World Futures: Distance Learning And Teaching – Part Three

Los Alamos World Futures Institute

Learning is a process controlled by the learner, at least when the learner is exposed to learning material.

Every day we experience exposure to real learning material through sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. We might add vestibular and proprioception, to add some big words as the list goes on.

Real learning occurs when we personally experience something and create some code in our brains. If this is real learning, is there artificial learning?

As an argument one can say that learning is the receipt of information and its transformation into knowledge. Society, through its collective efforts, develops knowledge and distributes it to individuals as information, which the individual processes.

Some people acquire knowledge through the processing of information and then choose to transfer it to others. These people are teachers. In a person-to-person context the teacher can adapt based on feedback from the recipient. But when person-to-person contact is not possible, the teacher must rely on technology to “transmit” the information. It is worthwhile to examine communication growth.

Originally, “teachers” transmitted information via voice or other noise. Then it became symbolic in graphics, which evolved into text and writing or printing. The invention of paper was around 105 CE, which stands for Common Era and is replacing AD. Paper made for easier copying of text and graphics but sesquipedalian writing was inhibited as well as circumlocution. These are more big words that “everyone” clearly understands but slows down communication. After all, non-verbal broad communication was very much dependent on the mechanical human process for creation as well as distribution. And then came the printing press.

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg was experimenting with the process of printing but his printing press was not ready for commercial use until 1450. This was 1335 to 1345 years after the invention of paper. The preparation and distribution of information was slow. While printing permitted faster collective production of information material, initial preparation was slow and work concentrated. The rotary press did not arrive until 1843, another 393 years later. But notice the acceleration. If you could read, the availability of information from which you could learn, if you wanted to and could afford, was getting more rapid. From a school perspective, the availability of material to learn was voice and “books” and experience.

On May 24, 1884, Samuel Morse telegraphed “What hath God wrought” and texting was born. Actually this was eight years after the telephone. People could “learn” via voice and compressed text, albeit the effectiveness was very, very low. In person teachers and books remained essential. Around 1886, Hertz identified radio waves leading to Marconi developing radio transmitters and receivers around 1895-6. All of a sudden, people could learn by voice without another person physically present. Yet books and teachers remained and pressure was growing to teach a larger portion of the population longer. With the advance technological population, more individual knowledge was required. It was a greater load for information delivery by print and teachers.

Moving forward, television was first demonstrated in September 1927. Now you could see the person speaking, but it was not viewed as a teaching medium even though the viewer could learn. Then in 1946, the first electronic numerical integrator and computer (ENIAC) was in use. While Charles Babbage is credited with inventing the computer as we know it between 1833 and 1871, the invention and demonstration of the transistor in late 1947 really set it off.

In 1970, the first personal computer (PC) was sold in the United States. And the potential of the PC had already been supported by the creation of the 300 baud modem or communication at 300 bits per second. About 1850 years after the invention of paper, the potential for individual learning was about to explode.

In 1976, VHS video tape became available. Then came the computer disc read only memory in 1984, followed by an extended architecture CD-ROM in 1989. And by 1995, we had read/write CDROMs, followed by digital video discs in 1997, allowing for the easy physical distribution of video. While perhaps one should begin with the analog device known as a record player, the transition from analog to digital, VHS (analog) to DVD (digital), distribution was significantly enabling.

Concurrent with the physical distribution, the capacity to digitally communicate was enhanced, especially after the creation of the internet when ARPANET, the network created by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, adopted the TCP/IP – transmission control protocol / internet protocol in 1983. Then in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. And on Nov. 9, 1992, the Nokia 104 phone became available. It was digital.

Now it is 2020 and we have both enhance and expanded our ability to communicate. The list includes audio, video, texting, video conferencing, streaming media, and on and on. But we still have books, some printed and some electronic. And we still have to learn and learners have to make choices about what is worth the effort of learning. But how do you learn about the learning process? The learners still need teachers, but at a distance or personally? And did you know, look up or ignore the meaning of vestibular, proprioception, sesquipedalian, and circumlocution?

Til next time….

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