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It’s not only educators who talk about the importance of lifelong learning! 

Increasingly, employers and companies are looking for employees who don’t just have a set of skills to do a job, but rather those who have a set of skills that demonstrate their ability to know how to adapt, change and constantly acquire new skills which can be used in those work related situations that don’t yet exist.

Listening to Fareed Zakaria, a US journalist who is both the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and writes a weekly column for The Washington Post, talk about the Knowledge Economy focuses on this important shift which has been occurring in education.

Living in a knowledge economy, Zakaria says, employees need to be able to have some kind of ‘value add’ to entice companies to employ them.   In the past, worldwide practice has relied on elite colleges and universities as the source for the best potential employees.  Degrees obtained from schools of education such as Harvard, Stanford and Oxford have been a ready ticket into the lucrative job market.  He quips that the reason

US education can charge extraordinary fees is because employers around the world believe that this is the single best sorting mechanism they have to figure out who to hire.”

The rise of MOOCs however, which allow anyone, anywhere access to courses and programs only previously available to the select few able and willing to pay these extraordinary fees, has opened up an entirely new source for employers.  Once the market place catches up with this seismic shift in education and starts recognizing the pieces of paper earned by graduates of MOOCs which prove they have a skill set demonstrating their capacity to shift and change according to needs in the market place, opportunities for those previously denied the paths of elite college graduates will alter irrevocably.

Zakaria is clear in saying potential employees need to focus very hard on gaining those skills and

the only way you can get those skills is through learning and through continuous learning”

“The trait companies are looking for”, Zakaria says, “is not a set of skills but a demonstrated ability to acquire skillsDespite current commentary (Demystifying the MOOC: New York Times, October 29th 2014) that the completion rate of the many thousands who have been flocking to courses offered by MOOCs are very low, the fact that some are completing – and benefiting from completion of these additional skills – speaks for itself.

Take a few moments to listen to Fareed Zakaria:

 

Attending the Pearson National Learning and Teaching Conference last week in Brisbane was an awesome experience.

Apart from having the opportunity to present on issues I’m passionate about – the importance of teachers being lifelong learners plus how we can instill in our students a love of reading – I had the opportunity to attend a number of fabulous presentations by other educators.

One of the many outstanding presentations was by Hamish Curry of notosh, who gave a keynote about social media and school culture.  Using the theme engage and trust, he had the audience mesmerized for a full hour as he skipped through a range of powerful thoughts including the importance of schools creating a social media user policy that is short, meaningful and would stand the test of time by including current platforms as well as those that don’t yet exist.

Many of his statements were ‘to the point’ forcing us sit up and listen.  By stating that cyberbullying is the best thing that’s happened in education, he not only underlined the importance of this phenomena in today’s society but stated the obvious:

‘Until cyber bullying came along we didn’t know how bad bullying is’

Today, he continued, a digital trail left by cyberbullies allows us to follow up on this horrid phenomena in ways we couldn’t in the past.

Highlighting Pew Research, it comes as little surprise to educations using social media, that the average age of Facebook users is nearly 40.   To ensure their privacy away from the prying eyes of authority figures, students today are leaving Facebook to pursue other platforms.

But social media has become a phenomena that dominates our lives.   The temptation to record the minute rather than ‘live’ the minute is an issue I have blogged about previously.  Early into my learning foray I blogged Life is about change – accept it and enjoy! and then further along my journey, just on a year ago, I blogged What does being ‘present in the moment’ really mean?

Over recent months some very powerful videos have gone viral.   Noting that we need to inoculate students to protect them from the virus of social media, Hamish screened Look Up - a powerful statement.  Look Down, a parody of Look Up, is worth a view too. 

A very recent release by rap artist Prince Ea sends the same powerful message – not just to our students – but to all of us.  Titled Can We Auto-Correct Humanity? this video is both serious and profound:

How did it get to be this way, Hamish asked.

His statement that

Digital natives is a myth!”

hit me with a puff of disbelief!   Just last week I published a post which highlighted the divide between digital immigrants and digital natives.   Are all my thoughts, based on quotes from others, now totally off the mark?   Have I gotten it wrong in summing myself up as a digital immigrant – a tag I’ve stated many times when describing my own learning journey of recent years?  With a little dismay and much consternation, I tweeted to Hamish the day after his presentation:

His reply was quite instant:

Hamish concluded in his keynote that the Z generation of today are not digital natives but rather use the tools of the day, the world of technology into which they are born, and take on a role of assisting us, much the same as we did for our parents and grandparents as we showed them how to use the new technology of our youth: remote controls, cassettes, CDs, video cameras and the like.  Many of the high tech tools and platforms of the networked 21st century Hamish contends had their roots in the tools we grew up on:

vintage-social-networking

As highlighted by Hamish in his tweet to me – it is the speed of change that is different.  It is that speed of change, Hamish contends, that impacts not just on how we teach, but what we teach:

Without changing pedagogy, technology will make no difference”

Returning to the theme of the imperative need to teach our students to use social media with care, Hamish suggested that we should trust and empower our students to teach themselves.  A compelling video made by students in the Catholic Education Office Diocese of Woolongong,  concluded an extremely powerful presentation.

I came across this video of Jason Dorsey speaking to a large group of business leaders and was quite literally blown away!

Never before had I really focused on the enormous issue that within our school libraries we work with and aim to meet the needs of no less than four generations – concurrently!

This humorous presentation forces us to face the obvious: the majority of teachers in our schools are Digital Immigrants of the Gen W, X and Y classification who regularly interact with Gen Z.  Is it no wonder that transcending the barriers that divide the generations can at times seem insurmountable?  Is it any wonder that our Gen Z students look at us and wonder what we have to offer them when we don’t really ‘speak’ their language.   Is the incredible mix of generations within our schools coupled with the unrelenting rate of change in technology something that sets our education programs up for failure?

An interesting article Digital Immigrant Teachers and Digital Native Students: What happens to teaching? by Shelley Kinash, Kayleen Wood and Diana Knight in Education Technology Solutions (Issue 54, June/July 2013) raises some very interesting questions, most particularly

….. that people who have grown up with personal computers and the internet (digital natives) function and think differently from people who had to adjust to and learn new technologies and approaches (digital immigrants).”

Included in this article is a table which helps focus our attention on the wide range of individuals either working in or being served by our schools: teachers, students, parents, grandparents and board members:

Digital Immigrants & Natives

As we consider this wide range, it is worthwhile to keep in mind the words of Jason Dorsey:

Generations are not a box.  They are simply clues, clues on where to start to better lead and manage people.”

For those of us working in school libraries, it is worthwhile to have a read of the discussion presented by Steve Mattews on the 21st Century Library Blog: Customer is the Purpose which also alludes to the different generations that we are dealing with on a daily basis.

As I reflect on the essential need for teachers to embrace lifelong learning not only for their own professional development but as a way of retaining their own relevancy in the eyes of students, I find these readings valuable and enlightening.

PhotoMathLaunched just a few days, PhotoMath is a revolutionary app that quite possibly will change the way Math is taught and learned by students in schools.

To use, simply point the app at a math problem so that the smartphone’s camera can instantly scan the problem and provide a solution.   The educational part of it is that it shows the solution – step by step – thereby letting the student learn how to solve the problem.

To quote one of the developers:

PhotoMath is a 21st century evolution of a calculator and it can enable every student to have a math teacher in their pocket.”

While Math education is not my specialty, this certainly does seem to be a groundbreaking development.   The first five minutes of this video shows the developers explaining and giving examples of how it can be used.  It sounds very impressive.

Needless to say I had to give it a go to see if and how it worked.  So I tried my luck with something fairly simple and then a calculation that was just a tad more complex.

Fraction PhotMath

Algebra PhotoMath

Pretty good!  It will be interesting to see if this takes off in schools.

Lifelong learning has become one of those catch phrases that pops up all over the place.   We read it and we use it.   It is a topic I have often blogged about.

In a couple of weeks, I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts on how teachers can and should develop their own lifelong learning skills when I make a presentation at the 2014 Pearson National Teaching and Learning Conference, but addressing the importance of developing lifelong learning skills in the students we teach is of equal value!

In a blog post written a couple of years ago: Learning to learn: 10 essential skills for teachers  I wrote about the importance of teaching students how they can learn on their own:

Lifelong learning:  One of the most forgotten aims of education is to teach students how they can learn on their own and that school days are just a stepping stone to never-ending lifelong learning.  Incorporate examples into your lesson that demonstrate the power of self-discovery, exploration, learning and mastery.  Today’s online world is replete with opportunities for all of us to determine our own learning path.  Specifically demonstrate the vast range of sources available to achieve personal goals.”

And in an earlier post when I was discussing which I thought to be the better learning model PLNs or PDs I found myself again writing about the importance and value of developing lifelong learning skills:

New skills, new thoughts, new pedagogy, new knowledge:   The gift of learning how to learn on your own cannot be over emphasized.   The continuous engagement, immersion and self-paced learning afforded by learning with and from a PLN is beyond belief.   Providing a springboard for continued learning and exploration, the very nature of a PLN aims to support an individual’s lifelong learning.”

Knowing that there’s more to it than osmosis, perhaps now is as good a time as any to pause and consider how to develop students’ lifelong learning skills.  When teasing out an issue, it is of course appropriate to start with a definition of what we are talking about.  So looking at the simplest definition lifelong learning is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as

a process of gaining knowledge and skills that continues throughout a person’s life”

While this is a neat and concise definition, I beg to differ a little.   To me, lifelong learning is more about developing a set of skills by which an individual can pursue knowledge.   Learning these skills in an educational setting, be it school or university is what it’s really all about.  Teaching students how to learn should be the gift that educators aim to impart.

The set of skills we need to focus on to successfully develop lifelong learning skills are many and varied, but could include any or all of the following:

  • Search strategy skills: Learning how to define a problem and then setting about locating, selecting, organizing, presenting and finally evaluation information gleaned, discovered or learned is an essential strategy.
  • Critical thinking skills: Learning not to take information, particularly that which is located online, as gospel is very important.  Students need to be shown how to check and verify the authenticity of information.
  • Problem solving skills: Learning how to go about solving problems will depend on the nature of the issue being explored.  By providing students with opportunities to brainstorm together and suss out different paths to follow to get to the end solution are important learning skills to incorporate into our everyday teaching.  The value of collaboration cannot be over emphasized!
  • Lateral thinking skills: Being able to think outside of the box lends itself to self directed learning and exploring.  Students can gain much by completing exercises that force them to think beyond the obvious.
  • Presentation skills: Being able to present information in a clear and coherent way so that others can interpret it is an essential life skill.  Learning to interpret both visual and written presentations is equally of value.
  • Communication skills: Learning to use social networking as a learning tool among our students is vital.  While there is much discussion about responsible use of social media, are we teaching our students how to use these tools to expand their own learning?
  • Interpersonal skills: Appropriate verbal and non verbal communication plus listening and questioning skills, being responsible and accountable for actions, awareness of social etiquette and expectations alongside self management skills are essential for working as a member of a team.   Learning from and with others is what it is all about!
  • Confidence building skills: Developing an ‘I can’ attitude and assertiveness is so very important.  Education must aim to instil confidence in our students so that they know they can learn, explore and achieve successfully on their own.  Providing opportunities to do this is essential.
  • Self-directed learning skills: By giving our students the opportunity to determine what and how they will learn is a valuable way for them to determine the path of their own learning.  If educators constantly set the agenda for students, there is little scope for them to discover the joy of learning on their own.  They need opportunities – many of them – to become active learners who direct their own learning path.  Self directed learning can be very powerful.
  • Project planning skills: Being able to set parameters for the scope of a project as well as setting and sticking to a time line for the completion of a project is an imperative skill to ensure learning continues throughout a lifetime.  Being able to self manage and set achievable tasks is something that follows us throughout life.

Above all though, educators need to inspire in students a love of learning.  By igniting a passion and a hunger to learn, educators will be setting students upon a path of lifelong learning.

This TED Talk by Ramsey Musallam outlines three key rules to spark learning and the imagination of students:

  1. Curiosity: Questions can be windows to great instruction
  2. Embrace: Taking risks through trial and error should be an informal part of what we do every single day
  3. Reflect: Intense reflecting on information gathered is a powerful source

Yes – all of us – most especially women – take pride in being able to multitask.  But whether it is good for us and whether the end result of quality of task achievement is being positively or negatively impacted has probably become one of those $64 questions!

As suggested in a Forbes report last week, multitasking is not all that it’s racked up to be.

Reporting on recent research conducted at Stanford University, Travis Bradbury in his article: Multitasking damages your brain and your career, new studies suggest outlines some of the fundamental misconceptions about multitasking.  Those who multitask

  • are less productive
  • cannot pay attention
  • are unable to recall information
  • have difficulty switching from one task to another
  • have poorer concentration skills
  • have worse organizational skills
  • have less ability to attend to details
  • lower their IQ

In summary:

Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Yet, most teachers will attest to the fact that students today, which equates to the entire Gen Z who populate our schools, constantly engage in multitasking.   When in fact, was the last time,  you saw a student in your classroom doing just one thing at a time?!

For educators, The question becomes whether or not we are rearing a generation whose intelligence and organizational and operational skills will be totally compromised unless we start acting like policeman in our schools to actively stop them from doing what they are constantly doing: multitasking!

Addressing this very issue, Katie Lepi included this great infograph in an Edudemic article: How much multitasking should be done in the classroom?  (July 12, 2014)  It is no surprise that many of the statements raised in the Stanford study also appear here:

 

multitasking-620x3666

So what’s happening in your classroom, your school, your life?

I don’t regularly watch Toastmaster speeches.  In fact there has only been one occasion in my life that I’ve attended a Toastmaster meeting – and that was many years ago when as a member of a choir we were offered the chance to perform as the evening entertainment of a local Toastmaster’s Christmas dinner celebration!  But when I saw this video of the 1st place winner of the 2014 World Championship of Public Speaking Competition – Dananjaya Hettiarachichi – I was blown away!

Apart from a brilliant oration, his words are a gift to educators!   As he recounted the path of his life and told about the opportunity he had to get a job with a friend of his Dad’s, he remarks:

Everyday after work he used to tell me stories ….. about the world, about history about culture about philosophy and it was much more interesting than what I learned in school and I discovered I can dream and I started dreaming ……”

How many of the students in our classes are simply not ‘turned on’ by what we are saying?  How often do we step back and look at how we come over to the students in our classes?  Do we think enough about how to ignite the passion for learning in our students?  What lessons can we learn from the key ideas presented in this speech?   Have a listen so that collectively we can improve what we do.

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