Friday, May 27, 2016

Learning Progression: A Historical Perspective

Way before the digital age, learning relied heavily on the oral communication of knowledge.  Difficult concepts, stories, legends, even detailed information on how to do things, were passed on orally and personally.  There was no paper available.  Recording information was quite expensive and difficult.  About 4000 years ago, recording of information had to be done on either stones or some kind of leaves.  To prep the materials were already difficult.  To record the information on them proved to be more difficult.  Skillful people were needed to carve on a tablet of stone.  And it took a long time to carve a sentence on a tablet of stone.  Therefore only the most important information was recorded.  Often there were no stones available, so they could not record it in that way.  It took a special “ink” to write on a piece of leaf.  If one was to write on a leaf, he would want the writing to stay.  So he had to find a certain substance that would be flexible enough to be used on a leaf and that would stay permanently.  Preparing for the leaf, the “ink,” and the tool to write would be difficult to do.  Wet leaves were not good writing material candidates.  So, one would need to dry up the leaves first before they were ready to be used for writing.  No stones, no leaves, no carvers, no tools to carve, no time, and so on.  This made information recording difficult to do.

  So instead of relying on information recording method on a piece of material available for that age, people of that time employed an easier method, which was memorization of information transmitted orally together with experiential and personal encounter with the teachers.  Thus they had the famous oral tradition.

            In the oral tradition people learn to keep the information passed on to them through strict memorization.  The memorization was not done in a blurry sketchy way.  But the memorization was done in the precise word per word way.  The choice of words was brilliantly done so people would memorize them easily.  And people listen attentively with the great effort to always catch the precise word per word utterance.  The memorization of the precise word per word practice helped them to revisit the utterance in order to dig the meaning.  A lot of reflections were done.  A lot of meditations were observed.  All were to gain insights into the meaning of the precious inheritance from their predecessors or ancestors or Guru.  When Confucius died, he did not leave any books or any writings, nothing whatsoever.  But his students visited his tomb and started digging their memories of the precise word per word teaching of their beloved Master.  Their memories were superb that they were able to conjure the precise word per word teaching of Master Kong.  It was the start of the writing of the Book famously called “The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu).”  The characteristics of the learners were thus quite different than learners of the 21st century.  In the oral tradition learners relied heavily on memory.  They were consistently trained in storing information in the form of words in high precision.  Their trust to their Master was great that every single word that came out of their Master was considered precious.  Their play with words was skillful that word meaning was represented in every word chosen, every grammatical structure selected, every context of the thought line, and every cultural philosophical infusion.  In oral tradition, every important instruction was described in great detail in order to keep the precision, even down to the order of sequence.  Therefore learners of this era did not do language game, but they seriously and carefully craft and select words for clarity and precise meaning.

            In the oral tradition, the limitation of human ability to memorize things required a certain method to be employed.  The method is called repetition.  This method was so powerful for the purpose of precise memorization.  And it was even powerfully utilized during this era.  It was probably the one single most used learning method that dominated this long running era.  Teachers were the master of employing repetition.  Learners too were very skillful in repeating the same thing over and over again.  They were not easily bored with the same thing.  It was the discipline that many have lost in our modern world today.  They believe that every single thing that the teacher was teaching was so precious that it was worth the discipline effort and the process of enduring the repetition many times over.  Their mind was trained to focus and thus not easily distracted.  This singularity of mind focus was central in their success when keeping the oral knowledge being passed on to them.  The same singular focused mind was important in the process of teaching the next generation as well.  They would tune in to the memory storage and brought out the precise teaching for the consumption of the young mind.  The recitation of the knowledge was done ritually and habitually.  Eventually the precious knowledge was saturated with each individual who practiced it.  When the knowledge and the person became one, the highest goal of learning was achieved.

            True teachers of the oral tradition were those of superior memorizing ability.  People who were able to memorize the information precisely word per word were highly honored.  They were like the walking encyclopedia of that era.  Naturally people of inferior memorizing ability would come to them to check whether they were correct or wrong.  In difficult problems these people became the reference for the precise knowledge of law that they had memorized so well.  Eventually they became authoritative.  What they said became identical with law.  All was because of their superior precision of the original teaching of their ancestors and of their great storage of the memory of a lot of important things.  Their students worked hard to become like them.  The Master quickly recognized the students who could memorize precisely and store as much information as possible.  Those kind of learners would be promoted further to hold highly honored office.  Both teachers and learners possessed the same quality of discipline.  It was their relentless work in achieving the precise memorization of the preserved knowledge.  Their endurance of the process of discipline was unmatched.  Their hunger for more knowledge to be memorized was never ending.  Perfection was the goal of every memorization.  Missing even a single tiny word was considered a fail.  With perfection being the norm, every test was geared toward attaining perfection.  The more accurate the memory the closer the person to perfection.

            Since the knowledge was attached to the person of the Master, there was no way the learners could learn without following the Master personally.  A learner could not be in a faraway land and claimed to be learning from a certain Master 10,000 miles away.  He needed to listen to the Master himself.  He needed to interact with the embodiment of the perfect knowledge in person.  The oral tradition demanded that.  It is quite hard to imagine a world like that for our modern way of life.  But such kind of teacher learner interaction did exist.  When the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she could not sit still in her palace and claimed she had learned Solomon’s wisdom.  She had to meet with the embodiment of the great wisdom in person.  So she took on a very long and tedious journey just to meet the Master face to face.  She had to interact with him.  She had to listen to him in person.  The precious words that came out of Solomon’s mouth could not be properly enjoyed from secondary sources.  Months of journey meant nothing compared to the reward of meeting the Master.  Thus for oral tradition, personal encounter was important, and necessary, between teacher and learner.  True that during Solomon’s time it was not fully oral tradition because the era had gradually shifted to the writing tradition.  However, writing was still scarce.  Not until the 16th century that writing became dominating in the world of man due to the invention of printing press.  Therefore, even in the time of Solomon, the common method of knowledge passing was still continuing the oral tradition way.  Meeting and following the Master was a necessity for the learners to truly learn.  During that era, if someone wanted to learn from a certain Master, and the Master was living far away, he either had to set out on a journey to find the Master or to abandon his desire to learn from the Master.

            The implication thus the learners knew the teacher personally.  They did not just know the knowledge, but they knew the teacher as a person.  The personal relationship was inevitably formed in a deep manner.  The learners learned not only the knowledge, but also all the secrets of how the teachers meditate, reflect, interact with people or with objects or with nature or with his object of worship, and the deep thoughts of the teacher even to the point of the teacher’s struggle, wondering, and doubt.  This created certain awe in the hearts of the learners because their teacher was every bit as human as they were but yet far more superior than them.  The weight of the teaching overwhelmed the learners to their amazement.  So deep that the heart would tremble and the mind was captivated.  However, the drawback was that if the teacher did not yet have a chance to transmit his knowledge and then he died, the secret of the knowledge died with him.  This then created a sense of urgency for students to absorb as much as and as fast as they could before the teacher was gone.

            In this era, the teacher is preserving the lasting knowledge and secret of the universe that he received from his predecessor.  A lot of looking into the past.  Therefore learning was much more stable because there was not much challenging theories of new knowledge emerged.  More focus on how to practice the knowledge that has been preserved for a long time into the present condition.  Dynamically, highly valued knowledge that was preserved and taught were in constant interaction with present conditions.  However, since the teacher preserved the value of the past, the present conditions were to be adjusted to follow the value that had stood the test of time.  Students then were formed into being rooted in the value of the past.  When present conditions were pressing, they were taught not to alter the preserved value and knowledge, but instead to stand firm and endure the pressure.  Therefore, new information must be molded into the established framework.  To do so in this era was easier because the knowledge and the person knowing was one.  The easy access made them always in constant awareness of discrepancy between the new and the old.  Their highway road to the established framework through memorization made it convenient for them to adjust the new to fit the old before the new developed into a big and complex framework on its own.  And so any new knowledge would be formatted to fit into the established framework.

            All these changed significantly when oral tradition gradually shifted into the writing tradition.  With more convenient methods developed for information recording on media other than human brain, teaching and learning dynamics started to be transformed.  With distance being a huge obstacle and not every person would travel hundreds or even thousands of miles just to find the Master, people started to improve the media recording ways to communicate knowledge, information, data storing, ideas, philosophies, theories, and so on.  Stones are heavy and the more information stored in it, the bigger the stone and the heavier it became.  Since stones were heavy, it was difficult to transport them.  Besides, just carving the information on the stones alone was difficult.  Skillful carvers were needed so there would not be mistakes that would prompt them to re-carve yet a new stone.  So new media needed to be developed.  Readily available alternative was leaf.  But mere leaf would not do.  The drying process would need to be done properly for the media to be made ready.  Not only the leaf that needed to be prepped, but they also needed the writing tool.  They needed to figure out what kind of ink or ink-like substance that would be good to be used to write on the dried leaf.  Once the “ink” was found the writing tradition began to take off.  But it was not without its setback.  Leaf was extremely light compared to stone.  However, leaf could deteriorate very fast since it was organic.  So preservation was a problem.  But stones were impossible to transport in large quantities.  Leaves were the better choice.  So in order to cope with the problem of preservation of the media, and thus of the information in it, people made copies of the original.  The more the merrier.  The idea was good.  But in the process, there were mistakes made.  Many times the copy did not perfectly copy the original.  Some words might be missing.  Some marks might be missing.  Thus sometimes the meaning might be altered depending on what were missing.

            Quite often the original were not preserved due to the deterioration rate of the leaves.  So what remained was the copy, which its perfection was not 100%.  This created a whole new issue, together with the gradual shifting of the authority from teachers as person to the inanimate media of communication.  The students still had their respect for the Master who originally spoke or taught the knowledge.  But if the person teaching them were not the original Master, he received less respect and trust.  The interaction between teachers and students circle around discussing the preserved writing that contained the original knowledge of the Master.  The current teachers then were seen as having less authority than the writing, and for sure less authoritative than the original Master.  And since the original Master had many students, the problem of interpretation arose.  The writing did not have the ability to explain for itself when questions about it surfaced.  The interaction was through the teachers’ interpretation of the writing.  Now when this issue was combined with the problem of copying mistakes, the problem became exponential.  Knowledge was not saturated with the person anymore, unless the person was the original Master.  So there was a certain degree of doubt lingering around the condition that surrounded mediated knowledge.  The issue of trust became bigger.  Teachers competed to become the authoritative “interpreter” of the writing that preserved the knowledge.  The closer the teacher to the Master, the more credible he was.  The more the teacher mastered the knowledge taught by the Master, the more credible he was.  The better the endorsement or recommendation of the Master regarding the teacher, the more credible he was.  Students would strive to find teachers who were the most credible and thus the most authoritative.  The first choice was obviously the Master.  But if they could not get to the Master, they would settle with the second most authoritative teacher.  They might not be able to reach the Master himself because of distance.  Or because the teacher had passed away.  The next issue was to find the best copy of the original writing.  This too was a very difficult endeavor.  The expert who could attest to the authenticity or the good copy of the original writing was not easy to find.  It must be people who had been taught by the Master himself and who had read the original.  When students were able to find the most credible teacher and the best copy of the original writing, they would receive the best teaching and learning.  The teaching and learning process had changed dramatically.

            More and more Masters started writing.  More and more people started recording what the Master was teaching.  They wanted to preserve the word per word teaching as accurate as possible, and much as possible, so the knowledge could be transmitted to as many students as possible.  Word communication developed into a more complex linguistic skill.  For oral communication, there was a limit to how long a sentence could be to make sense.  Because people could only retain layers of logic to a certain degree.  Beyond that all became lost.  But in writing, the writers could write a very long sentence with so many layers no problem, because the readers could always go back to the previous layer of logic as it was already recorded on the media.  The complexity grew so that it did not only concern itself with the vocabulary, or the meaning of each word, or the logic of the sentence, or the context of the teaching, but also with the structure of the sentence, the style of the writing (a poem, or a historical account, or a report of field observation, etc.).  The writer themselves had to master some writing techniques in order to explain his thought properly.  The writer could take time to think carefully of what to write and the meaning he desired to convey through his writing.  With the writing media dominating the world of teaching and learning, readers had more liberty as to when to stop reading, which segment they wanted to focus on, which segment they wanted to skip, and so on.  No longer the Master had control over the teaching sequence or emphasis through his personal teaching, but now the readers/students control the dynamics.

            This also impacted how the “interpreters” of the Master taught the students.  With the personal teaching gradually waning down, discussion became more and more impersonal.  The reference to the thought and the Master in third person gave the whole discussion impersonal flavor.  Though still the teacher played an important role in directing the dynamics of the teaching and learning process, students did not just become passive receiver of knowledge.  Since they too could generally access the writing of the Master, though probably not as free as the teacher, they also could come up with their own interpretation of the thought of the Master.  Therefore this situation created tension and was leading toward a power struggle eventually.  This tension was not an immediate eruption because the continuation of the oral tradition honor system still dominated the teaching and learning contour.  It was more gradual.  The more credible the teacher was, the less tension it had.  But the less credible the teacher was, the more tension it had.  Over time, media communication through writing gained speed as China invented paper in about 100 BC.  China popularized the use of paper two hundred years later during the Han Dynasty.  Ever since, the use of paper was gradually taking over the world.  The problem of media production was solved through this invention of paper.  The only main problem left was the copying process.  People copied the original manually.  And when the original was missing, people copied the copy of the original.  The closer the copy to the original in regards to the time of copying, the better the accuracy, so it was considered.  With this issue, copying could not be done in the speed of light just yet.  Since copying work was still tedious, only documents regarded as important were copied.  So people were still being selective in terms of what to copy and what not to copy.

            When printing press was invented in the 16th century, the information recording business changed way more significantly.  At that point, people could almost copy anything in the speed of light.  The copying process was way easier than before.  The Bible was more than one thousand pages long.  To copy a sacred writing that long was extremely tedious.  Not to mention the editorial work to check whether all were accurate.  But the printing press met the accuracy issue head on.  All they needed was to do the work once in the most accurate manner, and the rest of the copy would be 100% as accurate as the first printing copy.  In fact the second into the nth number would be exactly the same as the first copy through the printing machine.  So the heavy work was on the first copy being produced.  It had to be accurate.  It had to match perfectly the document being copied.  For every copy produced afterward, people did not need to repeat the tedious heavy work like what they did with the first one.  They already had the mold, all they needed to do was print accordingly.  This invention reduced greatly the extensive effort to make each copy.  The downside was that if the first copy contained mistakes, then all the rest following it would definitely contain the same mistakes.

            Now, printing press invention led to the availability of documents people desired to read.  With this easier access, people’s knowledge of things increased all the more and at a faster speed.  No longer did they rely on one particular teacher because now they themselves had easy access to the thought of the Master.  The checking of one’s interpretation of the writing of the Master was not necessarily through the most credible teacher anymore.  It would still be a good or for some people preferred option to do so, but no longer a necessity.  They could then gather among the readers of the Master’s writing, and discussed them among their group.  Book club began to form.  Each person had his/her own perspective or take on the writing.  Each member in the book club contributed their unique angle and thus they felt that their understanding grew richer.  Their appetite for knowledge grew as they also researched more secondary sources that interpreted the writing of the Master.  When they meet back at the club, they brought in even outside perspectives to enrich their discussion.  Interpretation of word and language became interesting.  If everybody would cooperate, then all was good.  But if one insisted on his own interpretation and the other also insisted on her contradictory interpretation of the same text, then discussion could erupt into a debate.  Soon the authority of the teachers – the interpreters of the Master’s writing – diminished.  Because anyone could become interpreters of the Master’s writing.  It all depended on how one could convince others that his line of interpretation was most reasonable.  The authority shifted to the reasoning power and the persuasion power of each individual.  Logic and rhetoric became very important.

            But over time people grew weary of the reliance on logic and rhetoric.  When a new generation arose, they began defying authority.  They began leaving logic and rhetoric.  They insisted that each perspective had value.  So instead of battling out to figure out which one was right and which one was wrong, they accepted each perspective as valid, even when logically contradictory.  Thus, each person had authority on his/her own.  No one was more authoritative than anyone else.  And not even the writing had authority over the reader.  The personal engagement enjoyed in the oral tradition between the Master and his disciples were no more.  It was impersonal engagement that reigned supreme.  The engagement between the reader and the writing – the text.  In this case, the sole power of the reader became unchallenged.  He could insist on his own perspective without any desire to concede to other people’s perspective.  The insistence was to be based on the inanimate text that could not talk back to the reader.  In the oral tradition, when a disciple was confused when listening to the Master’s statement, he could ask and had a dialogue with the Master himself.  Then the Master could explain further the intricacy, the complexity, and the implication of the statement he made.  So further understanding was attained.  But in this postmodern day and age, the Master was nowhere to be seen, because the readers could be reading the Master’s writing who had passed away one thousand years ago.  No Master to defend or to clarify or to explain his writing.  The best they could get was the most credible interpreter of the Master’s writing that they could find in their era.  But that too was to be doubted because their interpretation might differ from him.

            Before the computer and internet era, this attachment to the dead text was contained within certain location.  It was our limitation as human being – being that is severely restricted in space and time.  So the exchange of perspective would be constrained only to those places where people who desired to discuss the same book gathered.  If I were in Korea at the moment, and there was a book club discussing the writing of Plato in the US, and I could not find any Plato book club in Korea, I would need to travel thousands of miles just to have an exchange of perspective on Plato.  The other method was through letter exchanges.  But it took a long time and many delayed reactions.  Some people took that route and spent hundreds of days exchanging letters discussing a particular thought of the Master.  As the era grew more modern, telephone became one more tool to use for such perspective exchange.  But these two methods could not accommodate more than two persons exchanging perspectives.  A conference style discussion could not be achieved with these two methods.  Thanks to the invention of flight technology, travelling time was then significantly shortened.  But still it was not easy to do just for the sake of perspective exchange.  It’s expensive and everything else.  So more often than not, knowledge exchange was still constrained within certain locations.  One can access the Master’s writing.  One can even access many Master’s writings.  One can also access many interpreters of the Master’s writings writing.  But to find a group of people who read the same writing for the purpose of dialogue and knowledge exchange or enhancement was still restricted big time.  And so learning was quite individual in nature.  The more books could be accessed, the more “knowledgeable” the person was.  Schools became important.  Very important indeed so as to become the center of knowledge exchange and enhancement.

            Schools brought in as much as possible the most credible interpreters of the Masters’ writings, and even they persisted on bringing in the Masters themselves if they could.  When the collective very credible individuals gathered in one place, the place became exponentially authoritative.  The institution grew stronger through such endeavor.  As long as they could maintain the authority, they soared.  It did not take long until their institution’s image grew so large that no matter what they did, people would still trust.  They collect ancient writings, rare books, very difficult to find artifacts, into their library, to add to their authority.  With the limitation of transportation and communication and information sharing without computer and internet, schools became the designated authoritative place for knowledge exchange and enhancement.  Schools also then became the authoritative place to give credentials to their attendants/graduates.  People would ask: “Where did you graduate from?”  And if you answered: “Harvard University, Sir.”, then the institutional authority of Harvard was overshadowing your credential, making you more prominent than those who graduated from an unknown college in the middle of nowhere, for example.  This then led to choosing a place of learning based on the highest credentials and prestige one could get.  If one could not get into the best, then the second best, the third best, and so on.  It then became an institutional engagement rather than a personal engagement with the Master or with the most credible interpreters of the Master’s writing.

            Even when the Master himself was stationed in the university one attended, he might not be able to access the Master with ease due to the busyness of the Master and the many students enrolled in his class.  The Master might give a lecture at the beginning of the course or at the middle or at the end, but he was seldom to be seen.  He was busy in his lab or in his office doing research or writing what yet would become another bestseller publication.  One’s best bet was then his access to the Master’s assistant, who often was a student as well.  Learning then became a competition.  A competition to impress the Master.  A competition to get ahead more than anybody else.  A competition to achieve the best grades and thus honors and prestige of the prestigious school attended.  It was truly an institutional engagement rather than personal engagement with the Master.  Learning became a tool, not only for the skill set or knowledge they desired to master, but also for their credential and status in the society.  Reading as much as one can became the roadmap to success.  The more well read one was, the higher his honor was.  The more Masters one could quote, the more awesome he was.  Not necessarily he needed to memorize every single thing, for the era of writing still dominated, and so he could just dump everything he read or found in his paper as if he understood them perfectly.  This was peculiar in this era.  One could write an awesome thesis, but then forgot altogether about the content of it.  In the oral tradition era, such thing would not happen.  Because people in the oral tradition would recite them over and over again.  In oral era, repetition was considered good.  In writing era, repetition was considered redundant and therefore bad.  In oral era, the linguistic prowess lied on the refrain and choice short fully loaded words.  In writing era, the linguistic prowess lied on the lengthy explanation or description of things.  In oral tradition the knowledge lied with the person through memory, whereas in the writing era knowledge lied outside the person through the books and other media used for recording it.

            These differences are heightened during the information sharing era like today.  The information sharing era is supported greatly by the invention of internet.  Internet and cloud technology make it possible for information to be stored in medium much more fluid than books.  Books are still heavy.  Books are still limiting.  Even though one may print infinite numbers of books depending on how many papers the world may produce, it is still limited.  Besides, in one go, one can only carry so much.  But when the information is stored digitally in the cloud, one may just carry one ipad and he could carry infinite numbers of books in it.  In my ipad now, I can access my more than 40,000 resources of digital library.  All I need is one ipad.  I do not need to carry all of my physical form of 40,000 resources.  To do so would require a huge truck.  Besides, to search through the 40,000 resources, if in physical form, would take a long time.  The information sharing era has the technology called “search.”  This “search” technology assists the user to find the resource he wants in a matter of seconds.  As user I do not need to memorize everything, I have the technology to assist me to access the knowledge that I need at the moment.  This era allows for speedy access.  In the writing era, accessing books took some time.  Accessing books that were in another place took even longer – with travel and all.  But in information sharing era, I can just sit in my desk, open my laptop or ipad, get on to the google chrome or Mozilla firefox or safari and just type in the topic I want to know.  If I think I have the needed resources in my personal digital library then I might just search it through my own.  But I have no worry of lacking access to resources beyond my personal digital library, because the web has plenty of resources floating around free to be accessed.  So, for example, if I desire to find out about Martin Luther King, Jr. and I do not have resources on that in my personal digital library, I could just type it in the web, and the search engine will access the web for all entries about him.  And boom, I might get one million entries about Martin Luther King, Jr.  The problem in the information sharing era is not that we are lacking resources of knowledge or information, but that we have too much that we are in trouble of sorting out which is which that is worth to read, or which is which that is reliable.  With more and more people blogging, more and more institutions posting their resources online, our access to information or knowledge is very convenient.  One does not need to enroll in a university in order to know about mechanical engineering.  One enrolls in the university is most of the time for the purpose of getting the credential the university still has authority over.  Other than that, pretty much all information is free in the web.  Even the prestigious journals, such as Harvard Business Review for example, anyone who has money to subscribe might just get access into it.  And there are even plenty of online learning/distance education kind of service through the internet.  Kaplan University for example, does not have its own physical building that is purposefully used for teaching and learning process.  Instead, the process of teaching and learning is done through internet.  Web program such as Blackboard for example has been employed by so many in order to optimize the online teaching and learning process.  The world has changed massively in the information sharing era.

            As we know it, knowledge is definitely not attached to a person like in the oral tradition.  It is not also attached to books.  The era of books have ended.  Knowledge is now accessible 24 hours 7 days a week at the fingertip of every person who has a gadget connected to the internet.  Today students go to university won’t need to bring books anymore.  They got them all in their laptop.  They can even check whether what their professor says is accurate or not just by browsing through the internet.  Say the professor is talking about quantum mechanics, as he is explaining to the students about it, the students may just check through the internet and read the literature that was written by Niels Bohr for example.  With that writing in front of him, he could correct or contest the professor if he thinks the professor misrepresents Bohr’s theory right at the spot.  Information sharing era is like nothing is hidden anymore.  Secrets are out in the open.  It’s just a matter of access.  It’s just a matter of choosing the right “keywords” for searching the right entries.  It’s a matter of finding the best entry that describes precisely what one wants to know.  This is a massive shift.  Knowledge is shared through the web, through the internet, through the cloud.  The millenials share things very easily.  They post it in their blog, in their facebook, in the instagram, and so on.  They share it with the world.  They share it with their friends.  They do not even ask for anyone to purchase anything from them.  It is free.  In return, their friends share what they know to them as well.  The currency is not dollars anymore, but knowledge.

            “Dr. Google” is now more prominent than any other prominent professors in the world today.  Because “Dr. Google” knows everything.  If one needs to know about how to treat flu, just “google” it.  If one needs to know how to prepare sushi, just “google” it.  No topic is not posted in the web nowadays.  You name it, the web has it.  Even the study about the ancient world is posted in the web.  The study about the newly found galaxy is posted in the web.  The study about nano technology is posted in the web.  And it is posted immediately as the report is out.  No secret anymore.  One does not need to wait a week or a month or a year for new knowledge to be published.  It can be published in an instance and boom the whole world may access it.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember all the things about quantum mechanics, as long as I have my gadget and I have access to the internet, I can serve whatever knowledge you need to know in an instant with the help of “Dr. Google.”  So why bother remembering things anymore.  All I need to remember is to keep my gadget with me and to keep my gadget updated with the newest technology and programs.  And I do not need to go to school, I do not need to travel 10,000 miles to study about quantum mechanics, I can just sit in my room, accessing the web, and surfing the whole world.  The contour of learning changes significantly in the information sharing era.

            Knowing a person is not important anymore.  What is more important is knowing gadgets and programs or apps.  Remembering content is not important anymore, for one can easily access the web and get the lengthy explanation and details about anything.  So instead of being saturated with knowledge and knowledge becomes one’s personal possession, knowledge becomes communal possession which no one has claim that it is my own.  The globe, though big, has become small.  Thus the global village.  No distinction anymore between someone knows or does not know, because everybody knows.  If one does not know something, it is no longer an embarrassing situation, it’s just that he does not know it yet.  It’s just a matter of time.  They will know if so they choose to access the knowledge that is readily available in the web.  Children do not feel it a necessity to learn anything from their parents, even the simplest skill of cooking lasagna.  They can just “google” it and find a complete instruction of it and even a complete demonstration of it in “youtube.”  Instructions from parents, teachers, are now replaced by “google” and “youtube.”  They know more about Rachel Ray through her cooking instructions rather than their own mothers.  It is because they no longer interact with their own mothers, but they interact with Rachel Ray through youtube.

            Human interaction is greatly affected.  Because the outside world is now present with them everywhere they are.  When they are home, the outside world comes with them.  No privacy?  You bet!  In the dinner table, everyone is busy checking the “ting” sound or the “ringing” sound of their gadget.  So they chat in their gadget during dinner.  The world shares in their family dinner time.  True that knowledge is now shared for free to everyone.  Anyone can learn anytime as they please.  No longer is time of learning limited to the institutional set of time.  But one can learn through accessing the web anytime they want to.  But for sure the outside world knows no private time as well.  They can tempt anyone to pick up their gadget anytime.  Time management becomes an issue when it comes down to the gadget usage.  Following the time management issue is the content management issue.

            Content management issue includes inappropriate content riding in the search engine.  For example, pornographic content is easily accessed as well.  Along with the search on a particular subject, there are always one or two entries that touch inappropriate content.  When the inappropriate content appears on screen, it is the user’s decision on what to do next.  Whether to ignore it or to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.  When in class, one may opt to wander off and use the web to surf something else other than what the professor is talking about.  Concentration skill is diminishing due to the understanding at the back of their mind that they can always access it anytime anywhere.  Sitting in a classroom as the professor lectures gradually becomes a thing in the past.  More and more people opt for online learning because then they can be free from the traditional classroom situation.  Besides they can work professionally and at the same time earning a degree.

            As technology is moving very fast and recording is not merely about writing or typing anymore, but also with audio and video recording, one may just audio or video record a lecture.  The professor also may opt to record himself giving lecture and presenting it as he is 10,000 miles away from the classroom.  Real-time interaction is no longer a necessity.  It is like playing a turn-based video game.  Personal interaction with the Master?  What personal interaction?  It’s an antique.  Learners no longer seek such thing.  What they seek is the extract of the knowledge of the Master.  Those extracts can be acquired through many different means.  Podcast is one.  Personal audio recording is two.  “Youtube” is three.  And many other social media means that can be used.  There is time when real-time interaction is demanded and so desired.  But it is not a have to anymore.  In the oral tradition, personal and real-time interaction was a must.  In the writing tradition, real-time interaction was still preferable.  But in the information sharing era, often real-time interaction is seen as limited and thus not desirable.  Virtual reality gradually dominates.  This phenomenon is getting more footing in the human interaction sphere.  Real life is slowly being replaced with virtual life.

            This is scary.  But virtual reality is gaining.  In my observation, the technological aspect is greatly boosted by the hidden advantage virtual reality gives.  Firstly, it gives advantage to those who wish to hide their real self.  It even gives advantage to those who wish to hide certain aspects of their self.  The world might not know their real self.  What is being projected through the virtual reality is the desired image.  And it is projected through what is called as Avatar.  The avatar can be made in such a way so as to express the imagination of the person as to what he/she wants him/her to be recognized and known by others.  In virtual reality one can create many different avatars to represent him/her.  His/her real self remains hidden, unknown to the outside world.  This is the scary part.

            There is a good part to virtual reality.  The good part has something to do with simulation.  For training of skills in dangerous or extremely difficult situation, virtual reality proves to be helpful.  In military training for example, in order to learn military offensive strike for example, soldiers may use game simulation.  The game simulation is done virtually so as injury can be avoided when at the same time the learning objectives achieved.  The game simulation can be created in such a way so as to feel real to the users.  Aviation training also uses a lot of game simulation is order to learn to solve difficult situations while flying.  Virtual reality has been very helpful in this department to isolate the learning process in a safe condition.  There are of course unpredictable elements in every situation, which can’t be replicated in a simulation, but at least the main overall situation is presented for gaining understanding.  Arguably, the real life training for either military or aviation too might not be able to replicate real life situation that happens in a different time.  So virtual reality offers much more advantage here.  And this is the good part of the use of virtual reality.

            In the oral and even writing era, virtual reality did not exist.  People appeared with their own real body being present during real-life interaction with one another.  In the information sharing era, when virtual reality is employed, no real-life interaction is necessary.  If no real-life injury is to be maintained, then no real-life interaction is also to be expected.  All communication is then mediated through a third party.  And the third party is the virtual reality.  In the digital media, all real communication is mediated through the binary code.  The machine reads the binary coding and produces to our eyes pixels and colors that visually represent the real thing.  It does the same thing to our ears with audio elements.  And so audio and video technology is developed very rapidly in order to truly represent reality.  But it is lacking other sense quality.  Taste for example.  One may show the picture of a steak through a beautiful 4K TV, but no one can taste the steak out of TV.  It indulges the eye with vivid and vibrant color, but no taste is represented.  No one may know whether the steak showed on TV is too salty or just right or spicy or whatnot.  Among other things, the camera is pointed to only parts of the reality that the director wants to show and be represented and communicated to the audience.  Other things are not selected to be shown to the audience for the purpose of perception making according to what has been planned.  And so when the audiences see things shown on TV, it is not the real thing.  The big question surrounds virtual reality is: “What is real?”

            This question of “What is real?” is troubling.  One person found out that the picture to advertise Big Mac was so beautiful and puffy and juicy and big whereas the real Big Mac sold was nowhere near the image of Big Mac in the advertisement.  The real Big Mac was so ugly, so flat, so dry, and small.  So this one person complained to the manager by showing the advertised Big Mac picture.  He demanded to be given the real Big Mac that looks exactly like the advertisement.  The manager scrambled to figure out how to make the Big Mac that was advertised in real life.  The question “What is real?” lingers on.  And we live in this information sharing era that is clearly dominated by virtual reality.  Gadgets dominate our life now.  We feel we can’t live without our cell phone.  We store everything in our cell phone, all contact information of our friends and important people, all our schedules, all events we want and need to attend, our agenda, our charts and diagrams, and so on.  Should we lose our cell phone, our life would be at a lost.  When we are detached from the groups we join in in the virtual reality we feel like a big chunk of our life is missing.  So we are busy to post and update what is happening in our life through social media like Facebook for example.  We are hungry of virtual acknowledgment.  We are thirsty of being present virtually.  It feels like if we do not exist in the virtual world, we do not exist at all in real life.  Virtual life at times becomes more important than real life.  This is confirmed by people who committed suicide because they were bullied in the virtual world – the so called cyber bullying.  Virtual life becomes real life.

            The essence of learning then is changing.  In this information sharing era, it is changing quite rapidly.  We have shifted our trust from trusting a person to now trusting impersonal data storage such as “Dr. Google.”  We have shifted our trust from trusting a real person through real life interaction to now trusting we don’t know who in virtual reality.  But we gain advantage by employing virtual reality in our training that physical injury may be avoided while learning objectives are attained.  However, the sense of reality is then changed.  Virtual reality becomes more real to many millenials than the real reality itself.  “Youtube” presentation has dominated the DIY (Do It Yourself) and How To learning of the millenials.  Rather than accessing the real person who can give them a real demonstration of the DIY and How To whatever, they open their laptop, pc, ipad, Samsung galaxy, etc. and access “youtube” to find the posted video presentation of the step by step DIY or How To whatever.  Colleges and Universities develop their distance/online learning program to accommodate the changing contour of learning in the information sharing era.  Educational technology is developed to focus on how to communicate the complex learning skills and processes through the virtual reality.  We all know that at this point, we are all limited to audio and video presentation.  No touch, taste, and smell can be simulated through virtual reality.  And so our audio and video senses are heightened while the other three are sidelined.  What it will make us in the future, still remains to be seen.  Personal engagement is no more.  To know a person is quite rare today, even between family members.  Knowing avatars are more the norm of the day.  Knowledge is no longer personal.  It is impersonal.  It is out there.  It is stored in the cloud that can be accessed by all people in the world regardless of time and place through their gadgets.  Soon the world perhaps needs no teachers anymore.  All can just cruise through the self-study mode and becoming self-taught maestro of anything, because all the necessary information is provided in the cloud.  The only hurdle to deal is access to the web.  Once it is overcome, one may access it 24/7 and be expert in no time.

            It is quite interesting to find out what’s next.  It is quite scary too knowing what learning has become in this era we currently live in.  The next era might just carry on the information sharing legacy and escalate it to the next level.  The world of virtual reality is now being the focus of the new technology.  Perhaps one day we may shop online through virtual console and feel as if we are shopping in a mall or supermarket.   Right now we are conscious that we are facing a monitor and clicking and typing on it.  But when virtual console that is successful in simulating real life is present in our life, we might not need to go out to mall anymore to get what we need.  All we need to do is get on with our virtual machine, and walk on the same spot, picking up apples, strawberries, milk, bread, meat, and so on virtually as if we are walking down the aisle of a supermarket picking up real apples, strawberries, milk, bread, and meat.  And it would be amusing if we could choose whatever avatar we want, be it an alien, or a super hero, a mutant, an ordinary person, a glamorous person, or whatever and that we can decorate our avatar at will, whenever we stroll into our virtual machine interacting with other virtual users in the virtual world.  Hmm, what would happen when that day comes?  What kind of learning would develop?  What is the essence of trust in that era?  How is knowledge defined then?  We shall see….

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