Learning 2.0?

As we start digging into the course content this week, I am most struck by how more people have more access to learning materials than they ever had in the past.  Perhaps through Web 2.0 technologies, we can move even closer to true universal education for all.  Ideally, open courses and the ever-expanding Internet could be the missing link for creating learning opportunities in communities everywhere.

According to Brown and Adler, learning occurs whenever learners interact with electronic materials inside or outside traditional classroom settings, especially through activities that involve a social aspect.  “The emphasis on social learning stands in sharp contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning—a view that has largely dominated the way education has been structured for over one hundred years” (Brown & Adler, 2008).  Without a doubt, social learning can be beneficial for some learners , but by focusing on learning within group situations, I feel like the authors, as well as many other learning theorists, are forgetting that some learners do not react well to such group pressures for many different reasons.  Are we forgetting that some subjects or materials might best be learned by some learners through individually focused instruction or through more traditional direct instruction models?

During my undergraduate years from 2000-2004, I grew very tired of always hearing “Facilitator of Learning” over and over again from my professors.  It was so obviously their favorite bit of educational jargon and integral to their program’s philosophy.  We were told that we should move away from thinking of ourselves as lecturers, as distributors of knowledge, and instead think of ways to encourage our students to figure things out for themselves.  I think that can be an incredibly useful and vital concept in learning, especially when considering how uninspiring and dull it is to be stuck in an educational rut, but I think we sometimes lean too much on group work with or without technology in an effort to be cutting edge.  I’ve used Wiki sites for both individual assignments and group projects, and it is certainly an interesting process, tracking any changes and adding content while knowing that my process is open to the scrutiny of my other group members or even the class as a whole.  “In this open environment, both the content and the process by which it is created are equally visible, thereby enabling a new kind of critical reading—almost a new form of literacy—that invites the reader to join in the consideration of what information is reliable and/or important” (Brown & Adler, 2008).  I think it is important to think critically about all aspects of information gathering, preparing and sharing.  Even so, I question the idea that everyone’s opinion on any given topic is valid.  There is a certain amount of self-policing involved in larger online communities where the cream rises to the top fairly quickly, but what about in smaller environments like required classes?  If we are going to be basing learning around what the students think is important, class may be more fun for them, but are they learning everything that they need to know?

One thing that everyone definitely needs to know is summed up in the following quote:

“What I want to suggest, though, is that the new literacy, the one beyond just text and image, is one of information navigation. I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that.  So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century” (Brown, 1999).

In short, everyone needs to be able to consider information critically and independently, and an emphasis on this new literacy would have profound effects on learning environments.  By shifting away from the traditional misconception of librarianship as information gatekeeping, we can build a society of lifelong learners who are fully capable of interacting with information in their chosen learning environments in new and interesting ways.  These ideas can be found manifest in libraries that have added Information Commons to their library footprint.  The reference librarians are there to offer any assistance necessary, but the learner/patron is at the center of the space, not the reference desk.  It is much more learner focused, and patrons can use the libraries on their own terms.

The readings this week make me think about the many ways we all learn, and I wonder how much our individual learning styles have impacted our teaching styles as well.  It is always important to think outside our own likes or dislikes and not get bogged down in one mode of teaching.  I think I have a lot more to consider about how to connect social learning through technology with my own learning preferences.

9 thoughts on “Learning 2.0?

  1. Cheryl Burris

    Karen, I am your biggest fan and appreciate your thoughts tremendously. I have asked the questions you are asking about future bosses, student independence, and fun vs direct instruction too – both of myself and others. Thank you for raising these points.

  2. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    We haven’t covered issues of access yet, which is incredibly important to me as a librarian, but I was thinking our readings this week were more focused on Web 2.0 in connection to traditional learning environments where all students in a course would have access based on their participation in the course. For example, I wouldn’t (as I consider it) “waste” my money on blog space, but I can use Penn State’s student blogs because I’m enrolled so that class requirement is met.

    I just think sometimes some schools use trendy new technologies as a Band-Aid that doesn’t really fix the real problems of learning that they may be facing, but it looks like they are evolving because “hey look! technology!” I’m certainly not a luddite at all, but sometimes buying new netbooks when the textbooks are out of date might not be the best learning resource option. Maybe I’m just wary of the assumption that everyone in the next generation can be reached through newer technologies.

  3. Phil

    @Karen – great, thoughtful post here Karen. I like how you pushback on some of the assumptions that are commonly associated with social, collaborative learning approaches. I think you raise somewhat of an epistemological question (e.g., how do we come to know what we know) when you write,

    If we are going to be basing learning around what the students think is important, class may be more fun for them, but are they learning everything that they need to know?”

    The knowledge base that students, teachers, administrators, etc. bring to school (or learning environment) is informed by their respective range of experiences with their family, friends, relatives, etc and these experiences tend to guide their thinking in terms of determining what forms or types of knowledge are important. For example, some people may think video games are more about fun than learning, while others vehemently disagree, and then there may be a whole bunch of others who sit somewhere in the middle. Where this debate or question gets interesting is when we begin to ask questions about how we define terms like “games,” “learning,” and “fun” and how does shape our perception of what we believe to be appropriate for education or not. Through ongoing dialogues, and this is where Web 2.0 and participatory technologies come in handy, interested stakeholders can engage these questions. Digital or social networks allow interested individuals to persistently explore and re-examine these questions and/or issues. Similarly, and as you mention in your post, the people participating in these networks are often pretty adept at identifying those ideas or concepts with significant potential.

  4. jaf378

    I love the quote you pull out regarding information navigation as the new literacy. It really hit home for me as the newest transition in how we learn (or at least how we access information) simply because how accessible information is becoming. But I do agree with Courtney’s comments that the “we” in this situation is still a relative few. Exploring the digital divide of those that have access to information technologies to those that don’t shows that there is still a huge gap. I agree that we should be considering, if not working toward, universal education for all, but there are still severe limitations and barriers to how we can make progress toward this goal. Information technology certainly makes part of that challenge easier, but simply securing and maintaining the resources necessary to conduct this kind of learning introduces new challenges. Regardless, I think you’re spot on in looking at learning styles not as “one size fits all,” but as unique to the individual learner. How can we facilitate learning when so many have different learning styles? How can Web 2.0 technologies help overcome these challenges?

  5. Melissa Glenn

    Karen–I don’t know if all the types of participatory learning that we are discussing have to be group related. I think it is more of a learning style, but that students should still have to do an individual assessment during some points of a course. I agree that there needs to be learning within a group but also individually.

  6. cnb135

    I, like most, wish for a universal education of all students, and people for that matter. I agree that we have more knowledge at our finger tips. But we have to be careful when we use the word, “we.” The people enrolled in this course, and I am simply making an assumption based on facts, are in the upper social classes. “We” do have access to information at our finger tips. We pay $738 a credit to take courses from Penn State online. We are the elite. And though most of us don’t feel that way on a daily basis, there are student’s in inner city schools around the country that don’t have textbooks for their use in class.

    You bring up the idea of open courses. I love this idea too. However, isn’t that what YouTube already is? A few years ago, I decided to learn to knit. I wanted to be able to make the blankets my aunt use to make when I was a child. Instead of finding a course at my local craft store or library, I taught myself after watching a video on YouTube.

    In parts of the world, and parts of the United States for that matter, traditional classrooms are all that some student’s have at the moment. What are the ways that we can get Web 2.0 tools in their hands to increase the likelihood of upward social mobility? This will be the true success of Web 2.0 and our society in general.

  7. exp939

    I like you said that we can move even closer to true universal education for all. It is so fascinating for me to see the movement from one-way mechanism to two-way/interactive way. Speaking of learning within group situations in your second paragraph, I am grateful you mentioned that some subjects are not fully appropriate for group studying and some learners do not participate well for many reasons. Moreover, many other countries like where I taught students, many students get pressures when they express their opinions in public. Honestly, I also a bit scare under some personal situations. But I believe many software based Web 2.0 is inventing now such as polleverywhere.com.

  8. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    I know what you mean about liking more direct instruction. It might be because we are simply more used to it because of how we were taught in school ourselves. I guess my question is (perhaps selfishly) is what about us? What about the learners who prefer taking notes during a lecture or doing individual projects instead of group work? It seems like everyone is trumpeting collaboration to such an extent that I sometimes I wonder if we are preparing our students to ever stand on their own. Their bosses aren’t going to like it very much if they only know how to complete projects with other people. There has to be balance.

  9. Melissa Glenn

    Your comment about thinking outside our own likes or dislikes to not get bogged down in one mode of teaching is currently really hitting home for me. When I first started teaching, I had a hard time with understanding why just presenting information was not enough for some students. I actually felt like, “that always worked for me when I was in college!”. It has taken several years of getting to know my students to understand that they have their own ways of learning. I actually do some simple study skills and tools introduction in my classes and I emphasize that they need to figure out what works best for them. When a student doesn’t do well on an exam, I talk to them about their studying methods and work through with them what might help them improve. For the subject I teach, I do need to stick to mostly traditional assessments like tests, because I am preparing the students for future courses and board exams which will use tests. But the ways they can prepare for those tests can definitely be whatever they want. One new tool is using quizzes and review offered by the textbook that are tailored to the areas in which the pretest indicated that the student needs additional help. This new area of using technology to aid adaptive learning definitely appears to be another helpful tool for students: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/04/gates-foundation-helps-colleges-keep-tabs-adaptive-learning-technology

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