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Saturday, September 26, 2020
E Learning Expert View

Braided learning: a new metaphor

Teacher and students using digital tablet

Mismatch between the outcomes of traditional education and the needs of future is growing rapidly, and many acknowledge that new perspectives are needed. Resultant, learner-centered education, personalisation of learning, blended learning, learning styles and Heutagogy are being explored

In January 2016, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum suggested that we are entering the 4th Industrial Age which is a fusion of the physical world, the information world and the biological world. The biggest strides that humanity will see will come from the alignment of the biology and information technologies.

I propose here a new metaphor for learning that is suitable for the future, driven by Artificial Intelligence and similar disruptive technologies. It is now broadly agreed that narrow specialists of the past (who knew more and more about less and less) must give way to broad knowledge of a polymath. Instead of condemning the “Jack of all trades but master of none” we are now seeking, “Jill’s of all trades and masters of some”. In the age of AI for any specialist knowledge we have solutions that surpass human abilities. But putting together several ideas and techniques into a common structure is the work of humans.

This is what I am referring to as “braided learning”.

So instead of restricting a learner to 5 subjects at School level, 3 at University level and 1 at Masters level, a learner can continue to learn the whole spectrum of subjects available at School at all levels as a lifelong learner. So if each of the subjects Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, History, Geography, Languages, Civics, Economics, Psychology…..is a strand of knowledge then the value of this knowledge is not enhanced by tying these strands end to end (concatenation) but by interweaving them (braiding) to form a variety of possibilities that are much more valuable in the coming VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. The depth of knowledge and understanding of a given subject may be represented as the thickness of the strand.

Every learner, during the journey of lifelong learning would acquire a number of these strands through formal, informal and experiential learning. Instead of arguing which among these is most valuable and important, let each learner demonstrate his or her uniqueness by suitably braiding them to create a unique persona.

The main strands:

  • Traditional academic disciplines (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Zoology, Botany, Economics, Politics, History, Geography, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Languages)
  • Technology Mega Trends of the 4th Industrial Age (Big Data, Blockchain, 3D printing, Internet of Things, Machine Learning)
  • Learning (learning how to learn, becoming a better learner, competence, comprehension, cognitive flexibility)
  • Thinking (creative, critical and Computational)
  • Entrepreneurship (Innovation, business and finance)
  • Humanics (values, ethics, grit, resilience, empathy)
  • Making (bricolage)
  • Questioning ( curiosity)
  • Communication
  • Philosophy
  • Performing Arts ( Painting, Sculpture, Music, Dance)

Lifelong Learners can create their own “braids”

The most simple and common braid is a flat, solid, three-stranded structure. More complex braids can be constructed from an arbitrary number of strands to create a wider range of structures.

The phrase ‘braided learning’ has been proposed around the year 2007 in the context of emerging processes observed in an e-learning community, where people working in online social groups combine to answer a question or research issue posed. James Matthew, an online learning expert states, “Rather than a homogenized report written in the official-sounding language, the resulting ‘braided’ text comprises individual contributions reflecting each contributor’s unique perspective. No effort is made by the learners to develop the kind of overall style that formal reports or academic research documents would traditionally demand. Learning is immediate – online responses can be instant – but the knowledge can also be built up over time.”

In this piece, I have used braided Learning as a metaphor and as a broad analogy for the learning models of the future.

But the Mathematical rigour of Braided topology is applied to the development of topological quantum computers where braids form the logic gates that make up the computer. Alexei Kitaev proposed topological quantum computation in 1997.

Here is a link to an article by the brilliant Physicist Max Tegmark famous for his books ” Life3.0″ and ” Our Mathematical Universe” :

Life is a braid in space time: http://m.nautil.us/issue/9/time/life-is-a-braid-in-spacetime

The opening lines of an article by JD Watson and FHC Crick in the issue of Nature dated 25th April 1953 begins with “We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” That idea marked the beginning of the “Biological Revolution.”

Medicine changed fundamentally and led to the development of therapies tailored to a patient’s genetic blueprint or by combining biology and technology with brain-controlled prosthetics.

Perhaps in a few decades, the teaching-learning ecosystems would change to benefit from these ideas of Braided Learning and enable every individual to achieve his/her full potential and add value as a significant member of Society.


-Prof (DR) Madan Mohan Pant

Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, IGNOU

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