A changing learning environment

A changing learning environment

It is interesting how we respond to change and adapt our attitudes to fit our surroundings. Many studies have been carried out by psychologists and environmentalists on how we (and other species) are resilient. This has been in particular looking at responses to traumatic happenings such as accidents, life-changing events, and dramatic changes in the environment. However, we can also observe how other political and educational changes show our adaptation and resilience.

In several studies that I have carried out, I noted how migrants who adapted to change were much happier and more successful in their new lives, if they were not so highly influenced by what they had left behind. This was not a new phenomenon. My research on migration in the 1800s showed that those who were prepared to accept and adapt to their new surroundings were more likely to succeed. In contrast, those who made frequent visits back to their homeland were those most dissatisfied with life. A further study on contemporary migration indicated that those who settled in areas where they were not constantly reminded of their past were more likely to be positive and satisfied with their lives. They were pragmatic about their choices, acknowledging that the past had shaped their identity, but they were realistic in their awareness that they had to adapt to their new surroundings, as this was their opportunity to improve and shape their future. 

It is this attitude towards change as being a positive force that can make us reflect on how we adapt. My colleague, Mohamed Abushafa, found in his study of higher education in Libya that people saw the political changes occurring there as an opportunity to look forward and improve their educational system. Individuals can adapt and succeed, but only if they are prepared to use the past as a stepping stone, not as a lost dream. It is too easy to romanticise what has been left behind, but in most cases that past has also moved on, as Hartley’s[i] famous quotation“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” suggests.

This brings me to the way the world around us is changing, with new technologies making rapid progress, and the impact this may be having on education. For many years we have accepted classroom learning as being the norm.  Just seven years ago I carried out a study which found that online learning was a niche market and many could actually find it a barrier to learning. A further study four years ago showed there was still a strong preference for classroom learning. However, the latest survey indicates that 96% find online learning useful for their education. These findings were supported by a student perception study carried out by the University of California, which compared results from 2009 with 2014. It showed how online learning has now overtaken classroom learning, with convenience being a key contribution. Our busy lifestyles mean that we like to do things at times that suit us, and technology has made this easier.

Online learning is coming of age and we are changing our perceptions of this pedagogical approach. It has much to offer and, if we can accept the many benefits it provides, then we can show how we can adapt and succeed. Online courses present many opportunities to develop that are not always available in classrooms, and should be valued for their accessibility and flexibility.  Our changing attitudes to online learning show that we are resilient, even in our learning styles, if we can see the opportunities that change brings.


[i] L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, first published in 195