Joseph Callender introduced me to Kenya Hars’s concept of KU or emptiness in a comment. How is emptiness related to Learning? The relationship to consumerism is obvious, but where does learning come in?
In commercialism, emptiness is related to clutter. Not just the clutter of things but the endless clutter of look here!, look there!, look at me!, listen to me!, pick me up!, read me!, buy me!, buzz me! answer me!, and on and on and on. Thomas De Zengotitia wrote about something related to this two decades ago in Mediated. How the world is full to the brim with non-experiences masquerading as reality. In Pratkanis & Aronson’s Age of Propaganda, they point out that we are bombarded with screams for our attention non-stop, 24/7, and that was before the internet really took off and there were smart people, not smartphones. We used to have news bulletins flash across the bottom of our televisions to let us know that some earth-shattering event has just taken place. Now we have news bulletins flashed non-stop everywhere we go.
Empty is exactly what it says on the label – stop the clutter and stand empty for a while so that you can perspectorize (is that even a word - I like it anyway) the world around you. We need to empty in order to perspectorize.
What does this have to do with learning?
We live in a world of information abundance. I have written about this dozens of times over the years. We have the whole world’s information in our pockets and available 100% of the time. We no longer need to act like information is scarce, but our current models of education are still built on information scarcity models. If information is scarce, we need to assemble together in a place where information is held and listen as a knowledge guardian disseminates the stored information to and for us.
The model worked for centuries and is still the only model in the world of education, even though the underlying premise is now false. In the information scarce world, the job of a knowledge guardian was to disseminate the information to you and then teach you how to use, hold onto, manipulate, and make the knowledge work for you. You were given the gift of a knowledge domain and how to use it.
This is still the same model we use today. Besides the false pretense for gathering together, the other dimension of information abundance is that there is a thousand times (or more) information within any knowledge domain than there was even 50 years ago. Because our model is still exactly the same as it was 300 years ago, we are still giving our students the gift of a knowledge domain - the whole thing.
The knowledge domain is thousands of times bigger than when our model was first introduced hundreds of years ago, all we are able to do, and that really happens, is that students are given a knowledge domain. In fact, students are filled with a knowledge domain. More than that, they are crammed with a knowledge domain. There are still thousands of programs and classes that test for new knowledge memorized (learned) at a Masters level. In higher education, we never stop stuffing students with stuff(ing). How can anyone learn to use what he or she have been given? We no longer use knowledge as a tool, we use information as a stuffing.
Empty is about stopping the clutter and perspectorizing.
How can we learn to think and use knowledge when we are full to the brim? We need to back away and empty ourselves and re-examine what it is that we know and why do we know it. Passing exams is not an end in and of itself even if that has become the reality. We need to put learning stuff and learning to think into perspective.
The internet has skipped universities. We haven’t yet learned that information is ubiquitous and doesn’t all need to be memorized. We can access what we need to know at the touch of a button (or screen). What we need to learn is how to use knowledge to work for us and for society. We do that by learning to think.
We need to empty, stand back, and perspectorize.
We know, based on scientific research (no matter how out of fashion that might be right now) how to do this. Why do we insist on clinging to what has always been done? We don’t need a new MLS with green buttons instead of blue ones as a miracle cure for education. Online replication of the worst of what we do in our face-to-face institutions is wasted.
Unfortunately, most of what is written here will be wasted because we are already full and have allowed ourselves to become the tools of information. We are so full of stuff that needs to be crammed into our students that we don’t have the time or inclination to empty, stand back and perspectorize.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.