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The W3C Accessibility for Children Design Group

I’ve been part of a World Wide Web Consortium design group that is developing the accessibility guidelines for how the internet will evolve to support children. So far we have had 16 meetings. The group put out a survey to its members in an attempt to learn how to best orient its next steps. The following was my response. The gist of what I shared has been my core intention (regarding the role of technology) for 3 decades*:

My interest is in making the case for a more mutually learning-oriented relationship between children and information. A relationship designed to evolve to become ever-better at encouraging children to get ever-better at expressing their learning/meaning needs as the foundational piloting level of their interaction. I think this can help ALL children as well as children with special needs. Caring for how well they participate, from the inside-out, has to be the ground layer priority OR the system, in the name of educating them will, due to its lack of responsivity to their participatory learning needs, cause them to dull out to having them. In that sense, automating the paradigms of the past. It’s not the “gaps” in the research, prototypes, or policies that concern me. It’s the paradigm on which they are all based.

*From Here to Implicity (30 years ago)

The technical capabilities to provide learning environments capable of dealing with any subject’s content in ways consistent with what I have described exist today. Not the “radar helper” or “invisor” as stated, but the relationship principles they both imply. The problem isn’t even one of cost. Systems capable of totally transforming our relationship with information, of providing a new (learner) interface to recorded knowledge, will ultimately prove to be very cost-effective. But, so long as the role of educational technology is viewed in terms of isolated subject mastery rather than as a mediator of a new general relationship, albeit one a ways off, its evolution as a force in educational evolution will remain misdirected and what I have described will not be considered relevant.

I mean by this new “general relationship”, a relationship whose central intention is that learners learn to experience the significance of how they are learning – learn to develop their own subtle participatory “sense” of learning – learn that the compass with which they can orient themselves, regardless of the subject, emerges from their own meaning-needs – their own fluctuations of meaningfulness. Thus, a learning-oriented relationship – a way of mediating the learner and world which is relevantly responsive enough to encourage and enable learners to “follow through” with their own meaning-need impulses. To become clearer about, and more discriminatingly trusting of those impulses, and to begin to learn the inner instrumentation of their own personal learning process.

Such a relationship implies an inversion in our thinking about educational objectives: As the paradigm shifts from “knowers” to “learners” the education process must be turned inside out. Facilitating persons who are able to continually learn (learning-oriented human beings) is a significantly different objective, calling for a significantly different goal orientation than depositing knowledge into people. Thus, rather than viewing our capacities to learn as the means through which we acquire knowledge and skills (become knowers), we must see, knowledge and skills as the means through which we exercise and extend the range of our capacities for learning (become learners). As this inversion dawns, as we begin to view “subjects” as semnasiums – as the exercise environment and apparatus in which people learn to participate in, and extend, their capacities for learning – then “subject mastery” will become an implicit consequence of the process through which individuals learn to become learning-oriented and our educational systems learn to facilitate learners.

I am suggesting that if we focus on the relationship – on developing a mutually learning-oriented relationship between education as a system, educators, and learners – and then work from there towards the role of methodology and technology in mediating it, an entirely different paradigm can emerge. One that will not only evolve more quickly into consistency with what we know about learning but that will also give rise to entirely new classes of machines, machines designed from the ground up for learners.

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