Tuesday, 1 November 2005

"Big picture view" vs "deep learning"

I am at University of Wollongong yesterday and today, working on an evaluation tool for them.

At a causal chat with Christine Brown, a "learning designer" here at CEDIR, we wandered into the subject of broad overview type and deep, investigative type of learning.

This brought me back to check George Siemens' post on "The Joys of Shallow Thinking..." [via Stephen Downes's wonderful OLDaily.]

George started with the information overloading aspects, and in line with his connectivism theory, argues for the need to develop literacy skill

at rapid reading and aggregating information. ... learned to quickly recognize information that is important for deeper exploration.

Christine started the thinking relating to her experience in using project based learning. There are evidences of really deep learning using such techniques. It echoes with my experiences of students participating in role playing. The deep of study is extraordinary. In a recent role play involving American literature studies (The Scarlet Letter ran in Mary Noggle's class), students not only read all the recommended text (verse previously it would be lucky for some students to read the novel itself), they also did research to really understand the character in order to play the role.

However, such activities obviously required a significant portion of the available study time of a modern student. The question was "will this deep learning in one unit affect the balance of the curriculum?"

I throw in a bit of observation about how my view of the future of work will be. With the opening of China (and India etc), there is an over-supply of cheap labour. Given the living standards of such countries are still order of magnitude below the developed countries, it will be a long while that labour from these developing or under-developed countries will be exhausted.

The advance of ICT, doubling in performance every 8 months to a year, will mean any repetitive jobs will be automated soon. For any person with a little aspiration where the anchored jobs will only be a stepping stone to another career, the BIG question is what kind of job will be available in the future and how can one prepare for that future.

One thing I am quite certain is that there will always be "exception handling". Things are not just normal and the computer or intelligence behind that hardware or network, just cannot handle yet. People will be needed to solve such situation as fast-response team. People will form "tiger" group, pull together the expertise and solve the issue. THEN, they will move to the next issue/problem.

Here is how the "Big picture" and "deep learning" may contribute to this thinking. In such dynamic team formation, people need exceptional communication skills in order to quickly move the group into a productive stage. People will be recruited to join a team based on their expert knowledge in a particular domain.

Look at the skill set in such a situation, the "big picture" curriculum will be those skills that are essential to ensure smooth work relationship with other team members. The "deep learning" is the development of that expert skills.

Should institutes, higher education for example, still need to deliver standardised uniform curriculum to every student of the same course? I will question the appropriateness of this thinking. Students should be given opportunities to develop their own niche and speciality, at the same time, it is important that students can work in groups effectively.

Group-based projects, role playing, collaborative learning activities seem to be the kind of learning strategies that we should be promoting.

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