Book Review: A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change

About a month ago, Dr. Cliff Harbour, Associate Professor at the University of Wyoming College of Education, recommended that I read Thomas and Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change*. He knew I was constantly questioning the role of education and learning, and he thought this would be an interesting read for me. This book is one of many taking a hard look at education and learning, and finding they are not one in the same.

Thomas and Brown began their book by saying:

When people think about learning, they usually think about schools. And when people think about schools, they usually think about teachers.

They quickly followed up by saying this type of learning is being challenged by a world that is in rapid flux. Current education systems are no longer able to keep pace. Thomas and Brown examined this hot topic over the course of 140 pages and nine chapters. They talked about the wealth of information available to a learner, and how learners learn by exploring resources, questioning experts, and creating their own content.

For most of the twentieth century our educational system has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning to occur.

Thomas and Brown contrasted two learning cultures: one that is teacher-centric where teachers explain what is important, and one that is learner-centric where learners determine what is important and learn through engagement with the materials.

The authors stressed the importance of moving to a learner-centric approach primarily because change was occurring so rapidly. The importance to teach learners to be lifelong learners is greater than it has ever been. New technologies are being developed, adopted, and discarded at a faster and faster rate. Learners cannot rely on others to teach them about new changes through workshops and lectures; there is simply not enough time. However, Thomas and Brown argued unfettered access to the Internet was not necessarily productive; teachers were needed to help guide discovery. Learners have to learn not only by themselves but also in peer-to-peer environments. Learners must learn to also be creators of content not simply consumers.

Throughout the book, the authors provided examples. One example that I thought was particularly interesting and highlighted the difference between education and learning was the Avernir’s case that Ryerson University. The students were involved in collective learning, and benefited from the power of technology; however, the professor who was locked in an education framework felt the effort was cheating.

The connection between the personal and collective is a key ingredient in lifelong learning.

Thomas and Brown explored learning through experimentation and exploration, and they discussed how gamers learn through gaming. The authors noted that “Gamers learn through experimentation. They play with the tools they have in the virtual world they inhabit, repeatedly making minor adjustments and recording the results.” Typically, this type of passion is evident in most learning opportunities; however, it is not always evident in education opportunities. The authors argued we need more opportunities for knowing, making, and playing.

One of the more interesting parts of the book, at least for me, was when the authors discussed in detail how games like World of Warcraft are learning communities. Thomas and Brown stressed the importance of play in learning. It is something we do not do enough of.

This was another enjoyable read, one that expanded my knowledge on the topic. If you are interested in debating education and learning, it is worth having on your shelf.


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