In a globalised world, filled with the richness and risks of multiculturalism, how does one maintain a sense of being unique while at the same time, having a sense of “belonging”? Does the sense of “self” maintain its individuality or with the increase of networks and connections, with the far reaching consequences of globalisation, is one left to become a shadow of self, a clone of contemporary “selves”?
Because London Fashion Week was recently taking place, I asked my female students what was the first piece of clothing which came to their mind when they thought of black for women. Immediately their replies were “abayas”, “sheilas” (the black cloak and headscarf which is characteristic of female clothing in the Arabic Gulf). Women in the Arabic Gulf are as trend conscious as women anywhere else (if not more, as financial wealth is widespread), yet it was not biker jackets, nor black boots, nor LBD (little black dresses) which were initial references for these students. Their references were local, and directly meaningful to their everyday lives.
An anecdotal example, but one that is significant when it comes to multicultural learning. Any teacher asking similar questions to their students will have responses which are mostly rooted in a local context. (I would like to make a note here: when referring to “multicultural learning”, I am referring to learning across cultures/with other cultures, and not to political policies of social engineering).
Which brings me to ask whether in today’s scenario of social media entwined with learning and knowledge creation, if there is a risk of cloning in education. On the one hand, the same or similar digital platforms and tools are becoming widely used – for instance, Moodle as a learning platform for distance learning and Fotobabble as a digital tool. On the other hand, learning, sharing and creating knowledge through social networks is increasingly entwined in educational practices. How sustainable is this for the individual who is learning, to maintain his/her individuality?
When discussing sustainability and authenticity in higher education, Kaviola (2006) highlights how
“In transformative learning method students construct their own information and solutions to problems in co-operation and dialogue with the others involved in the learning process. When a student practices decision-making related to sustainable development in a collective learning situation (e.g. problem based or contradictory information), his or her ability to manage conflicting situations (which are inevitable in changes that promote sustainable development) will improve. This is also a way to develop students a sense of ownership in the learning process (Wals 2006: 49). “
This ownership in turn becomes personal, localised and individual. Rather than cloning, one has contextualised learning, which provides a degree of authenticity and meaningfulness in learning. Again, turning to Kaviola (2007) who explains that,
” A human cannot live in isolation away from society. Constructivism stipulates that learning and the object of learning are an indistinguishable part of the socio- cultural framework in which the learning takes place. This implies that information is always constructed in a certain context and that a person will put together a picture of the surrounding reality and him or herself by selecting and interpreting information and by reflecting on the feedback that s/he gets on his or her actions. ” (Kaviola, 2007)
A step further is of course Connectivism, where through connections and networks, knowledge is shared, distributed, and transferred. Individual learning through networks, chaotic as it may initially appear, is an inherent characteristic of Connectivism (Siemens, 2004). This informal learning lies on a set of principles, namely,
* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions
* Learning as a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources
* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning
* The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill
* Decision-making is itself a learning process
Learning contexts will take many forms, whether those be personal, institutional, or national. Learning cultures are even broader, with some sharing similar characteristics. However, despite the similarities, despite connections and learning networks, I doubt that today’s education panorama with Open Access, MOOCs and the myriad of online learning resources that exist, will lead to cloned education models or learners. These may push individual learners out of their comfort zone, may provoke them into a richer, more critical analysis of knowledge and learning, but will not necessarily create clones. Clones are indeed among us (Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession Is A Glimpse Into The Future) but hopefully will remain in the domain of other social concerns.
Learning, like much else, remains an individual perception; a perception fostered and shared by a localised culture. That culture may indeed be transnational, international, mulitcultural (pick your choice) but it is left to the individual and fortunately, individual differences are still what makes us individuals – both as learners and humans.
Kaviola, T., 2007, Towards Sustainable Development in Higher Education
Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism
Wheeler, S., 2012, Theories for the Digital Age – Connectivism
Digital Delights : Connecting Online Education – Connectivism - A selection of articles and posts on Connectivism