23 March 02005

New learning styles for digital environments

Chris Dede has an interesting article in a recent issue of EDUCAUSE on how new generations are approaching learning in new ways as they take for granted web, email, instant messaging and mobile communications, distributed knowledge and associational webs of representations. He uses the term 'neomillennial learning styles' though he is not using 'learning styles' in quite the traditional sense or that attributed to theorist David Kolb.

Many people have written about the changes to teaching, tutoring and mentoring styles that e-learning brings into play. These can be summed up by saying that tutors are no longer positioned as the founts and guardians of knowledge, and become conduits for knowledge from multiple sources, or facilitators of learners constructing their own understandings. (And, yes, before anyone says anything, I know that this shift was already under way in learning theory for a decade or two before e-learning took off.)

The learning styles that Dede suggests, based on his (non-empirical) review, do not break ranks with this, but show the other side of the coin.

They are:

  • Fluency in multiple media, valuing each for the types of communication, activities, experiences, and expressions it empowers;
  • Learning based on collectively seeking, sieving, and synthesising experiences rather than individually locating and absorbing information from a single best source;
  • Active learning based on experience (real and simulated) that includes frequent opportunities for reflection;
  • Expression through nonlinear, associational webs of representations rather than linear 'stories' (for example, authoring a simulation and a web page to express understanding, rather than a paper);
  • Co-design of learning experiences personalised to individual needs and preferences.

Only the last of these draws on the traditional approaches to learning styles, which some have sought to apply to e-learning by having the learning system diagnose learners' learning styles and then adapt their presentation of resources to match those styles. (Howard Hills' book Individual Preferences in e-Learning is relevant here.)

Dede elaborates how each of these styles differ from what he sees as traditional practice — see the full paper for details. He also concludes with some recommendations for where investments in physical and technological infrastructure should be directed. It's interesting to compare these with the New Media Consortium's report on similar issues which I reviewed last month, as Dede arrives at some of the same conclusions (expansion of wireless networks, for example) but with different reasoning — and more persuasive to me.

One approach which I'd add to Dede's list — or perhaps it is an elaboration of a couple of his points — is learning based on collecting and reviewing disparate resources. The technologies that facilitate this are tools ranging from del.icio.us and Furl to wikis, playlists and digital portfolios built into Learning Management Systems.

Anyone can assemble a collection of bookmarks, but there's a tendency, with the tools available to support collecting, to think that that's all that needs doing. As though, to use an old analogy, taping a bunch of classic films off the TV to build a video library was enough to learn about film studies. The challenge for learners in the new age is to provide evidence of what they've actually learnt, or what new understandings they've produced, by assembling, commenting on, or re-mixing the materials in their collection of digital resources.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Curatorial, E-learning, Ideas and Essays on 23 March 02005 | TrackBack
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