As e-Learning designers, information architects, and educators, we need to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between technology, knowledge transfer, and learning.
The Social Life of Learning
“Perhaps our generation focused on information, but these kids focus on meaning -- how does information take on meaning?" - John Seeley Brown
Recently I’ve been re-reading one of the seminal works on knowledge management and social learning--The Social Life of Information, by John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid. Early in the book they point out that, “learning requires more than just information, but also the ability to engage in the practice.”
Brown/Duguid further illustrate the active nature of learning by outlining the (action-oriented) steps required for a “newbie” to effectively utilize, integrate, and understand a knowledge base existent within a Community of Practice (CoP) or learning community:
- Become a member of a community
- Engage in its practice
- Acquire and make use of its knowledge
When learners fail to be actively “engaged in the practice” they will, in turn, be excluded from the “local topography” of the practice, as well as the opportunity to “understand the CoP from the inside out”—both of which are crucial in the transformation of information into meaning.
Actively Constructing Meaning
“Shifts in students’ learning style will prompt a shift to active construction of knowledge through mediated immersion.”-Chris Dede
Constructivist learning, according to Dr. Seymour Papert, “is grounded in the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, rather than having information 'poured' into their heads. Moreover, constructionism asserts that people learn with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful artifacts (such as computer programs, animations, or robots)."
Technology, especially for Gen Y, provides avenues that allow them to engage in a social, collaborative, and active learning environment. The theory of constructivist-based learning is even more powerful when placed in a social context, and dovetails nicely with The Social Life of Information concepts.
Gen Y, more than previous generations, approaches learning from a “what’s in it for me?” perspective. Students have grown up with digital and web technologies, and are used to picking and choosing how, what, where, and when they will learn. This trend has been dubbed the “Napsterization” of education.
Millennial students are “hard wired” to look at the smorgasbord of available technologies and then construct their own meaning based on their intrinsic learning goals and needs. In turn, these student directed learning styles have made the “drill and kill” teaching model less effective and relevant.
Technology as a Pathway to Learning
“Sharing knowledge is a lovely thing.” –Jamie Oliver, The Naked Chef
Under this new “digital pedagogy” learners tend to construct knowledge via self-directed and collaborative project based learning (PBL) activities, using asynchronous message boards, weblogs, forming social search communities, and using synchronous technologies such as real time textual chat or web cam’s.
As students go through process of choosing, utilizing, and integrating technology—social search communities, klogs, making QuickTime movies, creating podcasts, interactive web sites, ePortfolio’s, Flickr, blogging, computers, multiplayer gaming, or programming Lego/Logo—into their projects, it provides opportunities for them to be actively engaged, as well as acquire, share, and make use of community knowledge.
In addition, technology and socially rich project-based learning environments help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills—both essential elements for students to compete in a global knowledge-based society.
Constructing the Future of Learning
This shift in learning styles will have an impact beyond the walls of the classroom. As Seeley Brown points out, this trend has the potential to effect “not only to educators, but also…human resource departments, strategists, and marketing folks.”
One thing is clear, as millennials move from the classroom to the workforce, it will be increasingly important to deepen our understanding of these burgeoning digital learning styles and prepare educational and training programs (online and off) to meet their learning styles.