The Future Of Learning Is Informal And Mobile: A Video Interview With Teemu Arina
What does the future of learning look like?
Thanks to my good friend and senior corporate learning researcher and independent writer Jay Cross, I have had the good fortune of meeting Teemu Arina, a young Finnish educational scholar, with lots of good ideas, a fully working brain and a vision for the future as only a few are able to crystallize.
Photo credit: Lotta Viitaniemi - Robin Good video interviewing Teemu Arina in the park of S.Angel Castle in Rome
I found Teemu to be a true thinker, and one that does like to stretch the definitions of what is possible and what's not. Open-minded and capable of evaluating viewpoints different than his, he is also a pragmatical individual understanding the true limits and restrictions we impose on ourselves via the working and social infrastructures we build around ourselves.
Our interaction focus, in this first part of our video interview, is on the future of learning, and on the relevance that terms like "informal learning" and "mobile learning" will come to have in the near future.
To my engaging questions Teemu Arina replies with valuable insight and by always expanding the boundaries within which we should look at learning, communication and business life. (The video clips are all followed by a written English text transcription of our exchanges).
Who are you?
Robin Good: Who are you and what do you do?
Teemu Arina: I am Teemu Arina, I’m from Finland, Helsinki. I am running a company called Dicole and I am the CEO of the company. We work with social software, mainly on the consultation side. I have five people working with me on bringing social software inside organizations in Finland.
Robin Good: What is informal learning, Teemu?
Teemu Arina: Well, it is very hard to define what is informal learning… For some people it is “non formal learning”, which means learning outside school, outside formal structures. For me informal learning is something that is more social, more student-driven and not teacher-driven. Well, it’s life: life is informal learning.
Informal learning inside organizations
Robin Good: So is it something that you can really manage, manipulate and bring inside organizations?
Teemu Arina: I think this is a dilemma. If you try to support informal learning it easily becomes formal learning. I think you can invest in a sort of structures that support informal learning.
Say, you can build piazzas like here in Rome, where people can meet and share informal conversations. But you can’t really draw a map or a clear path on how people are going to learn informally. It’s just about building an environment that supports informal interaction.
Tools to facilitate informal learning
Robin Good: Are there typical new media technology tools that you have been using to facilitate the setting of environments that are favorable to informal learning?
Teemu Arina: Along with social software, wikis and blogs are very often considered informal learning tools by educational technology experts. When I look inside organizations I see these tools as something that counter taylorist technologies like groupware and intranets, where the control is mainly on the management side (for example the IT department).
I am more into considering social software as something that can support informal interaction: it can help getting things done when the formal processes fail. From that point of view, I see blogs as tools that support reflective practice.
When you do something you have to stop and reflect, you have to learn something: wikis are about putting those reflections together in the collective action. That’s important for building new knowledge, new ideas and understand what to do next.
Teemu Arina: Some years ago, Finland was very strong in the mobile side and people where laughing at the idea of mobile learning. But I think it’s coming. I think it’s integrating with the informal learning space, because being mobile means that the context is around you.
You are not saying things in a classroom out of context, you are not sitting in a formal course within an organization but you are actually there, where you need to be. You need to apply the context to the context itself. I think that’s what mobile learning does: it enables us to utilize the context in a better way.
Mobile learning in the near future
Robin Good: How do you picture mobile learning taking place in the near future?
Teemu Arina: Well, let’s take conferences as an example: when people go to conferences they usually do it because of other people, not because of the content. The content is just the share object for people to meet. I think we have to emphasize the social interaction that takes place in such situations when people meet. And that’s when mobile technologies become useful.
I am now in Rome and for me learning is about meeting people; I have been meeting you and your friends here and that’s the same as meeting people in conferences. So mobile technologies enable me to see what other people are thinking and get behind their interests, which creates the opportunity for us to share a conversation.
It’s kind of connecting the virtual and the physical spaces, and that’s where I think informal learning is currently failing in the educational technology field: we are not giving enough importance to the meaning of physical spaces and piazzas for meeting. When we see mobile technologies, social technologies and physical spaces intersecting very well, I think that’s when we see what true learning is all about.
Learning in normal life
Robin Good: You're basically advocating something that would appear to be normal life as it should be?
Teemu Arina: Kind of… But I think the role of teachers is still there: they help people learn more quickly than they could without them. They are guides with a lamp showing the right path to follow. We are going back to the ancient times of platonic-style conversations, which means having conversations with people who help you come out with ideas by asking the right questions.
That’s what you are doing Robin: you are asking the right questions. When mobile learning and informal learning intersect it’s like typical life and I think it’s the direction we should go to.
The industrial revolution generated the need for structures that were useful: but in the future I think we have gone too far, seeing people – as Max Weber would say – as cogs in machines. People like little cogs trying to get into larger cogs.
We need to integrate the human in the machine as well. It’s not really people becoming machines but the other way around: it’s the machines being more human. That’s different, that’s not just life, it’s also technology… And I think the right use of technology is for social interaction.
Stay ahead of the wave?
Robin Good: For those people that want to ride this set of powerful changes you've just been describing, is there some kind of recipe, a simple man's recipe to stay kind of ahead of the wave? Is there any such possible answer? How could I drive ahead of the curve within my organization so that this type of thing starts to happen also here?
Teemu Arina: I think there are certain things you need to do. One is to increase serendipity, which is accidental interaction between people, perhaps by creating very effective “third places”. I mean places between the home – which is the first place – and work or school – which are second places. The third place is where you can escape school, the demands of your family and the demands of your manager to share meaningful conversations.
A place which is not connected by technology, in which people meet each other and are able to interact on topics over different fields. If you invest in such environments where you can have such conversations with your employees, that’s when you start to come up with ideas from different mindsets than your own.
It’s very easy to have a tunnel-shaped vision of thinking when you are looking for rational argumentations inside your organization. You have to look for new environments existing outside your organization and let people go there and share different conversations.
What is connectivism
Robin Good: In one minute, give me a definition of what connectivism is.
Teemu Arina: I am not an expert of connectivism, but my understanding of it is based on the idea that it is an aspect of learning looking at how technology impacts learning. Knowledge can reside in non-human appliances so you can distribute knowledge in different systems.
The computer becomes a node in your learning network.
Fundamentally, it’s about emphasizing the connection more than the content that goes through the connection. George Siemens would say it’s the pipe that is more important than the content within the pipe.
What would you change in the world of learning?
Robin Good: If you could magically make a miracle, what would be the one thing you would change in the world of learning?
Teemu Arina: Just one thing: probably the mindset of learners, shifting the mindset from collecting points and collecting rewards to actually learning things. I see universities and school full of people who are just there, not really interested in what they are doing but just considering the school system an interruption of their lives in order to get what they really want.
When they are there they are wasting their time on things that they are probably not interested in. So the major shift I want to do is that people could work on what they are interested in and understand the value of it.
What is a teacher?
Robin Good: What is a teacher?
Teemu Arina: I like Stephen Downes' definition of it: the role of teacher is to model and demonstrate while the role of learner is to reflect and practice.
The role of teacher is to show different points of view of the same thing that is important to understand.
You don’t look at the sky from the same point of view all the times in order to understand what’s going on with the planet. The teacher shows different angles to these interconnected constructs around us.
Other types of teachers
Robin Good: I thought that teachers were those guys, inside school and universities, that took control of the classroom for a long while and started talking about whatever they decided to without any kind of interaction with the people sitting in front of them. How do you call those people then?
Teemu Arina: There is a technology term called “learning management system” and it’s wrong. It is a “teaching management system”. Those people using that system are actually managing things, they are not leaders. Managers manage things; leaders lead people. You don’t lead people by saying what to do and what things to look at.
You actually light the fire inside them to go towards a direction that is collectively useful. This is what the role of teachers should be in the future: they should be leaders, rather than managers. They should help people come up with ideas rather than being the source of ideas.
World beyond learning
Robin Good: How do you see the world going beyond learning? We're doing fine? Medium? Not so well? What do you think?
Teemu Arina: I think that the whole blogosphere and the conversation in it is really driving things forward in the grassroots, much more quickly the direction I’d like to see.
I think it’s like the global warming: we see the problem (e.g. we see the problem of learning and teaching) but sort of, you know, you wake up in the morning and there is no problem with it – not yet – so you don’t do anything about it. One day you wake up and it’s a disaster.
Maybe we should be more proactive than reactive about learning and knowledge.
About Teemu Arina
Teemu Arina is partner and CEO at Dicole, a company focusing on understanding the role of social technologies in knowledge work and networked learning in organizations. Teemu is a programmer, teacher, consultant, networker, mentor, entrepreneur, self-directed learner and artist who has deep interest in Open Source, networked learning, collaboration, cooperative work, social software, self-organizing systems, complexity, networks and related emerging technologies.
Hi, I am a mexican teacher of portuguese. I love teaching, and it's really amazing we find new ways of teaching. Day by day the tecnology is around us and students need to be more involved in it. I found really insteresting this interview and I learnt a lot. Thank you, you really have this way of teaching, congratulations.
Some good points, right on time for 2007. While I've found creative ways to learn, now I'm trying to figure how to use the new media for presenting educational material (partner dancing).
Thanks for your article.