“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

The first paradigm shift in learning occurred over 500 years ago and involved the move from oral language to written text. The current paradigm shift is just as significant, moving from text based learning to internet-based multi-media, social learning and collaborative tools. This shift has and will fundamentally change the way knowledge and skills are learnt and how learners interact with content, teachers, “experts” and co-learners. This new paradigm opens up tremendous opportunities for both efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process, and accessibility to the masses, thus the potential to accelerate learning worldwide. However, it also presents a considerable challenge in transforming mind-sets and habits that are hard-wired into our preferences and behaviour if we are to make the transition quickly and successfully

There are many aspects to this paradigm shift. I have chosen 8 of these to highlight that impact on our ability to accelerate the learning process. These are shown visually below.

Learning Paradigm

Physical to Digital

Physical (paper-based) books, text-books, learner guides and hand-written exams are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Most of our future learning experience will happen on a digital platform, using multiple sources of on-line material, research assignments, typed up “portfolios of evidence” and virtual assessments.

Institution centric to learner centric

The focus of learning solutions development used to be institution driven. Whilst traditional learning is still offered and invested in, the focus is shifting to customised learner-centric solutions. Learning providers are now offering multiple options within their learning framework, allowing individuals to choose how and when they learn, what content they wish to focus on, which format will they be assessed on, and encouraging unconstrained research on their chosen topic

Set curricula to exploration toward outcomes

Learning will no longer be limited to set curricula. Learning material that is developed today can be outdated within months or a few years depending on the industry. Learners will be encouraged to explore, research, experiment and experience the full gambit of a topic, so that learning becomes embedded and integrated in the brain as opposed to being placed in short-term recall memory that fades over time. Learners will have access to multiple sources, many experts and will not only absorb content, but may actually generate and share content that will assist other learners.

Classroom to coaching

Globalisation, competition, access to information, speed, complexity and change all result in overwhelming demands on our time. There seems to be less and less time available to be out of the office, off-site or off-line for more than a few hours at a time. Knowledge is acquired mostly on-line, skills are learnt are applied on-the-job with often immediate feedback and behaviour is practiced wherever possible with the support and feedback of a coach to keep us honest with ourselves.

Individual to collaborative learning

Collaborative learning departs radically from the traditional learner-teacher relationship, treating learners and teachers as adults (equals), each with their own unique experience and ideas to contribute. Collaboration can occur either in the classroom (face-to-face) or virtually through on-line discussion via forums, chat rooms, Skype, etc. Learners collaborate with each other to research, write papers, complete group projects, solve joint problems, design innovations, to challenge and expand critical thinking, manage project stakeholders, amongst others.

Part brain to whole brain

Learning is a continuous life-long process and is happening consciously and unconsciously all of the time. New neural pathways are being formed and old, outdated programs deleted or adjusted. Recent developments in our understanding of the brain has led to major shifts in understanding how people learn and how to optimise this. If learning experiences are designed with the whole brain in mind it can be accelerated, be more efficient and be much more fun.

Compliance to play

Traditionally, learning has been a serious business. Compare this to how we learn as children, who play to explore, to learn new things or to practice a skill. They also play to build relationships or just to have fun. They use their imagination, their creativity and their experiences. However, as we mature into adults, play and playfulness are given less attention and we allow less and less fun, spontaneity, connecting, silliness, goofiness, creativity and imagination. Studies show that encouraging play in the learning environment has multiple benefits and stimulates the parts of the brain that enhance creativity, connection, memory, positive emotion and appropriate risk taking. It also leads to cognitive gains in terms of engagement, retention, and understanding.

The phenomenal popularity of computer games worldwide has stimulated learning designers to apply some of the techniques that engage and absorb gamers into learning experiences though play – called gamification. Some of these techniques include a narrative (story), player control, immediate feedback, opportunities for collaborative problem solving, scaffolded learning with increasing challenges, opportunities for mastery, and levelling up and social connection.

Fragmented to whole systems learning

An organisation’s ability to adapt and respond to its environment (system), is a product of its ability to think (as individuals and collectively), to be skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge; and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights. Learning is the foundation to continuously improve products, processes or services and is the critical link between strategic intent and results, between thinking about doing something and getting it done.

1. The Paradigm Shift. www.marktreadwell.com 2013
2. Shift Learning: The 7 Most Powerful Idea Shift in Learning Today. Terry Heick, 2013
3. Exploring Play/Playfulness And Learning In The Adult And Higher Education Classroom. A Dissertation in Adult Education by David J. Tanis 2012