Slow Learning

This is an old piece, written in 2006 for  ElNet – the E-learning Network of Australasia. I’m including it here because some recent discussions with one of my PhD students – Miriam Tanti – brought it back to mind. Miriam is using a mix of interview and document analysis to work out how some ideas from the ‘Slow’ movement might improve how we think about, and use, digital technologies in schools.

Slow learning

Contrariness is deeply engrained in academic habits of thought. We learn to question received views and poke a sharp stick at orthodox thinking. In the commercial world, too, there is money to be made by thinking outside the box. A surefire way of opening up new opportunities is to look hard at the dominant trends and notice the counter-currents.

For the last 10 years or more, the orthodox view in training and development has focussed on speed – on accelerating product development cycles, global flows of information, the shortening half-life of professional expertise and just-in-time support for the problem-solving knowledge worker. This focus is understandable. The rhetoric of corporate and personal success foregrounds change – the management of endless and accelerating change, pushing individuals and organisations to their limits.  I’m not sure that I can see this altering, but what opportunities are we missing when we only look at the main stream?

An interesting counter-current set up by globalisation in the food industry – by the imperialism of McDonalds, the supermarkets, agro-business etc – is a resurgence of interest in the provenance of food. Worries about mad cows, GM crops and felling of the rainforests do not completely explain the growth of consumer and media interest in organic foods, sustainable local production, the preservation of distinctive regional cuisine and so on. Rather, we have to recognise a cultural counter-current – a perfectly normal and significant resistance to the dominant trends. Depending where you sit, you can see this as an interesting market opportunity or a bell-whether for future developments.

What has this got to do with the e-learning industry? My thought for the day is that we’d do well to take a look at the ‘slow food’ and ‘slow cities’ movement that’s been gathering strength in Europe over the last few years. ‘Slow food’ is the antidote to fast food. It’s local, authentic and sustaining; grown, sold, bought and cooked with love and care; enjoyed for itself. Food that knows where it came from.

In our concern for just-in-time e-learning, for the anytime, anywhere, we may well be focussed on the froth of knowledge work and missing what really counts. As professionals in the business of e-learning, what do we really know about learning that takes time to mature? About the distinctive qualities of local knowledge? About knowledge that is firmly rooted in people, their organizations and cultures? About knowledge that knows where it came from?

Peter Goodyear

Peter Goodyear is Professor of Education at the University of Sydney and co-director of CoCo – the Research Centre on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition. He has been working in the learning technologies field since the late 70s.

One Comment

  1. 1) This article played a role in some of my exchanges with Ray Land and Sian Bayne a few years ago – Ray was interested by some of Paul Virilio’s writing on speed.

    2) ‘the froth of knowledge work’ – for more recent writing see Nicholas Carr (2010) The Shallows.

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