Education is Not Information

The future of education must carefully and critically question the current broadly held understanding that education is information.  Late in the twentieth century research began to demonstrate conclusively that meaning and value are based in and founded on bodily experience.  The western Cartesian perspective separates mind and body (and experience, subjectivity, and emotion).  In many ways information is disembodying and body-denying.  Even though we may know lots of facts and bits about something, this information does not a rich experience make.  Information is information about and about signals object and distance.  Even while advertisers and information providers identify very closely our personal individual information interests (most usually without our even knowing it is being done)—suggesting a subjective and experiential development—the information still stands apart from experience, from body.

This trajectory towards education as information  marks, in my view, the greatest threat to education and thus to human value and the quality of human life.  The difficulty in an electronic information age is how to link learning with experience, particularly bodily experience.  While there are endless possibilities, a couple are worth a mention.  The colony model suggested by Thomas Frey puts students, faculty, and professionals together as workers, developers, producers, investigators, creators, contributing to society as they experience learning while actively pursuing practical goals:  a film, a product, a service, new knowledge.  Another possibility is the by-product of the scale of efficiency of e-learning.  If most of the traditional time in classrooms and on campuses were spent e-learning, the time needed to learning would potentially be less than that required for the more traditional learning methods.  Time would be saved since the learning would be individually paced; once a student has learned a bit of knowledge she may move on.  Time would be saved in the efficiency of having the active learning tools available to students at any time and place, rather than being restrained to scheduled classrooms and class times.  Thus, with less hours spent learning the same materials, with facilities freed from the exclusive inefficient use of classes, this time and these spaces could be devoted to a wide range of bodily-based activities:  intramural sports, yoga, dancing, fitness, and so forth.  I’ll need to write before long on the types of brain/body activities that create the greatest potential for brain/body acuity.  These need to be present in any learning environment.

A further option would be a transformation in the practice of writing.  Currently university writing practices are consistent with the out-dated objectivist linear understanding of learning.  Current university writing conventions generally abhor any significant presence of the author, of subjectivity, of experience, of emotion.  Given that it has become well established that experience, emotion, movement, sensorimotor patterning, gesture, etc are fundamental to all meaning, future university writing conventions need to change.  The challenge will be to create conventions and expectations in which academics—faculty and students—are writing the body, writing the moving body, writing experience, etc while continuing to be academic in the sense of creating and establishing generally applicable knowledge, principles, ideas, concepts, etc rather than simply personal trivia or even art.  To rise to this challenge is an exciting prospect.

Sam Gill, August 26, 2010

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