Sunday, March 04, 2007

Learning the Unknowns

Traditionally, the learning and training “industries” have focused on delivering the “knowns” (what someone else already knows) to the learners. Instructional design and teaching methodologies (and now Web and multimedia in their many avatars) deal with “how” to present these “knowns” in an engaging way so that learners are motivated to learn and retain the information taught. However, despite this focus on the “past,” people have gone out and invented new things, wrote and talked about new ideas and models, and improved the quality of life in many different ways. (Let me edit out nuclear bombs and global warming!)

Is learning always condemned to knowing the known? Sample the stuff that has led to inventions, discoveries and innovations—adventures, chance accidents, struggles with possibilities, leaps of faith, irrational hypotheses… In many ways, these are all different facets of the never-ending quest for knowledge or learning—learning not just as processing of information, or as collaboration or networking, but as a search for the unknowns.

I’m not denying the contribution of academic research and corporate R&D—both being extensions of formal education—to incredible scientific developments and new product designs. However, in a world where what is innovative today can be passé the next day, formal research alone cannot provide us all the answers (not that we can have all the "answers"). How can innovation be democratized (from being the privilege of few to the pursuit by many)? What answers can the learning industry provide? In what way has the Internet and Web 2.0 enabled people to contribute to the innovation inventory? Is this even a thought worth pursuing?

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