What would happen if we start to talk about 21st-century students as “Entrepreneurs of Learning” rather than “lifelong learners”? I suggest that it makes sense for two reasons: first – we live in an environment where entrepreneurs are celebrated as go-getters that are changing the world because they see themselves as the authors of their own destiny. Second, and perhaps more important, is the fact that the term “lifelong learners” is tainted by our common understanding of students as passive recipients of knowledge shaped by the “typical classroom” construct – rather than agents of their own future.
What got me onto this term is that I have recently been thinking a lot about the role of metacognition in learning and especially the role that it plays in students’ sense of agency when it comes to their studies. We know from the research published by Hattie and others that metacognition is an extremely effective predictor and an indicator of academic success. The term literally means “thinking about thinking” – but within the Mind, Brain and Education (or Science of Learning) environment, it specifically refers to one’s ability to think about how you learn. It is to critically evaluate what you are doing when you are studying and trying to figure out ways in which to do it more effectively – in short, it refers to your knowledge of memory, learning and the brain and its implications for your own cognitive processes. It is about critical reflection and specifically self-reflection.
Metacognition and Agency
Perhaps more important is a particular aspect that is clear from the research about metacognition – it appears to go hand in hand with a sense of agency (The terms are sometimes used interchangeably.) As a matter of fact, there is an interesting study which shows that there is a physical connection inside our brains between brain activity related to our senses of agency and metacognition – they happen in the same area of the brain. What is more, their processing happens at a different brain location than when we are observing events which are outside of our control – that is where metacognition does not play a role. In other words, metacognition and agency go hand in hand…
Entrepreneurs of Learning
The idea that metacognition and a sense of agency are almost two sides of the same coin brings me to “Entrepreneurs of Learning” as a preferred term to “lifelong learning”. As I said, the latter term feels too passive, whereas “Entrepreneurs of Learning” stresses agency and proactiveness. If there is one characteristic which an entrepreneur can hardly operate without, it is a sense of agency.
Entrepreneurs are individuals who are able to continue in the face of adversity, to follow through when others will falter, to continue when all hope is seemingly lost – because they have this inherent, almost unwavering belief in themselves and their ability to shape their own future. It is impossible to think of an entrepreneur as someone without agency. Also, for entrepreneurs, failure is not the end, it is simply another lesson learnt, another avenue to explore, another door to new possibilities. Entrepreneurs are able to deal with uncertainty, and if there is one thing we know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it is defined by uncertainty. So in that context, it is perhaps not quite so far-fetched to talk about “Entrepreneurs of Learning” as it seems at a first glance.
Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Entrepreneurs of learning are people with a growth mindset (i.e. they learn from their mistakes), they have the required grit, character and cognitive capabilities to thrive even when their future is already being automated and shaped by artificial intelligence and increasingly disruptive technologies. As agents of their own destiny, rather than victims of some techno-driven future, they have a deep understanding of their strengths and their weaknesses – and as a result they are able to be the critical thinkers and creative co-designers of what will hopefully be a better world than the one they inherited from the architects and participants of the “Third Industrial Revolution”. They are definitely not passive “recipients of knowledge….”
Dr. J (Lieb) Liebenberg is a Research Fellow at the Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria. He has been involved in learning research and development since 2006 and has delivered academic papers on e-learning as well as published on the subject in peer-reviewed journals. Dr Liebenberg is the Chairman of the Optimi Academic Council.
His first mobile learning project was MobiMath which provided Grade 10–12 Mathematics learners with videos and assessments on mobile phones.
As Project Director for the University of Pretoria’s Health Information Systems, Data Capturing Training for the National Department of Health, he was also responsible for the introduction and use of mobiles for post-training support to more than 2500 learners throughout South Africa.
Since 2010, Dr. Liebenberg has been involved in the conceptualisation and development of the ITSI Solution which allows teachers and schools to optimise teaching and learning for the 21st-century. The solution is used by more than 220 schools and thousands of teachers and learners from both the private and public sectors.
He is passionate about connecting technology and the learning brain, making learning visible and removing fragmentation from the classroom in an effort to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st-century.
He is a member of the International Association for Mobile Learning and regularly participates in conferences internationally and locally.