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Fostering 'Entrepreneurial Learners' in a Digital World

When it comes to education technology, "technology is the easy part," said John Seely Brown in today's opening keynote at the 2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference. "The hard part is: what are the social practices around this?"

Brown's keynote kicked off the conference, organized by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California-Irvine, here in sunny San Francisco. Rest assured, I will be resisting the outdoors to bring you the latest news and notes around here.

Brown, a visiting scholar and adviser to the Provost at the University of Southern California and the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, which helps senior executives evaluate opportunities at the intersection of business and technology, said play is one of the key aspects to becoming an "entrepreneurial learner."

"It's all too easy to try to use old frames to understand the world today, but ... we have to figure out new ways to regrind our conceptual lenses," said Brown. "Tinkering" and play are ways to accomplish this goal, he said, adding that part of the reason that play is so essential is because it gives students permission to fail until they get it right.

"Tinkering is catalytic to many kids as a way to understand the moves that are possible," he said. "In a world of constant change, if you don't feel comfortable tinkering, you're going to feel an amazing state of anxiety."

The process of tinkering allows the learner to not only learn something new, but also feel more control over the system they are tinkering within, said Brown. Balancing the structure between knowing, making, and playing is the first step to creating and supporting learners equipped to deal with 21st-century challenges, he said.

To wrap up his talk, Brown revisited the one-room schoolhouse where the teacher instructed older students to teach younger students, and those younger students to teach the even younger students.

"The teacher was responsible for orchestrating that ability to teach and learn simultaneously," he said. "The teacher wasn't transferring knowledge but acting as a coach or mentor."

Now, he concluded, it's time to transform that model by leveraging available technology into the global schoolhouse.

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