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Learning In Crisis

Learning today requires a new mental paradigm that fits the culture of a new generation, argues Puruesh Chaudhary.
Published 04 Mar, 2024 10:17am

Learning, when institutionalised, is an education. However, learning in itself is innate. We are born with this capability; it is a biological process where complex networks of neurons and synapses are involved. It is a matter of interpretation, where some may argue that formal education is necessary while others maintain that curiosity in children helps them discover and explore. The loss of curiosity reduces openness to new ideas, experiences and people. It increases fear and uncertainty, hindering personal growth and development, and decreases individual capability to cope with changes and adversity, leading to a decline in creative thinking and innovation. This loss destroys the culture of learning.

The constant use of technology, especially smartphones and social media, has significantly impacted human attention span. A survey conducted by the Public Institute and Centre for Attention Studies at King’s College London, on the impact of attention spans and technology on the UK public revealed that 66% of people believe that young people’s attention spans are worse, while 47% say that ‘deep thinking’ has become a thing of the past – supporting the belief, that “we have lost the capacity for deep thought is consistent across generations.” The concept of time plays a critical role in learning; research suggests this correlation as it affects how learners perceive the duration of tasks, their motivation, and their capacity to manage time effectively. The perception of time, therefore, can impact attention, memory, and motivation, which are essential components of the learning process. This can be influenced by various factors including emotions, cognitive processes, and age; so, as children develop cognitive capabilities, they become less susceptible to time distortions.

Social media platforms can affect time perception; studies have found that Facebook-related stimuli can lead to an underestimation of time compared to general internet use, but both lead to a distortion of time perception likely due to attention and arousal-related mechanisms. A study published by World Psychiatry argues that the internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions. In a Science Daily article, the senior author of the study, Professor Jerome Sarris says that the “increasing #Instagramification of society has the ability to alter both the structure and function of the brain, while potentially also altering our social fabric.”

The ongoing research on the intersection of AI, quantum computing, and our perception of time is likely to provide fascinating insights into our understanding of time and its role in learning. Until then, it needs to be acknowledged that the future of learning is rapidly changing due to new technologies, enabling individuals to expand their learning experiences beyond reading.

For instance, according to the Open University’s Future of Learning 2070 report, brain-to-brain learning will be commonplace. There is a growing trend amongst individuals to become more intentional in their learning choices, much of which is possible due to the emergence of new teaching models and technologies that empower learners with the flexibility to decide how, where and when they pursue courses. This transdisciplinary learning approach goes beyond traditional institutional mechanisms and advances collaboration across various fields of knowledge. This is likely to involve more personalised, interactive and immersive learning experiences, using adaptive learning platforms to adjust curricula on real-time data, allowing students to engage with content as and when, and at their optimal level.

However, the effectiveness of institutionalised learning depends on the quality of teaching, the relevance of the curriculum, individual preferences and learning styles. Today, governments, corporations, multilateral forums and NGOs are looking at how AI can be integrated into learning about the environment and create more effective experiences that accommodate individual needs and preferences. The AI-powered adaptive learning platforms are leveraging advanced algorithms and data analysis to create more personalised and effective learning experiences. The EdTech landscape includes platforms such as Khan Academy (uses adaptive learning features to personalise lessons and adjusts difficulty levels based on the learner’s progress); Coursera (personalises the learning experience by recommending courses based on individual preferences and adapts assessments to each learner’s pace); DreamBox (uses adaptive maths programmes for students from kindergarten through eighth grade); Cognii (provides AI-powered adaptive learning solutions with a specific emphasis on conversational agents for assessment and tutoring); and Duolingo (language-learning platform, incorporates AI to adapt to the learner’s strengths and weaknesses in language acquisition). This will revolutionise and transform the education system.

The learning crisis is becoming a global challenge for the education sector. The State of Global Learning Poverty 2022, a report published by the World Bank, estimates that 70% of 10-year-olds globally are in learning poverty, which means that these children cannot read and understand simple text. Despite an increase in spending, Pakistan scores 18.3% higher than the average for the South Asia region, and 16.6% for lower-middle-income countries, thereby contributing to human capital deficits. This deficit has far-reaching economic consequences, leading to reduced productivity and loss of competitiveness. Combining this with the effect of poor nutrition on learning capacity is a two-fold setback and according to UNICEF’s National Nutrition Survey 2018, Pakistan faces a high prevalence of malnutrition, with 40.2% stunting among children under five years of age, the consequences of which will cause impaired cognitive development leading to permanent changes in learning and behaviour.

With more than 80 million children in Pakistan under the age of 14, to imagine a prosperous scenario if current thinking prevails is dishonest. The dominance of such thinking is seen within the decision-making circuit. Yet, the 30 million babies under the age of four are born in an environment where they will experience factors that include advancing technology, global interconnectedness, cultural exchange and access to resources. The opportunities and the challenges they will confront require a new mental model to understand new ways of learning, communicating and problem-solving. If schools are to remain relevant, it is essential to redefine the purpose of education, incorporating neuroscience for designing effective study methods and learning strategies to create a community of learners with a broader perspective and a capability to develop a deeper understanding based on real-world insights. To streamline this, the traditional role of an educator needs to transition into that of a coach, facilitator and mentor. All this requires a new mindset that cannot be tricked into believing that the ways of old technology can fit the culture of a new generation.

Puruesh Chaudhary is an award-winning futures researcher and strategic narrative professional. She was featured amongst the world’s top female futurists and works for AGAHI.