Wouldn’t it be great if we could design a machine that can make people into lifelong learners? We could put all the people who hate school into it: people who got bad grades, people who were bullied in class, people who were trained in skills that have become obsolete. They would all come out keen to learn.

You laugh? Well, this was the topic of debate in the session Creating New Learning on the first day of the ETF/UNESCO conference Building Lifelong Learning Systems… in a way.

Starting out, participants were asked which elements were the building blocks of meaningful and engaging learning environments. The answers that came out on top were not exactly a summary of the key characteristics of traditional classroom education: interaction, fun, inspiration, communication.

A second quick poll of the meeting participants showed why: they were, by and large, lifelong learners. More than half of the participants indicated that the last time they had learned something new was today. And roughly half of the rest said that it had happened in the past week. But as the ETF’s Jolien van Uden said in her introduction to the session, it can be easy to forget that not everyone sees learning as an opportunity. 

“Learners drop out,” she said.  “This can be due to personal circumstances and limited access, but the system itself pushes out learners as well. What if you had struggled? What if you had always been the person in class with the lowest grades?”

If we want everyone to be a lifelong learner, we need to create positive learning experiences for all and while the three cases presented in the session may not suit everyone, they very convincingly showed that a myriad creative opportunities are being developed out there to engage people in learning who would have been difficult to draw back into school.

Take the example of Soldamatic: an augmented reality alternative to expensive, materially wasteful and often even noxious welding classes. Developed in Spain, the session showcased Mohammed Belaid, Director of the CFMA training centre in Nabeul, Tunisia, who had implemented the training course at his centre, saving costs on staff and material waste and motivating students by offering them an environment which was fun and safe enough so as to promote more creativity than traditional methods. 

Then there was the group of Ukrainian people who had launched the Theatre of Contemporary Dialogue – an initiative using theatre for the development of civic competences. Anastasia Yakovenko was present at the session and gave what perhaps was the most illuminating description of the switches that the training course aims to flick: 

“It allows people not only to think about discrimination, but also to dance about corruption.”

And then there was My Machine, which really got the attendees up in their chairs. My Machine unusually, imaginatively and very successfully involves all levels of education in joint interaction.

Kids in primary schools are asked to think uninhibitedly about the perfect machine. Anything goes: the clean-up-my-room machine, the homework making machine, the party-dance machine or the chase-away-the-bad-ghosts-from-under-my-bed-machine.

Of course, we want the make-everyone-a-lifelong-learner machine, but while the designers are at it, the breakout sessions pointed at some of the hurdles new forms of learning may still face. 

Teachers still lack capacity, said one group discussing Soldamatic, but the solution lay in the problem itself: teachers might be equally motivated by playing with augmented reality. Gamification works not just on kids.

The group discussing My Machine saw a great challenge in the lack of cooperation among the different levels of education but also in the different ways in which people view the world of learning. There are still very many people who think that education must absolutely be serious and unfortunately, they are quite influential in the world of learning. Also here, the solution was considered to lay in training for teachers, with exposure to innovation itself being engaged as a form of awareness training for teachers. 

The group discussing the Theatre of Contemporary Dialogue saw even greater difficulties for traditional schools to take on this kind of training. The theatre initiative has its roots in a great void in education: many topics cannot be discussed in a classroom, either because students are too afraid of each other, or because teachers are afraid of parents and authorities. 

A final group discussing the same challenge of the Theatre of Contemporary Dialogue offered a solution that could solve more than just this specific problem: make alumni of new forms of learning the teachers of newcomers. 

This would be effective, because the alumni know exactly what the newcomers go through. After all, they have just been there themselves. It would also be innovative, uprooting the entire idea that the best teacher is always the one with the most experience. 


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