How digital media’s changing learning AND learners

By Anne Collier

Are you seeing this in students at your house or school too? “Learners are more resilient and able than many teachers give them credit for. They have unprecedented access to a large array of new technologies. They connect and communicate in ways previous generations could only imagine … [and] they are identified and maintain their identities through their social media,” writes Plymouth University professor Steve Wheeler. “Most importantly,” he adds, “creating, repurposing, organising and sharing content are a way of life for this generation.”

The part about the learners probably doesn’t surprise many parents or educators, but have we thought enough about what it means for education – the impact that learners and their media practices and interests have had on it? Wheeler helpfully suggests 5 ways they have (only summarizing – please see his blog for details):

Student-centered learning: No longer passive recipients, learners “are assuming greater responsibility for their own learning, and in so doing, are gaining greater insights into the process of learning by creating their own content around their studies,” Professor Wheeler writes.

Student-created content: It’s “more engaging because students invest their own time, energy and vision into creating it. That gives them personal ownership of their learning.” After creating it, they “share it within their personal learning environment and across their peer network…. There is little that is more motivating than gaining an audience that appreciates your knowledge and skills. Social media tools such as blogs and video sharing sites facilitate this process, but on a global scale.”

Students-evaluated content: As producers as well as consumers, they’re in “an ideal position to assess the quality, relevance and provenance of the content they encounter…. Although useful guidance can come from experts such as teachers and lecturers, increasingly, auto-didacticism [self-directed learning] is taking a central place in the student experience.”

Teachers are changing (“from directors to co-producers,” “pedagogues to co-learners” harnessing “the power of peer production … and the deeper engagement students can achieve when they research and learn for themselves.” But this shift isn’t just because of shifting media and learners, he says, pointing to the large role of constructivist education theory.

The rise of authentic learning: The context or “situatedness of learning at all levels cannot be overemphasised. Some of the strongest experiences and lessons we learn are rooted in authentic contexts, cultures and activities.” This seems to go hand in hand with what some educators refer to as collapsing classroom walls – the way Internet access connects learning with the world beyond school.