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Augmented Learning

The convergence of learner motivation, learning spaces and technology to elevate the learning processes

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The trajectory of learning

Like each one of us, the process of learning is a work in progress and a continuous journey. This is one journey that has no end point, no destination and can carry on for as long as the learner wants to learn. This, I feel, is one of the main the purposes of education: embarking on a lifelong learning journey, equipped with all the necessary tools that will facilitate the process.

One of the biggest transformations in the learning process is the shift from an industrial age to a technological one. With the advent of computers and the internet, information is readily available. The time honoured skills of information acquisition, retention and delivery as the main focus of learning are no longer relevant. It is essential for all institutions educating future generations, to be able to synchronise their learning frameworks with this huge shift in the learning process. The only way to stay relevant in today’s times is to develop the qualities  of rigour and resilience and hone the skills to reinvent ourselves time and time again. More than ever, “learning how to learn” is the most important skill that our education system needs to be able to provide. 

In order to understand and possibly influence the trajectory of learning, we need to reassess our ideas on learning and ask deep epistemological questions. How did I learn what I know? What is the main purpose of learning? What is the best method to imbibe the process of learning? To me, learning is a dynamic, evolutionary process that helps me become a better version of myself – since I have diverse, complex, inter-related facets of myself, I need to employ distinct processes of learning to bring about growth in all of these facets. To me, the process of learning should lead to the actualization of individual potential. That is why, the overarching learning framework needs to be centered around Skills (abilities), Processes (means of learning), and Watermarks (qualities of character and attitudes) that lead to a wholistic growth across the Five Areas of Development: Cerebral, Physical, Social, Emotional and Spiritual. The concepts (overarching ideas) and domains (subject areas) are, of course, important but their primary role must change to that of tools and means in the process of learning, rather  than being seen as the end result. 

While overarching framework is an excellent guide, in order to bring about effective and meaningful learning, we need to contextualize it to the learners, the environment and the times. I purposefully used the term ‘actualization of individual potential’ because it showcases how learners are different in myriad ways and have an  innate potential that is unique to them. Therefore optimal learning occurs based on individual requirements and capabilities, and is dependent on the specific time and place. Each child presents a different graph in their progress in the Five Areas of Development; the nuances in these learning curves are what we need to make sense of and highlight in order to deepen our understanding of effective learning. It is important that we recognize that ideas and phenomena are indivisible from their contexts. An individual’s understanding and abilities need to be explored wholistically and in real world contexts, through the lenses of multiple domains and diverse perspectives. Being able to place each learner in her context helps the learning process immensely. The context guides the child’s needs and the child’s needs drive the learning plan for the child. When the learning programme is individualized and in tune with the strengths, needs and skills of the child success is almost a given. 

In our technology enabled and technology driven world, where knowledge acquisition requires very little guidance or support, the learning framework and the teacher need to focus on all 5 Areas of Development. A learning environment that is aware of the unique needs of each child and is able to meet those needs, will ensure that the educational institutions of today are guiding the strengths of a resilient workforce for tomorrow.

Augmented learning – the new evolving framework?

As we question our definition of learning and sharpen our understanding of learning experiences, we need to reevaluate the ways we can elevate our learning and the associated tools and resources at our disposal. How can the overarching learning framework focused on the Five Areas of Development, Skills, Processes and Watermarks be best utilized to promote learning by continually contextualizing it to individual learner’s strengths and needs? What we need to design is a comprehensive framework of learning – a coalition of best practices, strategies and resources that is applicable across the board while at the same time allows for contextualization at the local level. 

Instead of the classroom where the learning transaction primarily occurs between the teacher and the student, the evolving framework needs to take into account various innovative methods brought about by technological advances, physical and evolving learning spaces, and the diverse stakeholders – such as oneself, parents, guardians, peers – that have been increasingly influencing the process of learning. From a simple brick-and-mortar classroom setting, the paradigm shift in learning is towards a form of hybrid learning in which the continuously evolving technologies, learning spaces and stakeholders are fully utilized and integrated into the learning process. This is what I refer to as augmented learning. The framework of augmented learning not only focuses on these elements but also seeks to understand and build on the relationship and interaction amongst them that bring about the enhancement in one’s learning. 

It is all about the relationship

Relationships and interactions form an important component of understanding the process of how meaningful learning takes place. Let us look at how a person goes from learning a skill (ability) and internalizing that process (means of learning) in order to successfully inculcate the corresponding watermark (quality of character and attitude) over time. If we are able to recognize common approaches and processes in the above scenario while accounting for differences due to diverse contexts, it helps us understand the relationship among skill, process and watermark, and how the interplay among the three lead to cross-pollination. This, for me, is a classic case of augmented learning in action. For example, interpersonal relations is a skill but as we invest in the process and put in concentrated hard work to hone that skill, it gradually develops into empathy or compassion which is a watermark. 

We need to recognize that learning is a continuum that takes place through the multi-layered relationship of the learner with the environment. This pandemic has shown that wholesome learning cannot take place in isolation and it is dependent on the learners’ relationship with teachers, peers, family, and the environment. The importance of building and maintaining meaningful connections cannot be emphasized enough; these connections, formed especially through face-to-face interactions, cannot be replaced by machine learning alone. The notion of transactional v/s relational approach to teaching learning methods has become more important than ever. 

For effective learning to take place, we have to recognize and nurture the relationship we have with ourselves and with our learning. When we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we see that it is primarily centered around individual needs. We need to evolve from this limited  framework and start looking at relationships and the central role it plays in every facet of our lives. Apart from individual needs, we are intrinsically motivated by our relationships with ourselves, others and our surroundings; these relationships are not founded on selfishness but instead rooted in the sense of self as a part of a bigger whole. As important as it is to understand one’s relationship with oneself and others, it is equally significant to comprehend the relation to one’s learning and the various areas of development. Take for instance, the pandemic and its ongoing effect. With the physical and social distancing in place, our cerebral, emotional and spiritual hygiene are invariably affected as a consequence. Therefore, while designing online learning, it is not sufficient that only cerebral development is taken into account. If the attention is too heavily focused on academics and cerebral development, then the wholistic development of learners is at risk of being neglected. The various strategies of how to successfully ensure that online or distance learning creates opportunities for the wholistic development of learners have to be explored. As we move forward with looking at a more augmented learning pedagogy, this is one of the key areas of development required that will be vital to ensuring augmented learning pedagogies are viable options. 

Propeller of augmented learning: Technology

Since technological advancement is inevitable, we need to think about how we can utilize technology to create and impart effective learning experiences. Developing a coherent definition and understanding of ‘online learning’ and ‘blended learning’ with associated strategies and activities will be beneficial moving forward. With the recent rise in online and digital learning platforms, it will also be beneficial to create a database of the type of instructional strategies and learner interaction required on each of these to determine their suitability and how they might or might not fit into the pedagogical framework of blended learning or augmented learning. 

However, there are challenges associated with technology in the current scenario, primarily with regard to access and the digital divide. The inclusivity of online or digital learning is a glaring issue; it refers to the level of access to the physical resources learners need in order to access online or digital learning resources successfully. Depending on the personal circumstances of the learners, for example, the location of their home or the type of or number of electronic equipment they have access to, their ability to consistently access online or digital learning platforms will be different. This means that not all learners will have the same access and therefore these individual differences need to be accounted for when planning and implementing learning experiences. It would be worth researching the different ways this can be achieved in order to help both educators and learners to adjust if needed. 

The other issue is the ability of learners to access online or digital learning platforms. Learners with very specific educational needs may struggle to engage with specific technologies or online platforms. Therefore, not being physically present in a classroom or with a teacher or learning assistant may severely reduce the learner’s ability to engage. The amount of support available at home will also play a large part in this regard. 

The challenges mentioned above are very real and perhaps the biggest deterrent in actualizing the role of technology in education and learning. Over time, if and when these challenges are sufficiently met, the potential of technology will soar. The framework of augmented learning will be able to integrate continuously evolving technologies to deliver individualized and contextualized learning experience anywhere irrespective of physical location or cultural background. 

Learning spaces – Physical and virtual

It is often said that learning can take place anywhere anytime – and that is something I firmly believe. Even in the past, the learning environment and physical spaces have played a big part in the learning process, especially life skills. Living in Gurukuls and similar ancient centers of learning, the students learned from the lived experience as much as from the teachings and discussions afforded. We need to realize that the construct of a classroom is a relatively new phenomenon. 

Under augmented learning, the focus is on creating a learning experience instead of simply recreating classroom situations – it is more of a thought process than a setting, and the process is especially effective when it is contextualized for various learners and settings. Whether it is at home, in the community or online, as long as students are absorbing new information, emotions, experiences and knowledge, meaningful learning is taking place. 

Technological advances have sprouted a myriad of learning spaces like never before. Here is an opportunity for re-evaluating learning methods and pedagogies that can lead to effective community learning spaces. These communities can be both physical and virtual, and can be used to share not only knowledge but also experiences and emotions. 

The biggest stakeholder- Self

Although the roles of teachers, parents, family and peers become crucial in augmented learning, perhaps the most elevated position belongs to the learner. With technological advances breaking down the hierarchies and barriers to knowledge and learning, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a learner is herself. In such a scenario, encouraging learners to take control and ownership of their own learning becomes paramount. 

One of the best ways to ensure that students take ownership and become propellers of their own learning is to make them realize the immense power of self-assessment and self-guidance. The current system and processes seldom afford them the opportunity to do so. In today’s times, learning is often considered to be imparted by someone in a position of authority, such as a teacher or parent; or by something that is deemed a reliable medium, such as a book or computer. Students need to understand that while these can be good sources of information and knowledge, external elements should not be the only focal points from which to learn. 

The present crisis has made it apparent that it is vital that students are given the freedom and opportunity to be able to learn from themselves by exploring within. They need to be inspired to make their own experiences the basis of learning and inculcate genuine introspection so that they are continually in a learning mode. In Buddhism, a guru passes on his knowledge to the disciples who learn from the guru’s experiences; in a similar way, they need to acknowledge themselves as their own gurus whose experiences and knowledge continually guide them. Through the dynamic process of self-reflection and self-improvement, they need to grasp the importance of being able to constantly unlearn and learn, and become lifelong learners. 

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