Learning Ecosystem in the Academe

The educational model being used by schools was actually introduced back in the Industrial Age. Under this model, knowledge is to be transferred from external sources—books, reference documents, and teachers—to the minds of students. Traditional classrooms categorize students based on their age, and their progress gauged on the amount of time spent in class.

The traditional model, however, is now viewed as non-matching with the shift in technology, students’ learning preferences, modality, media, and others. The digital revolution continues to transform every aspect of society, including learning. Now, learning is easily accessible, quickly scalable, less costly in some cases and no longer confined in school walls. Students no longer need to fully depend on physical books and formal pedagogy, as they can have access to self-paced courses and tutorials at home.

This phenomenon is described by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown as a “new culture of learning,” wherein the traditional model of learning grounded by the stable infrastructure of the twentieth century gives way to the fluid and changing infrastructure of the twenty-first century. Both authors describe a classroom where learning happens without books, teachers, or classrooms, yet it doesn’t completely do away with teaching. Rather, this new culture augments learning in its every facet and stage.

Hence, a learning ecosystem has to exist to create a seamless transition between these two centuries.

Rutgers Cyberlearning Innovation and Research Center defines learning ecosystem as a “holistic approach to education that weaves together physical and virtual spaces to motivate learning and stimulate intellectual growth.” It combines technologies and support resources to help learners thrive within an environment, especially with the abundance of learning materials available today.

An ideal learning ecosystem strikes the perfect balance among all the wide array of resources available today. It recognizes and understands the benefits of these learning resources, chooses the best ones based on individual needs, and balances all these resources in a supportive system.

Learning ecosystems thrive the same way ecosystems in the natural world do: the presence of elements that interact with and benefit from one another. In the learning ecosystem, we have a stream of learning materials, regardless of format, handled by people (e.g. instructors and students). These materials are shared through pathways in the form of lessons, further enriched by policies known as implements. Learners can then take their learning outside classes by accessing the platform where the materials are kept.

With learners having more opportunities for learning, learners are also expected to acquire new skills. New technologies have also spawned new demands, particularly in the range of literacies expected of a person. In a whitepaper by Valerie Hannon, Alec Patton, and Julie Temperley, three literacies were named as areas in which individuals must be able to both comprehend and express themselves fluently.

Information literacy is the most obvious: learners need the ability not only to find information, but also to evaluate them and express them in a variety of media. Cultural literacy (the ability to move across cultures fluently) and ecological literacy (the understanding of how humans are harming the wider ecosystem) are named essential as well.

Both these new literacies and the learning ecosystem sum up how learning is conducted in the twenty-first century: it fosters the skills and dispositions needed to promote innovative thinking and positive engagement in civic affairs. In the end, learning ecosystems can only thrive if the act of learning, and the learner him- or herself, is placed at its core.

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