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.
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.
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).
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:
of number –numeracy
own learning and performance
of information technology – computer literacy
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).
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.
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?
these remarks in your mind the paper will present two quite different theories
of how to teach people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Behaviorist position is ill adapted to a changing world why the Constructivist
approach is well adapted to a changing world (Labinowicz, 1980: 267).
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.
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
can we as learners be free of the classrooms (Skinner boxes) and the old fashion
methods of teaching?
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.
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
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.
not stress Information literacy and problem solving instead of teaching in
skills in specific programmes?
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
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).
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
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.
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).
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)?
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?
about the social cohesion in the new modern state (Giddens, 1998; 2000)?
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.
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.
not transform the institutions of education to an array of intelligent mobile
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
can via the Internet make applications, where they state why they want a
learning cube (cubes) be situated in their location.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
can the intelligent learning cubes do?
gab between people’s skills and competencies in the centre and periphery can
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
learning cubes can make a difference.
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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