Three things

There are three things we need to know about learning for this generation. The first is that learning needs to be personalised. As I argued in a previous post, learning must be differentiated, because one size does not fit all, and standardised curricula and testing are not fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Personal learning is unique to each learner. The tools and devices students choose, and the pathways they decide to take are in many ways beginning to challenge the synchronised and homogenised approaches we still practice in schools, universities and organisations.

Secondly, learning needs to be social. Much of what we learn comes from contact and communication with others. Increasingly, such contact and communication is mediated through technology, and social media tools are ideal for this purpose. The celebrated Russian psychologist Lev Vygotskii proposed the idea of learning being extended when children are mentored by a knowledgeable other person. His Zone of Proximal Development theory has been central to our understanding of how we learn in social contexts. Yet in recent years, with the proliferation and equalisation of knowledge and the strengthening of social connections through digital media, new theories such as connectivism and paragogy have emerged to challenge the central place of ZPD in contemporary pedagogical theory. We need to ask whether we now need knowledgeable others such as subject experts to help us extend our learning when we have all knowledge at our fingertips. Now many learners are exploiting the power of social media to build and engage with equals in personal learning networks.

Thirdly, learning needs to be globalised. As we develop personal expertise, and begin to practice it in applied contexts, we need to connect with global communities. Students who share their content online can reach a worldwide audience who can act as a peer network to provide constructive feedback. Teachers can crowd-source their ideas and share their content in professional forums and global learning collectives, or harness the power of social media to access thought leaders in their particular field of expertise. Scholars who are not connected into the global community are increasingly isolated and will in time be left behind as the world of education advances ever onward.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License
Three things by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Simon Ensor said…
I am always wary of 'personalisation' as it can result in comfortably furnished cells. It can also be used to reduce connection and limit access to socially meaningful environments. I feel that global connections can camouflage local disconnections.

At the heart is a question of how we champion openness and the nurturing of freedom. Freedom is not perhaps primarily individual.
Pedro said…
It maybe seems as a detail, but the first phrase in the for the rest excellent post may hide a potential mistake. If we look at the research, there is no reason to asume that this generation learns any different than others (check
It's more about how the world has changed this young people live in.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comment Pedro, but I need to clarify what I mean in the statement you refer to. I am not specifically referring to youth, but to *this* generation. I explained in a previous post that I do not hold with the Net Generation, or Digital Natives, or any other label that has been placed on young people. That generation I refer to includes you and I and everyone else who is alive, and we are all subject to the changes that are happening in our society. Technology is driving many of those changes, and as a result our lives are changing too. Learning is changing as a result - especially the scale of what we do. Now much more content creation is happening, and remixing/repurposing too. Probably the most significant change is our ability to share and amplify this content through social media and personal devices. I hope that clarifies my position.
Tim Brook said…
As a teacher of creative media I'm trying to embrace participatory culture in the classroom as a means to achieving some of those ends. Teachers need structures that can bridge the disconnect between edupunk and conservative cries for rigour. I'm finding a design thinking approach helpful in this.
Pedro said…
Thanks, indeed it does. But maybe we must make a distinction between learning as information processing and learning as how the information is coming to the person?
I'm always interested in, and engaged by your posts. And it's as a thoughtful, reflective, and frankly uncertain interlocutor that I want to ask several questions here.

Does learning always need to be social? Always? The degree of certainty so exclusively put, strikes me as unnecessary. It reminds me of something you retweeted a week or so ago in response to someone claiming that learning doesn't look like listening. Sometimes it does. There's no onew size fits all students.

Sometimes learning is also, not necessarily social. There may even be contexts where learning of a sort is not social. Albert Einstein working in his patent office. Bob Dylan writing like a Rolling Stone having quit the music business in a cabin in Woodstock. And there seem to be students who benefit from periods of social disconnection, and downtime to process. There are times when disconnection us precisely what is necessary in order to best learn.

I say this as a language teacher, and someone whose practice is hugely socially situated. Teaching language without a strongly social dimension is like teaching carpentry without tools. It can be done, but you'd have to be an obtuse and determined sadist with a black as coffee sense of bitter humour to want to try.

I'm also a little concerned about the promotion of social media as being the perfect set of tools. There are many pro's here. Functionally, and in terms of look and feel, they bet VLEs like a gong. The open nature of social media loans all sort of other advantages and affordances. But the ones developed for education will need to develop a revenue model, and, in the immortal words of... If you're not paying for the product, you are the product. It looks like the students we send to these places are the product. And if we are enthusiastically sending them in to engage, we are enthusiastically selling them as some form of commodity. In perpetuity, for whatever purpose is deemed desireable, and to whatever third parties it is deemed desireable to share this information with. Encouraging our students to engage with these serves is encouraging them to, often, unthinkingly become locked in, or is putting them in a position where they feel they have much more to lose by not signing up, in, and off on waiving certain rights.

This is true of most social media it seems. Google, Facebook and a host of other sites reserve the right to mine anduse your data exhaust, track that across the entire net, and use what you create, post, opine, share and say, for their own purposes, ad infinitum, with third parties.

I agree, social media offers amazing levels of connectivity, collaboration, and sharing. Everyone is walking around with a potential library at Alexandria on their smartphones. But there is a massive cost. We are making products of oursleves, our utterances, our thoughts, our actions and our relationships, in a sense. There's a tension hre, and we have to be extremely careful with what we commit our students to.

Re Connectivism. It seems...and I may be wrong here...but it seems big on theory, and short on evidence. I'm not saying it's an invalid theory, but I haven't seen it's theoreticians putting out with the data. Theory is the easy part of creating something. As writing creatively is mainly the long slog involved in realising a vision, the 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, so truth discerning is about 1% theory and 99% evidence. This may well be a gap in my reading, but it's been difficult finding a constructivist/connectivist who is happy to show me the figures, or tell me where to find them.

Apologies for the rambling post. Just thinking out loud.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thank you for your kind words Keith. You post some great questions, and probably some that I need to think about for a while before I give my response. In fact, I will probably write a blog in reply, because I would like to do justice to the questions and issues you raise, and it would be a little constraining in a comment box. However, in the short term, let me respond to your first and probably most pressing question: does learning always have to be social?

Clearly there are times when we learn on our own, but often this learning is in reflection to social interaction or previous encounters we have had. Vygotskiian thinking would suggest that even when we are in solitude, we are having a conversation with ourselves (thinking, metacognition) and when reading a book, we are having a conversation with the book (or tacitly, the author). Many theories to emerge that underpin our understanding of learning derive from social constructivist theory, including connectivism, social modelling, activity theory, communities of practice... etc.

Learning does not have to be always social (i.e. in the presence of others) but generally, according to this perspective at least, learning is always socially influenced.
Thanks for the kind, and patient reply. Especially considering the rambling nature of my comment.

I think it may be stretching it to argue that oneself is the MKO in a situation where one is reflecting, or engaging in solitary thought. And, perhaps, the ability to define social relations as also including contexts which are, in meaningful senses, not social gives a kind of post hoc/ad hoc invulnerability to a theory. If we redefine social to include instances where there is no external focus, or presence, it becomes difficult to criticise it meaningfully. It's impossible to disprove a theory that has built in vagueness (if that is the case - I may be somewhat unfair here).

Perhaps a better way to put it is that some learning is not socially negotiated, or is not solely or largely socially negotiated. Some of that is quite basic. I burn my hand on a pot on the cooker and I learn that it's hot, or I learn to remember that it is badly designed and I remember not to use it.

I sit in a patent office for 7(?) years working out the consequences of a thought experiment on the nature of light and come up with special relativity. It's not completely in a vacuum, but it's not definitively social.

There's more to think about in your reply than I can do justice to now though.

I look forward to your post
manmalik said…
If we try learning on our own for ever, where will we reach? for me learning is finding interrelations between concepts that I know. So if I know 10 concepts, the number of (max) connections I can make is limited to 10 (10-1)/2 (see ) that is 45. What next?
manmalik said…
add to my previous reply your experiment of burning your hand and learning from it.. that is costly and even 7 years are costly. so trying to find more connection and interrelations beween ideas (which for me is learning - hot pan + hand = burn perhaps due to bad design) on your own, you will become really isolated and may even be called a genius but not every one is like that and people like learning from each other as it makes it easier. Unearthing new knowledge and learning in isolation seems like a waste of time in this day and age for me, but is a valid strategy.
Anonymous said…
The very idea of "differentiated learning" has been debunked for the most part. Students need to be challenged to grow and learn. Learning isn't supposed to be easy all the time.

Popular Posts