Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Learning: Juice, Blend, Fission Or Fusion

"We are made of star stuff"
Image NASA:  Taken Under the "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud  

Most of the education system is a legacy of fission ... the defining technology and mindset of the 20th century - a mindset of rational analytical, reductionism that splits things into smaller manageable bits that can be more easily conquered and measured. Education fission splits learning into many separate (even conflicting) parts that rarely mix and focuses on ever deeper specialisation and elitism. Educational fission is good for management and measurement but creates a set filter bubbles with all the conditions for memetic "in-breading" that reinforces the status quo and acts against innovation and change.

The education system has locked in systems thinking as the dominant thought process which sees education itself as a finite system of interconnected parts. At every turn of the gears the chain guards of the system keep education processes on track ... timetables and exams lock in subject boundaries and levels while league table results and inspection reinforce the self fulfilling prophecies of system good practice.

Education fission separates the practical from the academic and focuses on forms of explicit knowledge which can be easily codified, delivered, consumed, tested and graded ... helping the system to reinforce itself.

Exponential and combinatorial developments in information and communication technologies present completely different social challenges to those presented by the industrial and engineering technologies of the 20th century. 21st century technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics excel at the easily measurable and testable rational analytical reductionist fission material we find in the formal education system. 21st century technologies are set to displace the very skills taught and learned in our 20th century education system! 

Many recognise the problems of fission - it requires huge systems support, creates toxic by-products for future generations and can be weaponised. 
Fission is the act of cleaving or splitting into parts.

Fission Learning
Fission learning is the dominant method of learning in most education systems today. Influenced by rational analytical reductionism and logical positivism it deliberately breaks learning into separate elements, creates learner and subject boundaries and levels and focuses on measurement and verification.

Many recognise fission has broken education and attempt to put it back together again by juicing and blending learning.

Juicing gives you fruit and vegetable liquid and nutrients without fibre - your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. The "nutrient express" of juicing makes nutrients readily available in large quantities - its a lot easier than eating fruit and vegetables. However, without fibre nutrient juice is absorbed into your blood stream quickly and if you are only juicing fruits, this would cause a rapid spike in blood sugar and unstable blood sugar levels can lead to mood swings, energy loss and memory problems. Fibre is also filling and without fibre in the juice, some people tend to get hungry again quickly.

Juiced Learning
Juiced learning attempts to make learning quicker, easier, more accessible and more digestible. Juiced learning removes the "fibre" of learning - things like failure, discovery, experiment, serendipity and serves you with a quick dose "nutrients" or facts ready for the job or passing exams. Juiced learning can be found in the Clockwork Orange drip feed juice of managed learning environments and computer based instruction where content is delivered anytime, anyplace for testing, measurement and verification. Juiced learning can be found in exam crams, model papers, bitesized and learning nuggets and the like. Juiced learning fits well with the fission learning system - makes it more digestible and gives a quick fix for results.

Blending creates a smoothie drink with both nutrients and fibre of the whole fruit or vegetable. Your digestive system has to do more work to absorb the nutrients in a smoothie than a juice but blending breaks down the fibre making it is easier to digest than eating while still filling and creating a slow, even release of nutrients into the blood stream that avoids blood sugar spikes. 
Blended Learning
Blended learning attempts to put learning back together again by mixing the different elements together and some of the blends keep the "fibre" of learning - the failure, discovery, experiment and serendipity. There are many elements that can be put in the blender - subjects, levels, techniques, technologies, locations, assessments, thinking styles etc. There are many types of learning blend but mixes with technology dominate although many seem no more than a spoonful of technology sugar to help the medicine go down. The blends I like to try are those that blend the boundaries between levels, subjects, techniques and technology  - InspireNshare Thinglab for example blends levels, learners, techniques, locations and technology with tangible learning. Thinglab 1 blended levels, subjects techniques and technology - we had students teaching teachers and other students, we had students researching and experimenting with technologies across subjects ... using 3D printing and augmented reality in sport, music and science for example.

Blended learning is a useful addition to the fission learning system - while it doesn't quite put learning back together again it smoothies over the cracks, puts some fibre back into learning and makes it more digestible.

Fusion or synthesis is the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new wholeFusion requires energy or catalysis to get started but once fusion starts energy is given back and new things are made. We all come from fusion and depend on it -  stars like our sun are fusion reactors - giving off light, heat and the elements which we and our planet are made of - we are made of stardust a new study proves it.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ~ Carl Sagan

Fusion Learning
Fusion learning doesn't just mix elements of learning together but fuses them into a new integrated whole ... or rather sees learning holistically from the start. There are so many definitions of learning but I take it as being a process that leads to change and transformation. Like fusion, I see learning creating something new  ... connecting skills, ways of thinking, ideas and experiences into something new for a person and most of all being able to inspire and share that learning with others and connecting learning to the real world.
The swirling Orion Nebula where stars are born Image NASA: The Orion Nebula

From the standard model of education fusion looks like nothing but a mess .. something that needs the analysis of fission to bring structure and order to. The standard model of education teaches us how to analyse, divide and break things down. The fusion model of learning is holistic and emergent and teaches us how to synthesise, create and bring things together - it brings together different learners, techniques, technologies, subjects, ideas and ways of thinking to find new perspectives, ways of doing things and connects learning to the real world. Most of all fusion learning is about learning, transforming knowledge into general transferable skills that can be applied and adapted in different contexts life-wide and life-long - essential given the fast rate of change and uncertainty predicted for the future.

Like nuclear fusion fusion learning requires a lot of energy to get going but it is possible to get learning fusion going under the right conditions - such as those proposed by SITRA’s New Education Forum for Finland. In Finland they have significantly reduced testing, broken down subject boundaries and connected teaching and learning to topics and activities in the real world.

"education and learning is not seen as something that is adapting to the changes around us. Learning can be an active force driving the change".

“We insist that education must not settle for adapting to change, but also act as a driver. To raise brave, compassionate citizens capable of independent thought and bearing the responsibility for themselves and for others; curious people, capable of finding things out for themselves and assessing the reliability of whatever information they come across. People with a tolerance of uncertainty, the courage to implement their ideas in practice and even break a few rules, if necessary.”

Makerspaces with project based learning are excellent catalysts for fusion learning - places where where subjects, learners, levels, techniques, technologies, the academic and the practical combine with tangible learning to make things. 

Learning Diversity

"Too much of a good thing is bad for you" 
"A little of what you fancy does you good"

Human nature tends to like binary choices and the education system seems to amplify this but a mixed diet of choice and diversity is more healthy, sustainable and fertile for adaptation and evolution. 

Diversity and interconnection are essential elements in evolution and innovation. To evolve, innovate and thrive in the 21st century education needs to shift from closed, disconnected and standardised practice to open, connected and diverse practice and include a diversity of learning methods. Education needs to not only add juice and blend to its fission but also embrace fusion to catalyse innovation, creativity, change, adaptation and evolution for a sustainable future for everyone.

InspireNshare focus on developing the value of people in an increasingly automated future and specialise in creative, holistic & cultural approaches with technology, learning, business and life - to find out more visit

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