Last week I attended a fascinating lecture by John Seely Brown on "Rethinking Learning and the Community Library in the Networked Age" at the Westport (CT) Public Library. His talk explored whether there might be a way to reinvent the community library as a new kind of complementary asset to both the school and the Internet -- reinvent it in a way that deeply engages digital kids (and everyone else) and increases their passion to learn.
...over dinner, he told me about the work he is doing to understand how kids - and more generally people of all ages - are learning all kinds of important skills through participation in online communities. John has been wondering if we shouldn't pay more attention to this kind of self-organizing, informal learning as a way to complement the more formal learning kids get in school. In conjunction with that he has been pondering the role that community libraries should play in fostering this kind of informal learning and self-education.
The world of multi-player online games seems to be providing us with more and more clues as to the kinds of skills and training tools that we need for the dynamic virtual work environments that seem to be increasingly important in the future. This came up, for example, in IBM’s recent Global Innovation Outlook in which one of the top recommendations is to look at massively multiplayer online games as one way of teaching the leadership qualities needed in the emerging world of massively distributed virtual work environments.
Formal education and schools have a major role to play in building the store of knowledge, teaching the core materials needed for critical thinking and providing institutional certification of expertise. But, if we insist that formal education is the only way to learn, we will invariably fail, both because there are limits to what you can teach formally and because considerable numbers of people learn differently and are thus left out of formal education, which can focus only on the majority. That is why it is so important to look for innovations in education amidst all the different ways we learn, and to focus particularly on the new ways people are learning informally, especially as part of communities that tinker, design, play games, create, remix and generally learn by doing things they really like to do.
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