Relearning Learning

Twenty plus years under my belt in support of nontraditional students and online education, but this is the first time that I’m walking the talk. I’m back in school and find myself among the large and growing number of nontraditional students in the U.S higher education system. I was last formally enrolled in 1987. This week I’m finishing my first class in twenty nine years and I find myself reflecting on how much learning has changed on a personal level. So, some observations from myself the higher ed student to myself the higher ed professional …

First, I’m struck by the amount of student-generated content in my class. The up-side is that this trend provides me with a diverse set of content perspectives and applications. And it comes directly to me from my fellow students, I don’t have to go looking for it. The down-side is the amount of time I find myself investing in such content. Sure, the volume of plays a role, but that’s not the main factor that increases my time.

Thirty plus years ago, the content and learning materials were curated and provided almost solely by the faculty member. As such, there was an implicit trust in the validity, relevance, and accuracy of that content and materials. (Although I do remember one textbook, written by the faculty member, that was rife with errors.) No offense intended to my classmates, but I don’t have that same level of trust in the content they’ve generated. I find myself spending lots of time critically reviewing, assessing, and curating their content. Yes, as a former faculty member I see the value in this … my level of critical engagement with the content is much greater now that in days or yore. But man, it takes time … a lot of time … time that I did not expect. My hope is that with time I’ll become more efficient in this process and learn to have more confidence in peer-generated content.

Second, technology is not only ubiquitous, it often drives the when, where, and how of what I learn. The obvious is worth stating … were it not for the convenience of online education, I would not be able to enroll in a program only available to me from a university located at a significant distance, or to go to school while holding down a demanding job and a busy travel schedule. No way, no how, could I do it.

What’s struck me about the technology, is the ways in which digital teaching and learning have impacted how I learn. Time has taught me that I learn best when I scribble, hand write notes, and draw diagrams. While not realizing it then, these are the strategies that made me a successful student. I wrote notes on top of my hand written lecture notes, I overlaid notes on the diagrams in the textbooks, and I drew my own diagrams. Now, the content world comes to me digitally on a screen – I can’t write or draw on it. Yes, I can download and type inserted notes. But trust me, I’ve tried, for me it doesn’t have the same impact as hand writing the notes. And as much as I love content in the form of diagrams, pictures, and videos, increasingly it can’t be easily downloaded and printed for my old-style notation purposes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking digital teaching and learning. I’m still a big proponent, and I’m looking forward to the new affordances that evolving technologies will provide for education. I’m just back from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) conference, where a discussion of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and 2016 Horizon Report provide some glimpses into what these new opportunities might be. What I didn’t expect when I went back to school, is just how much I would have to adapt my old style learning tricks to the digital world. I’m making progress, but I need to re-learn how to learn. Now, where’s my spiral note book and yellow highlighter?  (Old habits die hard.)

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