Watchworthy Wednesday: Reimagining 21st Century Learning

Reimagining Leonardo da Vinci for the 21st century is how people will be able to cultivate “a new way of knowing” and learning in the next 80 years of rapid and constant technological advances, according to John Seely Brown, former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and the author of “A New Culture of Learning” and “The Social Life of Information.”

“I think the unique power of the human imagination comes in part from its ability to integrate opposing qualities, like emotion and reason, curiosity and certainty,” he said during his keynote address at the recent UC Irvine Ingenuity 2017: Student Technology Showcase.

“We are, in fact, living in amazing times. Ingenuity reigns supreme,” he said. “The past — 18, 19th and 20th century — can be characterized by the S curve, stable over decades. Skills lasted a lifetime and career paths were clear. And then, something happened. We call it the big shift: 21st century infrastructure, exponential continued expansion of computational capabilities. We’re all kind of sick of hearing about the exponential, but’ it’s here. It means that yesterday’s best practices are rapidly, rapidly becoming outmoded…. Everyone of us will always be a newbie.”

No longer are we in an era that’s just about deepening individual expertise within our silos, Seely Brown explained. “That is a serious challenge for most of us because most universities are built around silos, most industries are built around silos…. We’re shifting to a world where reading context is at least as important as reading content…. Reading context isn’t that simple. It’s clear that our ability to read context is seriously impaired. Almost every week, we wake up and realize we’re not really reading these contexts very well. We were awfully surprised by Brexit and many other things that are happening. How do you actually interrogate context? And, equally important, is not just how you interrogate and work with context but how you work with each other. How do you actually collaborate, work in teams all over the place?”

Doing so requires a “7th sense,” he added. “What is this 7th sense that you need to understand what this hyper-connected world actually means? We need to see the ways that something, everything perhaps, is changed by hyper-connectivity, and for this, I want to suggest there is a new medium. We actually need imagination. We all hear a lot about creativity. Maybe we need to refocus a little more on imagination. How do we begin to see things, imagine things in brand new ways?”

He also spoke of the importance of courage in reimagining learning and how inspiration can come from anywhere. “In a world of exponential change where complexity reigns supreme, imagination can not just be an add-on,” Seely Brown said. “It is not just relevant in the domain of the arts. We need to find ways to enable the arts, humanities and sciences to fuse together, creating a new kind of alloy.”

His keynote address:

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting resources and appear in DML Central every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.