Old world / new world thinking.


Bob Fryer was explaining to me a particular conundrum he has been thinking about for a while and that is the ‘rhetoric’ surrounding the kinds of learners that the government and the captains of industry claim to want. Their wish list comprises things such as critical thinking skills (analysis, evaluation, problem solving…..), characteristics attributed to lifelong learners (intrinsic motivation, taking control of own learning…), and the ability to cope with an increasingly complex world where risk and uncertainty are becoming increasingly the norm.

However, when the surface is scratched it becomes apparent that as well as this wish list of competencies, there is also the desire to want someone who also possesses the knowledge that is the product of ‘traditional’ approaches to learning – that is subject knowledge. In short, what appears to be wanted is both new and old world knowledge.

Further, there is also an assumption lifelong learners will learn in such a way that support the espoused values of the dominant force in society at a given time. However, governments may find that this is not always the case!

So given that, what should learning in the 21st century look like? What does learning to be a critical thinker look like? How do we learn to thrive in an environment of uncertainty and risk? These questions are difficult to answer but are need to be asked if we are to move away from the glib statements that are currently made.

An example of what I think Bob was talking about is that of an Airbus A.330-243 airplane of Air Transat that ran out of fuel in mid air. Fortunately the pilot was highly skilled and experienced and managed to land the aircraft with no serious injuries and the only damage being 8 out of the 10 tires bursting.

In this instance, the pilot and co-pilot did in fact follow the laid down procedures in that they pumped fuel from the left wing tank to the right wing tank to correct a fuel imbalance between left and right main wing tanks. What they failed to work out, however, was that there was in fact a leak in one of the pipes and this lead to them pumping the aircraft dry of fuel.

So a experienced pilot thankfully possessing old world knowledge and skills was able to glide the plane to a safe landing. However the pilot was but left wanting in terms of new world thinking when it was most needed!

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