Learning in a Digital Age

When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he noted that it was not wise to take new wine and pour it into old wineskins. You might be able to do it, but the result was often that the old wineskin broke and the new wine was lost.

Recently, I was in a session at the annual NAICU conference where our friends from Abilene Christian University led a session entitled, “Can Socrates Download?” Now, I have to admit that this new age we’re in frustrates me at times, but I found the presentation by Dr. Bill Rankin from ACU fascinating. And, if he is right, it is a conversation that is essential for us to be a part of.

At one point early in the dialogue, Dr. Rankin quoted from a student who was asked to assess her learning experience. She noted that going to school was really like being on an airplane. Once you enter the door of the classroom and it closes, you have to “turn off all your devices” and separate yourself from everything you know and work with in the “real” world. The comment surprised me. Why did this student feel this way?

Dr. Rankin suggested that we are living through a revolutionary stage in human communication and that the systems that we have used in the past are quickly losing relevance. Even our strategies for learning and communication are rapidly being supplanted. He gave a series of “Did you know” exercises that were quite interesting.

Did you know?

  • There are 5 billion mobile users in the world today.
  • Over 90% of the world’s population can be reached by cell phone.
  • This month the Apple website recorded its 10 billionth application download.

The world is rapidly becoming a wireless, mobile series of communities, and technology is adapting faster than ever to meet the needs of these communities. To understand just how fast technology is changing, look at the graph below. It took 19 years to get 10 million people using color TVs once they were developed, while the iPad reached 10 million users in only seven months!

The rapidity of change is almost mind numbing for many of us. But we must continue to adapt to these changes as we seek to put students first at George Fox. The best thing about this is that, at George Fox, we are perhaps not out front but we certainly are engaged in this dialogue. We have a faculty committee who is working hard to think about how our classrooms and teaching approaches will change to educate students who will be products of a new age of information and mobile access. As they begin to develop proposals, I hope to share those with you. Let me leave you with this. Dr. Rankin noted that the next wave of students will expect these things:

  • Always have access to the Internet
  • Expectations for instant-burst usage of mobile technology
  • Focus on media usage
  • Devices must be truly mobile with content to match
  • Key – “all the time, everywhere usage”

Although these concepts appear daunting, I was encouraged by the fact that, while all the “wineskins” of necessity will change, our future students will still need wise guides in the future. Teachers in the future may be less like delivers of information and more like the museum curators of the past – providing sage and careful advice about a world of information you can only know in part. In that, I am encouraged.


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