Attempting to Flourish in the Digital Era

It’s no secret that good learner-centered teaching is meaningful and interesting, requires active participation from learners, uses different methods to incorporate all students’ preferred learning styles and is differentiated at an appropriate level. Vygotsky (1978) stated that learning is achieved by the active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts; making meaning. His constructivist theory is that students learn through social interactions and their culture; that we socially interact and communicate with others to learn the cultural values of our society. This theory is often associated with connectivism. Stephen Downes points out that connectivism (and other theories like constructivism) shares a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It’s knowledge that is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

But let’s rewind here. Connectivism, whether you believe it’s a new theory on learning or merely a pedagogical view, was only introduced in the early 2000’s. Ryan Tracey, author of the E-Learning Provocateur website, does a great job of detailing the changes in pedagogical theories and how we have moved into the digital age:

Instructivism is dead. Gone are the days of an authoritarian teacher transmitting pre-defined information to passive students.

In the 1990s, constructivism heralded a new dawn in instructional design, turbo-charged by the rise of Web 2.0. Students morphed into participants, empowered to seek new knowledge and understanding for themselves, in the context of their own unique, individual experiences. In turn, teachers enthusiastically transformed themselves into facilitators, guiding and coaching the participants to inquire, explore, discover and even generate new learnings.

Fast forward to today and connectivism is all the rage. In this digital era, we recognise that there’s simply too much knowledge to take in – and it changes too quickly anyway. So forget about trying to “know” everything; instead, build your network of knowledge sources, and access them whenever you need them.

What we can surmise from this information is that using technology and making connections are linked. Combining connectivism with constructivist methods in the classroom offers students an opportunity to gain 21st-century skills. The following infographic, in my opinion, is a good representation of the concept of connected learning – one that is production centered, openly networked and has a shared purpose. The words active, relevant, real-world, effective, hands-on, networked, innovative, personal, and transformative are all great descriptors, especially if the taxonomy for learning is to create a more holistic form of education.

Connected Learning

As I read and learn more about developments in learning theories, I can’t help but think back to one sentence I read on page 22 of Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project.

“I learned a lot on my own that’s for computers. . . . Just from searching up on Google and stuff.”

Is there a better sentence anywhere in that article that sums up Messing Around? This quote signifies that there is no real concept of knowledge transfer, making knowledge, or building knowledge. It’s the activities that he/she is undertaking that leads to greater connections in the growth or development of themself. And isn’t that what we’re hoping and guiding students to do? Applied to a wider context, isn’t that what we’re hoping staff members do as well? Instead of always asking the tech guys or gals at school how to go about making, importing, creating, connecting, sharing, storing, filing, placing..(insert verb here)…shouldn’t we be guiding them to the process of self-development? If they already have a personal interest in a topic, I try to persuade them to pursue it in a self-directed way. I like to remind students and staff that what I have learned about ICT is largely self-taught through trial and error. I just mess around until I figure it out. And if I don’t I ask an expert. I realise that I am driven by personal interest and not everyone will be the same, but those who I work with I hope to encourage to experiment with their own rules and boundaries. Because who knows, exploration may lead to learned computer skills they might not have developed otherwise.

Will Richardson points out in World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others that we are now living in the Collaboration Age. The tools that are available and at our disposal enable us to connect with others to further our understanding of the global experience. Rich and powerful learning experiences allow us to good work together. A great example of that than can be seen every day on Twitter. Having a strong PLN allows for you to flatten your classroom walls. It enables students to interact on a global scale to share and learn together. I’ve seen numerous shout-outs from people within my PLN looking for a class to work with. I just haven’t dived in yet to take advantage of the opportunities I know are before me. Whether it’s a fear to put myself out there and on the line, or something else inherent in me that stops me from proceeding, it is one area I would like to improve upon in my practice. I need to mess around more. Working together is becoming the norm, not the exception.

Our upcoming PYP Exhibition at ICHK-HLY leads me to think more about connectivism and global collaboration. How can I help the Y6 students to the best of my abilities to be able to seek out and connect with learning partners, in the process of perhaps navigating cultures, time zones, and technologies? I want to teach these learners the skills that are necessary to flourish in the digital era.

Wish me luck! Or join in…maybe we can connect.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological Processes. Cambridge, M.A.: Hrvard University Press