Evolving Web Based Technologies and their Potential for Developing Online Learning Communities and Support for Lifelong Learning

Evolving Web Based Technologies and their Potential for Developing Online Learning Communities and Support for Lifelong Learning

Catherine McLoughlin (Australian Catholic University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2181-7.ch032
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Abstract

Lifelong learning can be broadly defined as purposeful learning that people engage in throughout the lifespan. The proliferation of knowledge, the information society, and the accelerating use of information and communications technologies combine to create a demand for professionals who are flexible, motivated, and self-directed, as well as multiskilled. Recently, there has been an increasing focus on developing generic skills and competencies as part of tertiary learning. Graduates are expected to meet the demands of employers for social communicative and cooperative skills as opposed to abstract disciplinary knowledge, and therefore, the acquisition of lifelong learning skills is imperative if they are to remain productive, competitive, and open minded. As the current information age is characterised by continual dynamic change, graduates need a dynamic set of attributes or competencies. In order to develop as lifelong learners, tertiary learners need to be exposed to activities and tasks that prepare them for the responsibilities that lifelong learning requires. One key strategy for supporting lifelong learning is through pedagogical approaches that recognise that both formal and informal learning have value, and that both forms of learning can be supported in technology-supported learning environments. The raft of social software tools and applications now available offer greater opportunities to support the lifelong building of knowledge and competencies required for learning in the 21st century.
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Background: Lifelong Learning And Graduate Attributes In Higher Education

Recently, there has been an increasing focus on developing professional skills and competencies as part of tertiary learning. Generic attributes go beyond the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses and describe the qualities that also equip graduates for their role in society and the world of work. Most universities in Australia now state that graduates are expected to meet the demands of employers for social communicative and cooperative skills as opposed to abstract disciplinary knowledge. There is also greater pressure on tertiary institutions to align academic outcomes with the demands of working life and the needs of employers. Therefore teaching and scaffolding lifelong learning skills is imperative if graduates are to remain productive, competitive and open minded. As the current information age is characterised by continual dynamic change, graduates need particular attributes or competencies. In order to develop as lifelong learners, tertiary learners need to be exposed to activities and tasks that prepare them for the responsibilities that lifelong learning requires, such as scholarship, global citizenship, production of new knowledge and understanding through inquiry, critique and synthesis, and communication skills (Field 2005).

Candy (1994) defined the key to lifelong learning qualities as an inquiring mind, helicopter vision, a sense of personal agency and a repertoire of learning skills. These skills have been endorsed by many tertiary education institutions worldwide and are embedded in their mission statements, vouching for the quality of education received and of the competence of graduates to enter the workforce. Longworth and Davies (1995) emphasise the need for individuals to be multi-skilled and flexible and to have the capacity to take up more than one career in a lifetime. The skills identified by Longworth and Davies are learning to learn, applying new knowledge, questioning and reasoning, managing oneself and others, managing information, communication skills, team work and updating one’s knowledge base.

The key skills included in the mission statements of most universities tend to include higher level aims relating to critical thinking, inquiry and a capacity for lifelong learning. Generic skills described in the literature for university graduates include:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Lifelong Learning: A term that recognizes that learning is not confined to childhood and/or the classroom, but instead takes place continuously throughout life and in a range of contexts and situations, including formal, non-formal, and informal situations.

Informal Learning: Refers to learning that does not take place in formal education and training environments, but instead occurs as a result of everyday life and professional practice, e.g., at home, work, and throughout society. It has no defined curriculum and is not planned or pedagogically conscious. Many researchers and theorists have suggested that informal learning accounts for up to 75% of our learning.

Pedagogy 2.0: Digital tools and applications, especially emanating from the Web 2.0 movement, require for a new conceptualization of teaching that is focused on participation in communities and networks for learning, personalization of learning tasks, and production of ideas and knowledge. Pedagogy 2.0 (McLoughlin & Lee, 2009) is a response to change. It consists of a set of approaches and strategies that differs from teaching as a practice of passing on information. Instead, it advocates a model of learning in which students are empowered to participate, communicate, create knowledge, and exercise a high level of agency and control over the learning process.

Lifelong Learning 2.0: An extension of this model as it recognizes the role of social media and web 2.0 tools in enabling lifelong learners to create their own personalized learning trajectories.

Web 2.0: A term used to describe the second generation or improved form of the World Wide Web that emphasizes collaboration and sharing of knowledge and content among users. Characteristic of Web 2.0 are the socially-based tools and systems referred to collectively as social software (for example, blogs and wikis).

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