Introduction to your personal learning system and the choices afforded by online technologies.
“How could I have been such a fool? I had devoted my life to running a prestigious University in Beijing. Delivering the most robust curriculum to the best students of China, I found myself to be a fraud of the worst kind. I sat down on the curb, cried and got on the first flight back to China. There must be a better way…”
These were the approximate words of a department head as related by Arkady Zilberman of Language Bridge an online language application. He was relating the story of a University Department Head who had come to the US for the first time and discovered that not only could he not understand spoken English, he could not even get directions to his hotel.
The facade of traditional educational systems have come under suspicion in recent years. Most graduates of these institutions find that they are woefully short of the promised fluency their education promised. Particularly in speaking and understanding standard English. I do not wish to be overly critical of academia. The truth is, most systems for language learning fall short of the expectations of all. How many learners are secretly suspicious of their language education? How many have internalized the problem as their own shortcomings? How many of us think there is something radically wrong with the way we learn languages?
What’s the problem? Why do our systems seem to be only firing on four cylinders? There are many answers. They range from “boring lectures” to being out of touch with modern learners of the 21st Century. Both the teachers and learners have failed to adequately assess the needs. Right down to the way our brains are wired. Yes, your brain is wired differently than most of us who would teach you. We will not go into the brain science herein, suffice it to say that you are radically different. Still humanoid but very different.
One of the problems has to do with mental images that we use to interpret our world and the paths available. What images do Education, Fluency, Academics, and Foreign Language skills bring to mind? Is it a certificate? A classroom with thick books? Test scores? What learning goals do these images then relate to you? A job? Entrance to a prestigious college? Is that really what languages are for? Will those goals actually deliver a better life to you? Have you been following false goals and dreams dictated by others?
The story “Westward Ho” will try to repaint some images in your mind. I cannot say what will work best for you. I do know that the mental images you have for developing your dreams and goals are critically important for choosing a path forward. Actually the subject is far too big for me to understand. I hope that by retelling the story from two views we can begin to piece together a way forward into the “wild west” of online learning opportunities available. We will assume that there are two basic spirits of a 21st Century language learner. Like the stories you have heard of the American frontier, there are two mindsets. One of a settler and one of a pioneer.
The settler mindset is my picture of a classical academic. He represents the person who is completely comfortable in the closed world of institutions and traditional learning. Mind you, I do not have anything against the “settlers”. Many of you thrive in that educational model. In many cases, it can be argued as being one of the most efficient modes of acquiring knowledge. However, the future and the promise of new technologies and an evolving society demands something more for the rest of us. The settler is the unadventurous cog in the wheel of manufactured knowledge. He dies by inches in that cast iron world of the industrial revolution.
The pioneer mindset is that of faith. Both in ourselves, the technologically enhanced world, and our religious paradigms. The pioneer knows that there is more “out there” than what can be written in a book. The technological advances in the last decades have opened whole new worlds. Waiting for academia to catch up, will simply not do. We are looking forward to an open life and vast horizons of uncharted territory. A pioneer is totally alive to all of the possibilities that our futures may hold. We stake our lives on the promises that the world-connected society offers. We also hold ourselves accountable to the promises we make in partnering with new educational models where all are interdependent. We, who go forth on this wagon train into the new frontier, know that we do not need “them”, we only need each other. And our survival depends on each of us carrying our own weight in the corporate learning societies of tomorrow.
The settler mindset is very much with us. The symptoms are fear of all change, the desire to protect ourselves and loved ones from the unknown, the constant doubts and pull to return to the old world models of authority based knowledge systems which promise the false security from a dangerous and strange new world.
But out there is an “event horizon”. A vast new wilderness of knowledge and dreams for the taking. Very few trailblazers have returned with guarantees. Truthfully, more have come back telling of catastrophe and sit quietly back in the settler towns. But there are rumors of vast riches waiting for someone to grab up. Some have reported finding gold!
The story and journey we will be taking are not for the timid. We can not promise anything by joining this wagon train storyline except perhaps a better look at ourselves and the images we hold as most dear to us. Settle your affairs pardner, saddle up and meet me at the next fork in the road. Our story begins next week on Fair Languages. You can bring your children and women-folk along, there’s room for all.
Next up: Church of Polyglot
Settler church = Institutional Administration
Pioneer church = Wagon Train
Note: We will be addressing your mindset in a holistic way. That of a complete being made up of body mind and spirit. We will touch on spiritual themes but I hope to keep it generic enough that all faith paradigms can benefit from our story.
Note: The inspiration for this story is from a book called Western Theology by Wes Springer.