Modern learning – creative, independent, digital

Early in the 19th century, when Swiss educator/social reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, propagated learning with the head, the heart, and the hand, the world knew nothing of multidimensional learning. But the vision of a holistic approach had just been born. Since then, life has become much more complex, and the execution of complex tasks requires complex methods – or?

Learning is a lifelong process. This was determined by the EU Commission as part of its educational activities for the European area of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is defined here as any targeted activity that serves to continuously improve knowledge, skills, and competencies. This covers the entire spectrum of formal, informal, and alternative learning. The goal is ambitious: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge society in the world.

Wide-ranging and complex

Throughout all phases of life, education has a positive effect on one’s personal identity, social interactions, and professional abilities. But the framework conditions for learning are changing. Learners have changing demands, and findings in learning research call for a new methodological-didactic concept within the overall learning context. “The
traditional system needs to be loosened up,” demands German philosopher and publicist, Richard David Precht, in relation to schools and universities. He would like to get competent people more intensively involved with instruction, to better respond to student knowledge levels using electronic tools as well. As an example, Precht suggests that renowned specialists, both active and retired, should also teach in schools. Knowledge and experience would then be passed directly from one generation to the next.

New learning concepts

Sitting still, cramming for tests, chalk and talk – to an ever greater extent, the traditional program is becoming a thing of the past. Modern learning involves a much more individual approach, and experimenting with new projects. Instruction presented while standing in front of a blackboard is no longer the only teaching method, and it’s attracting more and more criticism, because new learning frees itself from location, space, and time. Alternative, mixed concepts are favored, such as working in groups, with a partner, or even alone using new technologies. E_learning, for example, not only permits independent use of learning processes, but the individual, flexible configurations of these processes as well, in order to better absorb the subject matter and the problem-solving thought-process. Merging the digital world with vocational training is logical, as well as a cost- and time-saving process.

Learning shapes our thinking

“It depends on how we’re prepared for life, how we’re educated, socialized, and ultimately formed, or in other words, which “alphabet” is imposed upon us, with which we are then equipped to go out into the world,” says Erwin Wagenhofer, who points out aberrations in the field of education in his documentary film "Alphabet" – which caused an international stir. He also stresses: “What we learn characterizes our stock of knowledge, but how we learn shapes our thinking.” And that is clearly evident: people are more likely to remember the things that move them.

Virtual, playful learning

In scientific fields, new approaches to virtual learning such as digital game-based learning, digital storytelling, and interactive dramaturgy are being intensively discussed. These methods assume that learning can be made more effective by means of stories and games, and the Internet is an ideal medium for doing so. Virtual reality fulfills the technical prerequisites for making the desired content come alive in a new way by integrating all of the senses. Immersion into the virtual world triggers a strong emotional response and strengthens the bond to the imparted content.

Structured procedure

The imparting of ready-to-use knowledge is not as useful as the creation of structures for thought and action. Knowledge builds hierarchically: the most important content is connected, the corresponding questions are arranged, and ideas are bundled. All of this is intended to promote better learning and thinking. Numerous teaching and learning methods have become established to this end – from mind mapping and brainstorming to clustering. The goal of these methods is to create a meaningful sequence for the individual learning modules, which can then be incorporated into a work plan. But they’re all based on gathering information in a topic-oriented manner, grouping it according to knowledge units, and systematizing training content. Even for individual work and writing processes, clustering is often helpful – to structure one’s own thoughts and ideas, or to overcome writing and thinking blocks.


Linking important things together and gradually building a network – this is hyper-learning, a method targeted at developing one’s own skills and acquiring new knowledge more effectively. This accommodates the human brain, which doesn’t simply store information in drawers, but organizes it into complex networks. The goal of hyper-learning is to network as much varied knowledge as possible in order to find solutions to problems more easily. One builds a “personal Internet in one’s head” and uses its search engine to retrieve the acquired knowledge. The essential prerequisite is that the subject matter isn’t just memorized, but also understood. Otherwise, there would be a kind of "super-meltdown" in the brain if the right information were not linked.

Encouragement and inspiration

“Above all it’s important to establish conditions that will enable people to develop their own potential,” says the well-known German neurobiologist, Professor Dr. Gerald Hüther. According to professor Hüther, in order to enable people to better develop their potential in the future, conditions more conducive to this end would have to be established, and a culture of relationships aligned to the development of potential would have to be cultivated in families, kindergartens, schools, universities, in the work world and, not least of all, in the communities. The significance of emotional reactions to the learning process is also considerable, and has been well-documented by neuroscientific research, so that complex relationships can be better described and anchored in the brain in the form of images and metaphors than through objective explanations. Above all, in addition to imparting expert knowledge, Professor Hüther is always interested in stimulating one’s own imagination, awakening the joy of discovering things for oneself, and transforming abstract knowledge into personal understanding.

From knowledge to competence

Learning should not just impart technical and specialized knowledge, skills training, and an accumulation of qualifications. Learning should also result in the discovery of self-organized solutions for specific, relevant problems. This is a skill which is acquired not only though schooling, but also within the framework of projects and real work situations. The focus is on informal learning and is linked to traditional qualifications.

Self-directed learning

Self-organization is particularly important because it encourages learners to make their own contributions and to direct their own learning. If cooperation with others for mutual learning then works, the right mix has been achieved, and the foundation has been laid for a real learning commitment. As Swiss educational reformist Peter Fratton wrote in his “Pädagogische Urbitten” (Educational Plea) concerning autonomous learning in the structured environment: “Don’t educate me – but rather familiarize and accompany me, don’t teach me anything – but rather let me participate, don’t explain anything to me – but give me time to experience it, don’t motivate me – but rather yourself!”

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

New technologies are opening up a whole new, almost infinite world to human beings – this has a significant impact on our training content, our teaching methods, and the channels through which knowledge is built. Today, it’s possible to conveniently browse through enormous libraries on the Internet, or to ask experts for advice and information on any given topic through forums or social networks. And it won’t end there, because a new learning trend from the USA is now taking hold: so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which make it possible for millions of people to acquire knowledge free of charge or very inexpensively. A more democratic access to education hasn’t existed since the invention of modern book printing – and that was 566 years ago. How we learn, what we learn, where we learn, and with whom we learn – the future holds
limitless possibilities.

  1. These articles were published in Trends in Qualification 2.2016, the customer magazine of Festo Didactic.
  2. Photos: Festo, Draper, Precht, Wagenhofer, Hüther, Fratton, Fotolia