Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Learning in the Digital Age

Did you know that the brain matures at age 25? From that point onwards, learning becomes more challenging, and a stubborn brain stuck in its ways needs a bit of gentle persuasion. So last week this Brit surprised herself when a preloved washing machine arrived without a plug.

What kind of electrical appliance in the 21st-century doesn’t come without a plug you ask? One that had been directly wired into the wall. A seller accustomed to a pull switch coupled with how neatly they cable-tied and wrapped the wires and pipes are my only excuses.

Anyhow. In normal circumstances, I would have just slept on plug-gate and reached out to a professional in the morning. However, the overindulged laundry basket threatened to vomit out the previous evening’s gym clothes. So I hopped on my bike and picked up a plug at the local DIY store. Two hours of Youtube videos ensued, stripping back the live, neutral and earth wires and with the watchful eye of my talented brother over Skype, I now have a fully functioning washing machine WITH plug.  Sometimes coming out of your comfort zone lets you discover hidden talents and skills you never knew you had.


So Much Content, So Little (Prioritised) Time

We have a world of resources at our fingertips in our digital society. Learners are no longer bound by the opening times of a library or the schedule of a teacher. We can learn online and on demand. With such a range of material, we should make use of it! When we are not using the internet to communicate, we are using it to consume content. Did you know that one billion hours of YouTube content is watched every single day? One person alone consuming a billion hours of YouTube videos would take 100,000 years. It got me thinking. Reprioritising time spent watching french dubbed cats and crushing on this week’s ASOS arrivals could be time learning something useful or at the very least, interesting enough to bring up when politics brings silence to the Christmas dinner table.

Did you know that one billion hours of YouTube content is watched every single day?


Online Education – Professional or Personal Gain?

I stumbled across two courses on online learning website edX two months ago. The first, Global Muckraking Journalism from HarvardX was personal interest and weaned me off my Netflix addiction for a month. Every week, course coordinator Anya Schiffrin and guest speakers highlighted the plights of journalists and ordinary people who expose abusive, dishonest or fraudulent practises of corporations and governments. The second course, Digital Branding and Engagement from Curtin University gave me some helpful pointers to ensure Talk to the Pen reaches and connects to our audience.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have brought specialisations and education to the masses. Whether for personal or professional development, no topic is left uncovered. Online education website Udemy offers over 45,000 courses on the website, from beginner’s Marketing to Psychic development for beginners. Academics, professionals and the well-informed can also sell their courses to students. Giants such as Coursera, Khan Academy and edX dominate online education. Students can usually audit a course for free, or upgrade for a verified certificate they can credit on their CV.


Staying on Track

An MOOC requires spare time and commitment. From experience, it is too easy to get click happy once you’ve signed up for one course. Adding five more immediately to your dashboard often leads to neglecting all six because you cannot spare enough time for them all. Don’t be such an eager beaver! Focus on one course at a time. A study by HarvardX and MITX (2014) found over 50% of participants consumed less than half of a course’s content. This is a consequence of embarking on a self-paced learning journey. You are your own discipline as well as lesson scheduler. Carving out time to watch or reading resource during the work commute or scheduling one night every week to run through the material brings structure to learner-controlled education.


Disappearance of Free Education

Today, over half of the world now have access to the internet, providing a free source of news, communication and education for the masses. However, just as newer users are finding their cyber feet, many online course providers have slowly reduced the amount of content you can access for free. Coursera now requires a monthly subscription to access material and complete tests with only a limited amount available to audit. This is a far cry from over two years ago when I did a beginner’s verified Python course, and exam for free. Future Learn announced in February the restriction of some course content to those paying for verified certificates.

It is sad how a movement that opened education to the many is once again limiting it to the privileged few who can afford it. It is a reminder that education is a commodity, that continues to remain out of reach for those who benefit from it most.

– Sarah Maclean

Feature image:m01229 (Flickr)

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