School is a place for learning but not exclusively. Learning outside school for that matter may even be superior, that is more engaging, motivating, appealing, and in many respects more realistic. Provided of course that the learning environment offered is in some way in gear with the learner, linked to their learning interests. Some learning environments have that potential. Take the museum for example and how it has changed into places of learning. The times are over when you walked in small groups with a friendly, but overly talkative guide alongside walls hanging full with stuff you did not know you cared about. Visits to a museum nowadays have become interactive and most of all active (1) . For instance: You could redraw a painting hanging in front of you in your sketch book so you can remember and connect to it. Or do a puzzle game walking through the museum rooms to find certain key points that will help you to apprehend a topic better. No hissing commands to be silent, instead you can even take part in discussion groups set up around a piece of art and position yourself against the stuff they show you. Nothing dull and dreary here. What is so engaging in such a learning environment is the open world you step into, at least that is how it manifest itself.. It could very well be the essence of learning empowerment: you are discovering what “ it” (i.e., content that is offered) means to you.
For those not convinced a recent article on learning in open environments with the use of mobile phones might be illustrative. Students received action instructions through their cell phones tracking their achievements while performing tasks given at certain locations in the museum. They received real time feedback on how they were doing and what to do next. This way of teaching and learning offered them real joy in learning, while being active, and learning in their own way.
Tell me about it, you might think. Nothing new here. Lots of new opportunities rooted in new technologies are now entering the school (2). Yes, indeed, some of them are incorporated in school learning slowly but the key issue is: are they empowering the student?, or put differently; is it changing the way school is doing their business of learning. And then the scene is a bit bleaker. New (tech) opportunities are added (sometimes) but not really changing school’s business in favor of open environments of learning. Opening up the school seems far away still.
Guang Chen, Youlong Xin, & Nian-Shing Chen (2017). Informal learning in science museum: development and evaluation of a mobile exhibit label system with iBeacon technology. In Educational Technology Research and Development June 2017, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 719–741