Will Richardson on Becoming a Life-Long Learner

The New Face of Learning

Will Richardson’s article in Edutopia, the publication of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is an excellent summary of his experience with the evolution of the web from a read-only word of static pages to a web filled with blogs, wikis and podcasts. The read/write web was the major catalyst to his own fullfillment as a life-long learner.

In this new interactive Web world, I have become a nomadic learner; I graze on knowledge. I find what I need when I need it. There is no linear curriculum to my learning, no formal structure other than the tools I use to connect to the people and sources that point me to what I need to know and learn, the same tools I use to then give back what I have discovered. I have become, at long last, that lifelong learner my teachers always hoped I would become. Unfortunately, it’s about thirty years too late for them to see it.

My ability to easily consume other people’s ideas, share my own in return, and communicate with other educators around the world has led me to dozens of smart, passionate teachers from whom I learn every day. It’s also led me to technologies and techniques that leverage this newfound network in ways that look nothing like what’s happening in traditional classrooms.

This is the world of lifelong learning that adult educators have been longing for at least since the publication of Allen Tough’s 1971 book The Adult’s Learning Projects. (Available as a free download). In 2001, Tough wrote:

I see the Worldwide web as the most exciting development in adult education in the last 30 years. As educators we need to take the web very seriously….

An understatement perhaps?

3 thoughts on “Will Richardson on Becoming a Life-Long Learner”

  1. Gene,

    I’m starting to “get it”. Blog-hopping, feed-foraging, wiki-waxing–the whole tamale has just transmuted from sticky goo to irresistable sustanance. Allen Tough’s book looks like a gem. Check out Joseph Kett’s book, “The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750-1990?” http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?book_id=2297%20%20 He discusses autodidacts (people who are self-taught) from Benjamin Franklin to Malcom X, and popular adult learning movements from early literary societies through Chatauqua and eventually the growth of community colleges. He notes the never-ending tension between the view that the popularization of learning for adults is a dumbing down of scholarship and the view that it is a raising up of general knowledge in the populace. He also makes some interesting observations like that audodidacts tend to acquire knowledge of classic theory in a field, but not cutting edge research. Wonder how that may have changed since 1990!

  2. Great to hear from you Charlotte!

    Thanks for highlighting the Kett’s book; it’s a classic that I haven’t thought about in a while. It’s hard to judge how much autodidacts contribute to “cutting edge” research, since that concept has bee so narrowly defined in so many disciplines. It seems that self-directed learning has fallen out of favor in Adult Education Doctoral Programs these days, but it would be very interesting for someone to revisit some of the issues Kett raises in light of the resources available on the web.

  3. Some months ago I had a conversation with a librarian about this issue. I can no longer remember who the librarian was, but her comments have stuck with me. She claimed that the web has not democratized access to scholarly literature as much as many people think, but, in fact, has segregated it within elite communities more than ever. In the past, an unaffiliated person could probably walk into a medical or law library and use its resources for free more easily than one today can gain entry to either a bricks-and-mortor academic library without the right ID card or to its online data bases without a legit username and password. Yes, it would be interesting if someone revisited this issue to see how it all shakes out when forms of increased and decreased access simultaneously are taken into account. Not a very researchable topic, but an interesting one to contemplate.

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