational destinations.

The second foundational principle is that education must cultivate deep knowledge, hence the grounding of the theory of New Learning in epistemology, or the philosophy of the origins, nature and extent of human knowledge.

A third principle is that education needs to develop and maintain a systematic focus on designing learning experiences and tracking learning processes. Our measure of success as educators is the effectiveness of learning as reflected in learner performance.

The fourth principle that makes this book different is its globalist content and aspirations. Our case for New Learning is grounded in a ‘new basics’ of education applicable anywhere in the world. These consist of the knowledge, competencies and sensibilities necessitated by changing technology, culture and economy in our times. Paradoxically, however, such a globalist approach is necessary not only because teachers and learners are facing the same challenges all around the world, but because one of the key dilemmas of New Learning, as we see it, is diversity itself – among learners and between the settings in which learning occurs. If we can negotiate learner and contextual diversity at the local level, we can do it globally; and if we can do it globally, we will be able to do it better locally.

The flexible profession

Fig. 0.7: New Learning principles

In this globalist spirit, we engage in this book and its companion website with theories and case studies from many parts of the world and many cultural traditions. One of the reasons we use this globalist frame of reference is practical. Nowadays, ideas and policies about teaching and learning circulate around the world faster than ever, influencing education at a local level. Also, practically speaking, people undertaking teacher education programs today are more likely than was ever the case in the past to end up teaching in different parts of the world in the course of their careers. Teaching has become an international profession. Teachers are migrants. Teachers are ‘foreign’ students when they do their first or second degrees away from home, or take international student exchanges as part of their degrees. Teachers take their students on visits to faraway places. Teachers go on extended working holidays, often as young people, but increasingly today after their families have grown up and as they are nearing retirement. More than ever in the past, teaching is becoming a peripatetic profession, a profession of global travellers, and this is one of its great attractions. Formal teaching standards and registration requirements are adjusting to accommodate such movement. If you are a lawyer, you can’t easily move from one jurisdiction to another. But as a teacher, the world awaits. In fact, teachers are increasingly being recruited across borders. Your difference may also be a virtue, no matter how distant the destination. Your native language skill – in Mandarin, or English, or Arabic – will mean that you are ‘in demand’ in many places other than your home country. Even if you are a speaker of a small or immigrant language, you are likely to find minority communities of speakers of your language in many of today’s world cities, who need your special cultural and language knowledge.

In addition to these practical considerations, this book is globalist as a matter of principle. Given the differences among the learners in our classrooms and the increasingly interconnected world in which we are living, it is simply imperative that educators view their profession from a global perspective, and develop in themselves and their learners dispositions and sensibilities that are cosmopolitan and worldly-wise. The students in your class may have been born or end up spending their later lives around the corner or at the other end of the Earth.

Nor do we assume that everyone ‘doing education’ as a course of study will become a teacher in the conventional sense; or that a teacher will remain in the one career for the whole of their life. Sometimes people studying education head off on professional tangents, using the skills they have learned to become trainers, mentors, knowledge managers, coaches, counsellors and leaders in organisations and com- munities. Indeed, career flexibility is likely to become the norm. The benefits for the profession will be great – as professionally trained educators go out into the wider community and prove the mettle of the science and profession of their training, and as they return to education with experiences from other fields. For this reason, we pitch our arguments at a high level of generality. This book is not about the nitty- gritty of lesson plans and timetables and the organisational structures of schools as we know them. It is about the idea of learning, and how learning is organised in a carefully premeditated way in the processes we call ‘education’. Even more broadly speaking, it is about the creation of persons with new kinds of capacities for what is now widely called the ‘knowledge society’ (Peters, Marginson, and Murphy 2008).

New learners and new teachers

This book is a distillation of the stuff of the discipline of education that new entrants to the discipline have encountered since the first formal teacher training in the nineteenth century. And it is more. Alongside our descriptions of heritage practices, which serve as a point of necessary comparison, we also outline a theory of New Learning, a different kind of learning for a future whose horizons are open. To support our case, we discuss the changing dimensions of work, citizenship and everyday life, which seem to be insisting upon a revolution in education. We explore learner diversity, equity, the nature of learning and the dynamics of pedagogy that will work in con- temporary educational settings. We examine the changing nature of teachers’ work, school organisation and the blurring of the boundaries between institutionalised education and learning that is lifelong and life-wide. We investigate the dimensions of new technologies of communication and representation, which not only have us interacting in new ways, but representing our thinking and meanings in new ways.

Our focus throughout this book is on the nature of learning, and thus learners. The word ‘education’ most commonly suggests something that has been designed for learners by teacherly types who know what will be good for them. In this conception, the institutions, systems, curricula, textbooks, assignments and assessment procedures of education often seem to have been created by experts positioned on high and handed down to learners. This perspective is characteristic of the old teaching. Such an approach may have had its place in the past, and its perennial limitations, too. But it often appears out of place today for the learners who will be the workers, citizens and persons in community of the near future. Our version of New Learning changes the balance of agency, granting that learners play a much more active role in the process of learning than was allowed in the past. So, in this book we set out to view education’s designs from the learner’s perspective.

This focus on learning, in its turn, requires a new view of teaching. Teachers are professionals who diagnose learner needs, design learning experiences appropriate to these needs, monitor learner performance and create learning pathways based on this performance. By focusing on today’s learners, the New Learning also works towards the creation of a new kind of teaching professional doing a different kind of job.

Not that the past should be disregarded – on the contrary, the New Learning stands upon the deep knowledge of the discipline and the long and wide experiences of educational practice. It does not discard, but extends and develops the theories and practices of education and the body of knowledge that underpins the discipline. Even though our primary aim is to imagine the new, in the words of physicist Isaac Newton, we can only do this because we are ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’.