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What follows is the first part of a presentation which I gave at the university’s RIPPLE group (Research Into Professional Practice in Learning and Education). It was advertised as a personal, reflective journey based on the writings of Aoun, Thomas and Brown and Wheeler​. For the purposes of this blog, it will be split into two posts. Any questions, please do add them in the comments below or get in touch with me directly. The slides are provided here as images to illustrate the post.

The Current Situation

Times are changing. If we stand still for just a second it feels like there can be several advances in technology which can have an impact not only the way we learn but also on the way we live. In order to place the talk into some sort of context, the current situation will be explored although it has to be acknowledged that by the end of this talk (or this blog post) the situation might have already changed – several times.

are you robot proof title slide

Working in higher education it is apparent to me that learners are changing. Schuetze and Slowey (2002) support this, stating that the diversity of learners is changing, with the occurrence of non-traditional learners – people who do not conform to the established ways of learning – increasing. But as the diversity of learners flourish, Jones et al (2015) talk about learners lacking the skills needed to embark on their educational journey in higher education. They are products of an education system where knowledge is prioritised over skills and content is restrictive and prescriptive. In a world where learning is not restricted to classrooms and libraries, the world of big data and artificial intelligence (software which updates itself) is forming a technological relationship with learners. Google is promoting its ‘alt schools’ using big data to inform learning activities and software and online platforms, according to the New Horizon Report of 2015, adjust to individual students as they learn – revealing personalised learning incarnate. The current situation is a time of flux with technology moving at such a rate that if we do not adapt and change we are all in danger of being left behind in the exhaust fumes of the 4th industrial revolution.

A reflective Journey.

I have to say, right from the beginning, that what I am about to discuss are my own reflections on the future of learning at higher education. After reading several books I got thinking about where I am and where I might be in just a few years time. It was while I was reflecting on this that I started to consider whether learning in higher education, to coin the title of Aoun’s book, would be robot-proof.

Things continue to change.

Slide listing the current situations

At the start of this talk, and this blog post, I mentioned the rapid pace of change relating to not only the technology but also learning. But even as we have progressed from the start of this post to this point, change has continued and some things are already out of date.

Learning, education, school and schooling are long-established bastions of human society. We support approaches and methods for learning with theories which were created decades ago when computers, technology and everything digital was not even a twinkle in the learning theorists eyes. To me, it seems so inaccurate to be applying these theories to learning in today’s society. Many would disagree with me which I accept, but I do wonder whether these people would be as keen to return to medical practices which were acceptable before the age of technology in the same way as we return to those learning theories.

Wheeler (2015) states that learning is changing. When he says this, he is not referring to learning at a neurological level but learning in the way we create, curate, share and discover knowledge. We live in a world where learning can happen, (and I apologise for the following phrase which I was reminded of by Steve Hope’s recent webinar for the Digilearn community) ‘any time, any place, anywhere!

(Bonus point if you know the advert campaign those words originate from!).

Downes (2008) refers to this new era of learning as ‘EduPunk’ – the concept of DIY learning. The way we access information, share it and even comment on it, is changing and ‘EduPunk’ is definitely spreading across the blogging sphere like wildfire! Thomas and Brown (2011) state that the classroom model for learning is being replaced by learning environments in which digital media provides a rich source of information and play. If I could, I would happily place a yellow sticker on the old model or learning, expressing the words – Out of Date!

So if we are aware of all this change what are we doing about it? Are we embracing it or sticking our academic heads into the warming familiar sands of learning and hoping that it will either pass us by or disappear before our retirement.

Embracing Change?

The following discussion is all based on Thomas and Brown’s book (2011) A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change Although all the words I use might not be theirs alone, the discussion is based on what they wrote. Please do go and enjoy the book as much as I did.

Many of us, hate change. I much prefer the familiarity and safety of routines. However, there are times that even I have to embrace change. Working in education for the majority of my life I have encounter change after change after change. Some changes have been for the better, some for the worse. But the most important mindset to cope with educational change is to embrace it, reflect on it and evaluate it. Rather than hiding from change or complaining about change, I agree with Thomas and Brown, seeing change as a world of new opportunities and possibilities. I perceive change as something which motivates and challenges me. When not teaching I live in the world of content creation, streaming games, blogging and publishing videos on YouTube. Outside the defensive walls of education, people are innovating at speed. They are looking at advances in technology, evaluating them and incorporating them into their everyday practice. The world of content streaming is competitive and not having the up to date technology and processes can be met with disaster being reflected in our own analytics.

Although many would consider that institutions of higher education are holding their own in the race with technology, for me, it is like slipping back into the dark ages. At times, I am still amazed that we are still using email!


Reading the aforementioned books and reflecting on their content has confirmed to me something which I have suspected for a while. It is now imperative that we embrace change. This is not because it is a fad or something which we should be doing to be ‘trendy’ and accepting. We need to embrace change because the world of learning is changing and, if we remain in our lofty, seemingly well-protected towers of academia, we will shortly be waking up to find that learning and learners which are essential for our existence, have just passed us by.

In the next post, I’ll continue to reflective journey by talking about a new culture of learning and, perhaps more important, learners.


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