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Where and When People Learn

When the material that knowledge learners require cannot be covered in school or when they are not in school, learners need on-demand opportunities for learning anytime and anywhere. On-demand learning is essential to life-long and life-wide learning (Figure 2), and technology produces a vital bridge, enabling productive use of learning resources across formal and informal learning settings (Barron, 2006).

Figure 2. Life-long and life-wide learning

On-demand learning is facilitated by the vast information and learning resources on the web that are available in an always-on connection to the Internet. This is powerful for individual learners but even more so when accessed by groups of learners and learning communities – from small groups with different roles and responsibilities in pursuit of a learning project to far larger communities that may be pursuing ambitious design and learning products, such as developing an entry for Wikipedia or planning the reinvigoration of the environment of their city.

Collaborative environments are enhanced by social and participatory approaches such as wikis, in which learners and teachers regardless of their location – in a classroom or halfway around the world – or the time of day can build knowledge structures or tackle inquiry problems that are posed together. Social media content created by teachers and learners, from blogs to podcasts to YouTube videos or creations and performances in virtual worlds (Jenkins, 2009; Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009; OECD, 2008, 2009) enrich on-demand learning.

Specific examples of on-demand learning include the following:

  • Inquiry and adventure environments with games and activities that foster learning.
  • Online “collaboratories” (National Science Foundation, 2008a) in which scientists establish protocols for collecting data with sensors from local environments across the planet. Learners and teachers learn science by doing science as they capture, upload, and then visualize and analyze geospatial and temporal data patterns from the data contributed by the globally networked community.
  • Earth- and sky-mapping web resources with data from the sciences and other fields of scholarly inquiry that anyone can use to develop virtual travel tours to be applied in learning and teaching activities.
  • Augmented reality platforms and games that bring locally relevant learning resources into view for users of mobile devices with a GPS (Johnson, Levine, Smith, & Stone, 2010).
  • Use of the power of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing to tackle complex interdisciplinary problems.
  • Powerful learning applications for mobile Internet access devices such as musical instrument simulators, language learning tools, and mathematical games.
  • Sites and communities that publish academic content, including user-generated content. One notable example is the videotaped lectures of MIT physics professor Walter Lewin, available on MIT’s OpenCourseWare site as well as through commercial courseware and video sharing sites. Lewin’s engaging and entertaining lectures have earned him a following of millions worldwide.
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