What Does A Learning System Look Like For The 21st Century?


Wednesday, 8.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston

What do you think knowledge is these days? Is it about a fixed thing that you get and keep? Or is it more complicated than that? In a world where what we know seems to keep changing, perhaps it’s us that change and find new things to know?

I think knowledge was once seen as fixed, as revealed, as a thing that was found and passed on. We now know that there are many problems with that kind of thinking, but we’ve not fully worked out what the replacement is. Some people find refuge in fixed thinking, because at least that provides stability rather than being tossed along as the world becomes ever more confusing. But we can make a start at trying to deal with this new knowledge world by thinking about how we learn instead.

Learning starts with selection – and people in charge know this. If you read the paper you’ll know that a certain large economy is making sure its textbooks say what the rulers want them to say. Learning can be a dangerous thing and you don’t want your children selecting what they learn from for themselves.

That’s perhaps not entirely fair because all governments do this, selecting a curriculum that serves what they want to say. So, more accurately, when you are old enough to think for yourself you have a choice – stick with what you’ve been told or go out into the world and select what you want to learn yourself.

But how do you know if what you’ve selected works? The problem with knowledge is that it’s sometimes hard to prove. If you do something and get it wrong, perhaps you did the wrong thing? And if you get it right, perhaps you were lucky? All you can do is try it out and see what happens.

But what matters is not the result but your views on what happened. You have to learn to reflect on what happened and think about what went well, what didn’t, why something might have gone wrong and what you could have done differently. Reflection allows you to think about what you decided to do, what happened, and how you explain, to yourself, what went on.

Then, with the benefit of reflection you can refine your process and carry on, selecting, trying, reflecting and refining – trying to be the best you can be at whatever you’re trying to do. And you measure this not by results, but by how you feel about what you’ve done.


Karthik Suresh

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