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Raises Important Questions But Answers Them in a One-Sided Way
on August 21, 2010
"The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" is a free Kindle redaction of a larger book to come: "The Future of Thinking: Learning in a Digital Age." It proceeded from the MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, based on a collaborative work on this subject. The thesis of this Kindle book is that "the single most important characteristic of the Internet is its capacity to allow for a worldwide community and its endlessly myriad subsets to exchange ideas, to learn from one another in a way not previously available."
As a teacher and priest, and one interested in how the new technologies are changing us, I found the book fascinating and that it raised many important issues. In short, I find that the book makes the reader aware of how the world is changing, especially the world of education, and makes the reader think about the relationship between technology, especially the Internet, and education. However, it makes promises based on misunderstandings of human nature and behavior without acknowledging the limitations and failings of Internet technology and the ways we use it.
The first chapter is titled "The Classroom or the World Wide Web? Imaging the Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age." It argues that institutions of learning have changed far more slowly than the modes of learning offered by the Internet. Furthermore, rival institutions of learning such as the Internet challenge traditional institutions such as the hierarchy of teacher and student, credentialing, and restriction of admission. While these ideas are provocative, I find that there is a one-sided presentation that only looks at the possible positive outcomes of Internet learning and overstates its case. For example, it's unlikely that the hierarchy of teachers and learners will ever be abolished, even if the nature of these may change. There will always be some who, through experience, position, or wisdom, become the leaders of others. Also, the authors seem to assume that the fact that the Internet democratizes in terms of opportunities people have will necessarily result in equal outcomes. However, as in every other area of human behavior, people will not use the Internet equally, and, thus, there will be an inequality of outcomes. The section on participatory learning was useful. But here, again, the authors do not adequately deal with the issue. They raise the issue of growing dropout rates and the divide between those who are educated and those who are not, but they offer no solution - only a vague promise that participatory, networked learning will make things better. In extolling Wikipedia as a collaborative, participatory, networked work, the authors don't address the fact that Wikipedia is often inaccurate and that people with power, whether corporate (such as government, corporations, or political groups) or individuals (such as hackers) can manipulate information.
The rest of the chapters are titled "Pillars of Institutional Pedagogy: Ten Principles for the Future of Learning," "Challenges from Past Practice" and "Conclusion: Yesterday's Tomorrow."
Throughout the book, it's clear that Marshall McLuhan's proverb, "the medium is the message" becomes important in answering the question of what the implications are for Internet for education. In summary, this work raises a lot of the right questions about technology and education but answers them in a one-sided way.