New World Learning describes the cycle of human development, reproduction and death in what has come to be called the digital age, the new economy, the sustainability revolution. Accordingly, New World Learning deals with the future. It is not about schools; although, school-based learning will remain and will change. It is not about reform; yet, reform is clearly embedded in the framework. It is not amenable to definition; but, it must be characterized if we are to think and act about its implications. New World Learning includes at least the six elements identified below.
- Resource Rich -- Learning resources will become ubiquitous. Teachers need no longer be a sage on a stage, confining the sharing their wisdom to a classroom or writing of a textbook. Textbooks need no longer be linear accounts, printed on paper and bound between covers. Tests are not just evaluations of some end-state but tools for assessment of progress. And, technology will increase the transparency of learning opportunities. A click of a mouse or a simple spoken command can bring a huge learning resource base to near immediate reality.
- Life-long -- Learning begins before birth and continues until death. Schools provide learning opportunities for an important segment of the life cycle. The school years, ages 5 -25, have been institutionalized and venerated because huge individual and cultural successes have accompanied institutionalization. Yet the pace of scientific, technological, social, economic, and environmental change precludes development of a sufficient knowledge base during the school years to support a full and robust cycle of life circumstances.
- Construcivist, experiential, hands-on -- Learning is fundamentally individual but is never divorced from our experience of social connections and relationships. Organizational or social/cultural learning is data, information and knowledge stored both organically, in the brain of an individual or individuals temporarily attached to an organization or institution and/or digitally in a database maintained in an optical or magnetic memory device by an organization or institution. Although databases are increasingly sophisticated, they barely rival the complexity of sense-data processing and cognitive processes of the human brain. Brains are not databases. Our human consciousness is individual and unique. We each, in a highly personal way, construct a reality for our existence that embraces our physical surroundings, an intellectual domain, emotional responses and are driven by a life-force or spirit. We learn by our experiences of doing what we do in life.
- Independent of time and place -- Learning as a general consideration, neither depends on or is dependent on places and times. Yet learning, as an individual experience, may be an event that is hugely influenced by a moment. Prediction of the right moment or right place is not even frequently possible. Good schools, good teachers may increase the probability of learning events happening for individuals within groups; but, probabilities for groups do not predict accurately for individuals in a group. Windows for certain learning, like that of a language or more accurately the phonemes of a language, are couched in biological elements of development, particularly brain development, neuro-muscular development of the larynx and a bio-social stimulus. Schools are places for education during a limited part of the human life cycle. As such schools cannot adequately provide or support learning opportunities for most of the demographic diversity embraced by human population.
- Brain-science based -- Neurophysiology, with all of its complexity, is a consequence evolution and survival. Not only will emerging new knowledge from research in neuroscience help learners and mentors better understand the critical mixing of rational and emotional dimensions in the physiology of learning, neuroscience will help define the limits of human understanding. Brain science will increasingly support the fundamental dignity of individual differences making obsolete many educational practices of the past.
- Sustainability Focused -- Learning is for survival. Physical/Biological survival is at the base of all learning and underlies everything else that makes human life what human life is. Economic, social and ecological survival is multi-generational. Learning to support individual needs will be decreasingly supported in favor of an ethic that recognizes response to our biological and social heritage and responsibility for biological and social diversity across future generations. Education will make sense, to paraphrase Dobzhansky, only in the light of our biology. Ecology is, of course, a biological science. As scientists from many disciplines address the consequence of human over population, pollution of air, water and soil, and the evidence of human impacts on earth's biodiversity and climate, there is a growing urgency to emphasize stewardship as a Planetary Imperative. Education on this imperative has taken on the burden of saving our planet. Our systems of schooling for education are no longer fully adequate to serve society with the important tasks ahead of humanity. New World Learning is, indeed, a planetary imperative.