BLOG POST: The Wise Learner of the Digital Age

Wisdom is a process that brings together the rational and the transcendent, the prosaic and higher virtues, the short- and long-terms, the contingent and the absolute, and the self and the collective rather than being only concerned with rational processing of knowledge. Wisdom accepts the complex, cuts through ambiguity, and derives its energy from the uncertainties of a complex world. So, wisdom involves both complexity/nonlinear unpredictability and discernment/clarity/knowledge.

Given today’s social networks, one of the most important challenges for learners is to manage well in this context of shared knowledge. Knowledge can be characterized as pluralist, socially constructed, fragmented and discontinuous and having an axiological dimension. This complex system is the learning environment of the millennial learners. Wisdom enables today’s learner to both see more complexity and know how to respond appropriately in such complex learning networks. The capacity to simultaneously discern the technical complexity, the social complexity and the cultural complexity of such social networks is crucial to gain wisdom through learning.There is significant knowledge in these networks, but more importantly learners need to deal effectively with the shifting nature of knowledge. This requires artfulness and craft that are also implied by some of the wisdom characteristics.

Knowledge is not a unitary thing, but a complex network of facts, ideas, beliefs, memories and intuitions (Rooney, Hearn, Mandeville, & Joseph, 2003; Rooney & Schneider, 2005; Saul, 2001). Ideas need to be connected to other ideas to create meaning and to find answers to problems. So, knowledge networks are not static as one’s state of knowledge is constantly changing. While knowledge helps us to decide and solve, it also produces ambiguity and complexity. For example, research can produce radically different knowledge about a particular question and some people who are creative might produce knowledge that is simultaneously imaginative and insightful by pulling together disparate ideas. Dealing with the extent and scope of knowledge systems can therefore cause as many problems as answers. So, digital learners who pursue wisdom are those who apply creativity, vision, foresight and insight to knowledge issues. Given the central role of knowledge in learning networks – collective knowledge- and the complex nature of knowledge, it is crucial that knowledge is characterized in a community context that is relevant to a wisdom-oriented view of learning.

In the digital age, wise learners must have cognitive complexity; a capacity to deal with complex and ambiguous phenomena in complex environments. Secondly, wise learners must be rational and deep thinkers; having a capacity to seek out and understand the facts of a situation and to deal with them rationally, but also to understand and question the ontological basis of these facts. Thirdly, a wise learner displays creativity and draws on the non-rational as appropriate; having a capacity to think creatively and to acknowledge the potential worth of one’s own instincts in making judgments. Fourth, a wise learner displays long-term vision; having a proven commitment to life-long learning. Finally, a wise learner is articulate; having a proven capacity to reach people online.

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