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Moving Towards Transformation: Authentic Learning for the Next Decade

If we are to build learning activities and skills that can sustain us (and our students) during coming decades, they must model professional practice as well sustain life long learning. They need to be creative, flexible and enduring. This post provides a preliminary list of transformational elements of authentic learning environments.

In my last post I took traditional institutions to task for failing to adequately improve their program design and outdated instructional methods.   I accused them of hanging on to outmoded past practices rather than changing and evolving to suit the current and future learning needs of their students.  I expected some negative feedback or even outrage and a chance to debate. 

So, in the spirit of creative transformation, I’ll outline in this post the characteristics of core transformational strategies and elements of design that I think should augment, or even better, replace those traditionally being implemented in many institutions. I can’t claim that these ideas are uniquely novel or entirely mine as I have referenced the contributions of many authors and organizations that propose or practice elements of educational transformation for the 21st Century, as well as analyzed my own experiences.

If we are to build learning activities and skills that can sustain us (and our students) during coming decades, they must model professional practice as well sustain life long learning.  They need to be creative, flexible and enduring.  The following list is not in any particular order but in future posts I’ll flesh out these concepts in more detail. I’ll address their practical implications and point to some institutions that have taken elements of these ideas to heart. 

Transformation is by definition a process of dynamic change that can only be accomplished by the design and carefully considered implementation of self-evolving, transformational and open educational frameworks.  This necessitates the integration of core components comprising people, processes, networks and products in the context of positive and supportive, physical and psychological environments.  Choosing to implement only selected parts invariably fails to create a comprehensive, holistic and complete model that’s maximally effective in the longer term.

Successful learning practices that will be necessary for the coming decades should at the very least involve:

•  authentic, relevant, real-world activities that mimic or directly incorporate the practices found in the current disciplinary culture of animation and filmmaking. 

•  instructional methods that frequently engage the learner in practical exercises involving observation, analysis, creative problem solving, idea generation and teamwork.

•  rapid iteration: extensive practice and mastery of core competencies especially those that require sustained focus and effort.

• integrated, ubiquitous, constructive feedback and critique from a variety of reliable sources. 

•  supportive personal learning networks that include peer feedback, study groups and authority based mentorship (see also legitimate peripheral participant).

•  metacognition:  reflective practice and critical analysis focused on understanding and implementing personal learning styles and techniques, individual creative dynamics and methods of decision making. 

•  collaboration and teamwork activities that emphasize both play and productive results.

•  results-oriented, systematic creative problem solving.

•  individualized, customized and flexible program designs that respond to the learner’s unique talents, interests and choice.

•  polished and finished projects suitable for a  graduate show reel.

 Of course there are other factors we could add to the list but these I consider central to the design of a transformational framework.

Today’s authentic learning environments should also be supported by a technological infrastructure that includes high-speed Internet access for research, social networking, communications, collaboration, access to on-line tutorials and lectures, as well as the use of other mobile technologies and related services.

Increasingly, recruiters are looking for highly self-motivated and dedicated employees with strong teamwork and communications skills. They need people who are inquisitive, dedicated, focused, critically curious, know how to learn, resilient, are willing to adapt to rapid change and can contribute ideas and solutions to the production pipeline - in additional to having strong technical aptitude and artistic ability.  Knowledge of software is just not enough.

In this competitive world of rapid technological change and with the industry’s escalating demand for increasingly higher levels of expertise, education and training, institutions need to be able to adapt to change and to transform their methods consistent with current and future demands. Sadly, few can move that quickly, although there are some institutions that have adopted and successfully implemented some of the ideas expressed above.

The onus is on those in positions of responsibility to make real and meaningful change by providing an enabling and creative environment so that everyone in their organization can be engaged in a collective sense of purpose and growth.  Sounds a bit like a great animation production company doesn’t it?