Peter Gorm Larsen, Copyright ©, Thisted, Denmark, 6. April 2000. Copyright extends to the whole concept and the specific name “learning cube”.  

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This paper is special prepared for “International Conference on Advances in Infrastructure for Electronic Business, Science, and Education on the Internet” To be held in l`Aquila, Rome, Italy From July 31. 2000. till August 6. 2000.

 Lesser bricks more learning



This paper gives a short backdrop of the development and challenges for our modern western societies and what skills people need in the future. The thesis is that intelligent mobile IT learning cubes can give people in rural areas and small towns the required skills to live in our new virtual world. The paper gives a short presentation of two main and opposite pedagogical/psychological theories. First it looks into Behaviorism that emphasises smooth instructions in classrooms. Then it looks into Neopiagetnism or constructivism that emphasise playing with materials and working with problems. The paper concludes that the last theory is most promising, when people are to learn to use information technology, but also when they are to acquire other general skills required in the future. After a short analysis of traditional institutions for education the paper concludes that classrooms are unsuited for learning. Then it looks with sadness of the way educational institutions have used the new information technology. It is without fantasy. We still got huge institutions of bricks located in highly populated area without any possibilities for the people in the periphery. Programmes in distance education are often old fashion instruction with questions and answers. The solution is the development of intelligent mobile IT learning cubes. The paper describes the cubes and gives some scenarios for the use of the cubes. The paper finishes with some consideration of how it can be organized. 



Backdrop and thesis

Today the modern state is confronted with three challenges. Globalisation and the new economy, information technology and social cohesion. People need to adapt to a knowledge society (Lindley, 1999; Lisbon European Council, 2000). 

The three R`s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) will be necessary, but not sufficient skills in the future. Researchers talk of generic skills or basic, core, key or transferable skills (Lindley, 1999). According to Lindley they seems to refer to:

·         Communication – literary

·         Application of number –numeracy 

·         Problem solving

·         Working with others

·         Improving own learning and performance

·         Knowledge of information technology – computer literacy

People need to be creative, innovative, flexible and mobile. People need to learn foreign languages (Lisbon European Council, 2000). They need to learn how to navigate in chaos and have entrepreneurship (Lisbon European Council, 2000). People need to learn to learn, because knowledge gets obsolete so fast. It will also be important that people can find, evaluate, select and present information in the constant bombardment of information and competition for people’s attention. In short we can talk about information literacy (Bruce, 1997).

The paper doubts that the traditional state run educational system can give people all these important skills and competencies. It worries that there will be a large group of people in the periphery, who will never get a chance to get these skills. They will be marginalized and have no access to the prosperity in the new economy (Leadbeater, 2000) or the knowledge-based society. Social cohesion (Lindley 1999, Giddens, 1998, Giddens et all., 2000) will be a big problem for the nation states, if they don’t do anything.                      

The thesis is that intelligent mobile IT learning cubes can give people in rural areas and small towns the necessary skills to live in our new virtual world.


Pedagogical/psychological theories

There are a lot of theories of what pupils or students are to learn and how to do it. These pedagogical/psychological theories are changing more or less as the weather. Most of them are normative. Often there is no scientific evidence behind the many proposals of how to teach. The biggest problem for the theories is that people are different and have different styles of learning (Kolb, 1996). Therefore, you can’t apply one way to do it on all pupils or students. Another problem is that it also depends on what the pupils or students actually are to learn. Can you use the same method when you teach how to swim, play piano, use a computer, find information or learn concepts in political science? 

With these remarks in your mind the paper will present two quite different theories of how to teach people.

The traditional way to teach is called Behaviorism. Maybe you remember the famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner (Atkinson), who made a lot of experiments with rats. He could manipulate the rats and learn them to do different things. It was important to punish and reward the rats. The rats were contained in special Skinner boxes (Atkinson, 1993: 266). The sessions should be repeated over and over again. It was a question of stimulus and observable responses. A lot of teachers and institutions of education still use this simple model.

The teaching take place in confined classrooms (Skinner boxes) in a confined span of time. The “good” teacher plans the session rationally. The content is well structured in a curriculum. The teacher has a clear goal for the teaching. He makes progression in the lecture with small nearly invisible steeps for the pupils or students (Labinowicz, 1980: 154, 267), The learning process is assumed to be like at gentle walk on a flat pavement. The “best” teachers have even “teaching plans” for a whole year for there classes. By the way, they now have the possibility for recycling the plans. No wondering why many pupils, students or even teachers get bored and burned out.   

When the teacher makes the curriculum and the plans for teaching, he has a “standard” (mean) pupil or student with “standard” (mean) abilities and “standard” (mean) learning style in his mind.

The teacher assumes that the human mind works like a rational machine or a computer. In the end of the year there will be an examination. If the pupils or students want to pass, they need to have a good memory or read the curriculum again. Memory is more important than comprehension (Labinowicz, 1980). By the way, remember that an Internet year is 3 month!    

It is a paradox that courses in how to use the new information technology are often old-fashioned. Behaviorism full of instructions, demonstrations, punishments, and rewards. It does not matter that teachers use fancy equipment as huge screens and a lot of colours and sounds. In the computer branch they even have a job title, which is called an “Instructor”. A lot of distance educations, CD-ROMs and Webtutorials also suffer from the malaise of old mechanic Behaviorism.   

The Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget used a lot of time observing how children think and learn (Atkinson, 1993; Labinowicz, 1980). He emphasised playing with materials. For example playing with sand or water. Hands-on experiences are important. The famous MIT professor Seymour Papert has extended the idea to playing with computers (Papert, 1996). The keywords are learning more than teaching, constructing more than instructing.

The main point is that each individual pupil or student constructs knowledge (Constructivism) in his or her own style and tempo. Telling is de-emphasised (Labinowicz, 1980). It is more important for the teacher to set up experiments and problems for pupils or students. Instead of smooth instructions it is the teachers task to create intellectual conflicts and challenges for the pupils or students (Labinowicz, 1980). The process of learning is like a roller coaster ride (Labinowicz, 1980: 154). Dialog and feelings are important for learning. Working in groups can be useful. The teacher acts more like a consultant than an all-knowing boss.        

The Behaviorist position is ill adapted to a changing world why the Constructivist approach is well adapted to a changing world (Labinowicz, 1980: 267). 

Constructivism is seldom used in the educational system today, regardless of the fact that the world is changing very fast. Skills and knowledge get obsolete overnight.  

It is a paradox that most courses in how to use the new information technology are based on Behaviorism. Maybe the reason is that a lot of firms and consultants earn very well with the traditional courses. You can’t assume that people will pay a lot of money for a course, where you tell them to make experiments and “do it your self” by playing with the computer. Maybe the reason is that Computer nerds run the courses. They have no knowledge about pedagogic and psychology.   

How can we as learners be free of the classrooms (Skinner boxes) and the old fashion methods of teaching?  


Institutions of education and information technology 

The institutions of education are rudiment of the industrial ages. They are belonging to a static physical world, where the deans, principals, and headmasters are kings of bricks. The anatomy of the many huge buildings for educational purposes emphasizes control and discipline. They look and work like factories in the nineteenth-century. 

The pupils or students are contained in classrooms, where they look up on boring blackboards. Teaching is distributed by adults, who are telling about narrow subjects in doses of 45 minutes. The bell is ringing and the pupils or students need to prepare to new subjects in the next lecture of 45 minutes. In the confined space you can’t have too much noise, before it starts to be annoying. The opportunities for pupils or students to work in groups are small. Playing is more or less prohibited. Walls of bricks protect the pupils or students from the real world out there. The learners got a lot of theory and seldom hands-on experience. Learning is confined to buildings in urban areas. Advanced learning is often confined to big cities. 

The result of the educational effort is mass production of standard knowledge to standard pupils or students. No customisation or just in time learning. The ministries of education often determine the curricula. This institutional set-up will not create creative, innovative, independent, mobile, flexible, lingua franca people ready for the new global economy based on knowledge.

In a slowly pace the institutions of bricks have started to use the new information technology. You see classrooms congested with computers for computer courses. Teachers with special training make courses for pupils or students of how they are to use Bill Gates products. Often these skills in Word 2000, Powerpoint, Outlook, Excel, Access are given in no context (Larsen, 2000). It is a subject like other subjects. The pupils or students get a diploma in for example Word 2000. Now the institutions are feeling good, because they think they are on the edge of information technology. They think they have prepared their pupils or students well to the knowledge society. They do not care that these skills will be outdated very fast (Larsen, 2000) and the methods for teaching in these skills is very old fashion Behaviorism. 

Why not stress Information literacy and problem solving instead of teaching in skills in specific programmes? 

The most innovative institutions of education have got huge grants from government programmes to make experiments with the new information technology. The result is often more bricks, more employees, more project managers, more hardware and software. 

With sadness the kings of bricks seldom give inspiration to a new development in pedagogical or didactic thinking. Seldom will the organisational settings of the institutions change. The new technology will be co-opted in the traditional structure (for organisational processes see for example Harmon and Mayer, 1986; Mintzberg and Quinn, 1996).  

Hopefully, the kings of bricks will not be kings in the new virtual world. Often they see the new information technology as a way to get bigger kingdoms, websites as showcases, more public relation, earn more money, rationalise and cost optimise the mass production of standardized knowledge to pupils or students (e.g. distance education) and make more efficient administration of their kingdoms of bricks.  

Often there is a big discrepancy between the virtual images of the institutions of education and what really happens in the physical world in the institutions. Most institutions of education have colourful websites, which give an impression of high tech and modernity. When you then visit the institutions you will find awful kingdoms of bricks, where the pedagogical and didactic thinking is old-fashioned Behaviorism. In the basements you can find the servers with the beautiful websites on. It is the “image projectors” to the World Wide Web.    

In the last years we have seen a lot of distance education. Often it is more old-fashioned and boring than traditional education in classrooms. No dialog and interactivity. No faces, feelings, and touch. Only questions and answers. Some institutions have even built in automatic answers (e.g. a course developed for Liberians by Bertelsmann Foundation). Now we really have got the Skinner boxes (Atkinson, 1993: 266-267). Some educators have forgotten the wisdom of Vigotsky, who emphasises that learning is a social process (Moll, 1990).

What about the people in the small towns and rural areas? Will they ever get the required skills and have access to the prosperity from the new economy? Will they be part of the knowledge society? Will they suffer from skill shortages (Lindey, 1999) and “info-exclusion”(Lisbon European Council, 2000)? 

Do we need to have a new exodus from the country to the big cities? Do we need to build more colleges, campuses, and highways? Do we need to accept more traffic jams and more smoke in the big cities? Do we need to accept a new and bigger gab between centres and peripheries?  

What about the social cohesion in the new modern state (Giddens, 1998; 2000)? 

Can we afford to build more kingdoms of bricks in a more virtual and interconnected world? Distance education can never be the only answer. It cannot stand-alone. It cannot be the only treatment of the malaise of social cohesion.  


New vision with intelligent mobile IT learning cubes     

With the new information technology it is possible to implement more adequate theories of learning than mere Behaviorism. It is possible to set-up better situations for learning. It is possible to move out of the many castle of bricks situated in the big cities. It is possible to make classrooms (Skinner boxes) obsolete and instead create situations of learning independent of time and place.     

Why not transform the institutions of education to an array of intelligent mobile learning cubes?  

The military has a long tradition for using special vehicles and containers for command, control, and communication (C3)(Miller and Foss, 1991: 64-65). These vehicles and containers are equipped with advanced electronic. The military also has experience from mobile lazarettos.  

Instead of the pupils, students and adult learners moving to the institutions of education the institutions will move to them. This will, especially, be an advantage for people living in rural areas. 

The learning cubes will have different functions and can be assembled like plug and play. The actual configuration and numbers of cubes are dependent on which project the cubes are intended to support.  

There are cubes configured for basic training of people in how to use the new information technology. They are equipped with state of the arts computers and peripherals. There are cubes configured for multimedia production, where people have access to video cameras and facilities for editing. There are cubes configured for radio production. There are cubes configured for biological, geological and astronomical research in the field. There are cubes configured for search of information on the Internet and other databases. There are cubes configured as rooms for project groups. There are cubes configured as offices, where people can make distance work or take distance education courses. There are cubes configured as dormitories, where learners can eat and sleep.  

Regarding the plug and play feature maybe in the future it will be possible to plug in special energy cubes of mobile windmills and sun cells.    

The cubes have access to the Internet via dishes and satellites. Each cube has a homepage, where it is possible to see the activities in the cube on an electronic calendar and a webcam. It is even possible to book time for using the cube. 

People can via the Internet make applications, where they state why they want a learning cube (cubes) be situated in their location. 

All the cubes are under video surveillance from a headquartercube. Remotely, it will be possible to give people access to the cubes and regulate the heating in the cubes. Lorries, ships, trains and even choppers and airplanes can move the learning cubes.    



A backward area needs to be upgraded to the new digital era. The municipal has made an application and has got some cubes for three month. A university, a vocational school and a private firm provide the teachers. The local people can enlist to courses in how to use word processors, spreadsheets, databases, make websites, find information on the Internet and make multimedia productions.  

Providers of distance education present courses for the local people. Later they kick start classes in distance education. It is very important that courses in distance education starts with face-to-face meetings and eventually creation of groups. The municipal has rent a learning cube for two years, where the different groups can meet and discuss their projects in relation to the courses in distance education.  

Some smaller firms in a region have got some cubes for two month. They want to upgrade their employees regarding skills in how to use the information technology. The owners want to be better to find information on the Internet. They have bought a course in strategies for searching and information literacy developed and provided by the national library school situated in the capital. 

A local primary school want to present the pupils for the new information technology. The pupils have to learn how to make homepages and make multimedia productions. The school have got two cubes for one month. A private firm and a college of teacher education provide the teachers.  

The union of citizens in a small town want to make a project of the history of the town. They want to make a film and a CD-ROM. They have got a multimedia learning cube for one month. They have also got a library learning cube, where there is access to a lot of historical databases. They can even order books and magazines from the cube. The citizens need to make some research for the film and the CD-ROM. 

A university class in biology have got a special cube for biological research in fourteen days. The cube will be situated in a very interesting habitat for foxes and other animals far away from any universities and schools. The cube provides access to computers, Internet and research facilities. The wilderness provides the hands-on experiences. 

A local continental school in a rural area wants to boost the foreign language abilities of the pupils. Learning cubes have for one month been situated in small towns in United Kingdom, Germany, and France.   

The learning cubes will facilitate new pedagogical initiatives. Now pupils, students and adult learners can avoid the boring and confined classrooms in the cities. They can work with real problems, materials and meet real people, but still they will have access to computers, Internet and other peripherals. 


What can the intelligent learning cubes do?  

The gab between people’s skills and competencies in the centre and periphery can be narrowed. 

Learning cubes can be more cost efficient compared to new kingdoms of bricks. It will be awful expensive, if every school and institution of education should have state of the art computers and peripherals. Such equipment gets very fast too old. It will be too expensive, if every kingdom of bricks is to purchase new equipment every second year.       

Learning cubes can generate social networks that are very important in a more computerized and depersonalised society. They can contribute to social cohesion and dissemination of the new required skills in a local context. 

Learning cubes emphasise that lifelong learning is not necessarily something that is happening in big institutions of bricks in highly populated areas. That lifelong learning is not necessarily something with curricula, teachers and professors, examinations and grades. Lifelong learning can be materialized in people, who voluntarily make projects and use the facilities in a learning cube in an interdisciplinary environment. It is more playing and lesser teaching. It is more creativity and lesser rigidity.  

Learning cubes provides flexibility’s and mobility’s that are impossible to obtain with normal buildings of bricks. The cubes are more adapted to the new virtual world where time and space is of minor concern. Indeed the learning cubes enhance the idea that time and space is of minor importance when it concerns creation of situations of learning. 

The idea behind Learning cubes is more human, social, creative and innovative than the traditional boring distance education that in many ways are old-fashioned Behaviorism, where instructions are the order of the day.  



Who should develop, own and manage these learning cubes? There are many possibilities. In collaboration with private firms the state could develop prototypes. Private firms could develop the cubes themselves and try to rent them or sell them afterwards.

A central agency with representatives from politics, business, trade unions and education could have the ownership of the cubes or at least be represented in a steering board. It will force the different actors and institutions to work together.

The government or big countries could provide the money. The learning cubes could even be financed or supported by the European Union. In this regard please read the Lisbon European Council, Presidency conclusions, 23 and 24 March 2000. In this model citizens, firms, employees, unions, employers, clubs and institutions of education can apply for the learning cubes. It will be a bottom up solution that stress projects and interdisciplinary learning. 

Universities and other institutions of education could buy standardized learning cubes for themselves. It is a way to leave the castle of bricks and come out to the people in rural areas. It is a way to break the boring teaching in classrooms. It is a way to make new networks and better distance education. It is a way to decentralise and avoid more congestion in the big cities.


Concluding remarks 

The paper has shown that intelligent mobile learning cubes can contribute to give people in rural areas and small towns the necessary skills to live in our new virtual world. 

Learning cubes support more up-to-date pedagogical theories compared to traditional classrooms in institutions of bricks. Instead of Behaviorism and Instructionism we can have Constructivism, interactivity and problem-based learning in project groups. 

The paper asserts that the idea behind intelligent mobile learning cubes is a more creative way of using information technology in education instead of computers in classrooms and boring distance education without face-to-face meetings.  

The learning cubes can create physical meetings in the local area and create valuable social network that is impossible to get, if people are isolated in private homes in front of their computers. Ordinary people in rural areas do not have access to the information highway or infoautobahn. Ordinary people have no access to fast computers, scanners, digital cameras, video cameras, editing facilities and research databases. 

The learning cubes can make a difference.  


References and suggestions for further readings 

Atkinson, Rita L. et al (1993): Introduction to Psychology, eleventh edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, London. 

Bertelsmann. Christian Hasiewicz, presentation of Bertelsmanns course for Liberians, The International Internet Conference for Librarians and Information managers, London, Wednesday 22 March 2000.   

Bruce, Christine (1997): The seven faces of information literacy, Adelaide, AUSLIB Press. 

Giddens, Anthony (1998): The Third Way, The Renewal of Social Democracy, Blackwell Publishers, Ltd, Oxford, UK. 

Giddens, Anthony et al. (2000): On the Edge, Living with Global Capitalism, Jonathan Cape, London.    

Harmon, Michael, M.; Mayer, Richard T. (1986): Organization theory for public administration, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto. 

Kolb, David A. (1996): “Management and the learning process” pp.270-287 in Ken Starkey ed. (1996): How Organizations learn, International Thomson, Business Press, London. 

Labinowicz, Ed (1980): The Piaget Primer, Thinking, Learning, Teaching, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, London. 

Larsen, Peter Gorm (2000): Forget IT. You can’t teach people how to use the Internet, pp. 140-148, Internet Librarian International 2000, The International Internet Conference and Exhibition for Librarians and Information Managers, 20-22 March 2000, London. Internet: 

Leadbeater, Charles (2000): Living on thin air, The new Economy with a new blueprint for the 21st century, Penguin books, London. 

Lindley, Robert M. (1999): Knowledge-based economies: The European employment debate in a new context, Background paper prepared for the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick. 

Lisbon European Council: Presidency conclusions, 23 and 24 March, Press Release 2000, Lisbon. 

Martin, Hans-Peter; Schumann, Herald (1996): Die Globalisieringsfalle. Der Angriff auf Demokratie und Wohlstand, Rowohlt Verlag GmbH, Reinbec bei Hamburg. 

Miller, David; Foss, Christopher F. (1991): Modern Land Combat, Tiger Books International, London.  

Mintzberg, Henry; Quinn, James Brian; (1996): The Strategy Process, concepts, contexts, cases, third edition, Prentice Hall International, London. 

Moll, Luis C. (Editor) (1990): Vygotsky and Education: Instructional Implications and Applications of Sociohistorical Psychology, Cambridge University Print. 

Papert, Seymour (1996): The connected family, bridging the digital generation gap, Longstreet press, Atlanta, Georgia.  

Written by

Consultant M.A.

Peter Gorm Larsen

Royal School of Library and Information Science, Department of Consultancy

Langagervej 4,DK-9220 Aalborg Øst, Tel.:+45 98 15 79 22, Fax +45 98 15 10 42