Observe any digital native and you will quickly discover how collabs — online collaborative groups — are giving rise to the next wave of informal learning, which is more about co-creating than knowledge acquisition.
My insights come from observing the digital exploits of my own tween-age son, Reid.
Like many kids, he started his social presence at age 6 with WebKinz and Club Penguin. These platforms provided an introduction to virtual worlds that would serve as a gateway to a new way of learning. By first grade, he had written his own blog, and by second grade he was authoring online games using a tool called Playcrafter. I marveled at the speed of his deliverables. At work I was overseeing curriculum design projects using traditional instructional systems design methodologies that seemed slow in comparison.
Soon he was teaching himself Java and Web design by checking out manuals from the library — interests all piqued by his online buddies. Now, age 11, our son hosts virtual get-togethers via Skype for his friends.
We have a lot to learn from this new generation, and collaboration is at the top of the list. Many companies have explicitly stated goals and values directed at collaboration and teamwork because for the baby boomers, this has been a stretch goal. The new entrants to the workforce, however, will be hard wired to collaborate in ways that many of us will find hard to imagine.
I recently accompanied my son to a workshop designed for kids at the MIT Media Lab, home of the Lifelong Kindergarten Project and the creators of a programming language called Scratch. Simplistic by design, it can be used to execute creative, complex and interactive online projects.
Also in attendance was Mitch Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten Project’s director, who was named one of the 100 most creative people in 2011 by Fast Company magazine. According to Resnick, five years since the launch of Scratch, more than 2.5 million projects have been developed. A third of these are considered remixes where programmers build off of existing work — hence the emphasis on collaboration.
The Scratch event at MIT opened with a group cheer: “Put your hands in the air if you like to share!” The kids introduced themselves using their screen names, and some were recognized from their virtual presence. One boy remarked to another child — recognizing his online alias — “You are famous!” Many of the kids had been working together on projects for months and years and had never met in person.
The Scratch workshop designs comprised various forums — create, reflect, discuss, share and hack. The kids presented a variety of projects ranging from a virtual Jenga-like game, Cyber Security, to one of the most memorable project titles, Death by Math.
There was a session for parents and educators that felt like a focus group — we were all struggling with what types of boundaries to set in this new era of learning. We agreed MIT’s Scratch program encouraged higher-order thinking skills, structured and creative thinking and problem solving. Yet, how could we keep these kids safe as they worked closely with strangers online? How could we ensure they stayed balanced with other interests?
When Reid shared his story on the main stage, it was very telling of his generation and what can be accomplished through technology. He shared how he discovered an online band through the MIT platform led by a Scratcher from Chile and how he auditioned virtually by hooking up his keyboard to the computer. We marveled as the kids in this band — who had never met face to face nor knew each other’s real names — created original songs all by practicing virtually.
The mission from MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Project is obviously fulfilling its goal of creating a world full of playfully creative people who are constantly inventing new opportunities for themselves and their communities.
This generation is paving the way for accelerated learning paths and continues to challenge traditional learning systems. And for now, co-creating with strangers at work and home should be tolerated, even encouraged.
Holly Huntley is a vice president of HR for CSC, a global IT services company. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.