Ontario Tech University – Faculty of Education
Learning is a process, not just a destination. The pathway that a student takes in the learning journey and construction of transferable knowledge and skills can be as important as the learning goal. Modern learning requires that students have opportunities to engage in learning that allows connection, construction through experimentation and socializing with peers during the learning process. Technology in education has provided more significant opportunities to enable learning within these parameters. Interacting and learning with technology can foster increased opportunities for learning to be long-lasting in the digital age. Future learning also needs to take into account the evolution of technology and its impact on how, when and where students learn. Learning that allows students to develop their critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and communication skills is more likely to promote deep learning of concepts. Interacting and learning with technology can foster increased opportunities for learning to be long-lasting in the digital age.
connectivism, constructivism, constructivist learning, customization, digital learning, educational technology, experiential learning, experimentation, learning, modern learning, pragmatism, 21st-century competencies
Defining learning is a complex task. There are several different theories on how people learn or attempt to learn. Depending upon epistemology, there are different definitions of learning. Further complicating the process is the “what,” a noun, of learning versus the “how,” a verb, of learning. Defining learning as a noun, focussing on the outcome instead of the process, can include acquiring knowledge or skills that can be applied to future problems and used in future learning opportunities (Thomas, 2020). Defining learning as a verb can include engaging in a process that leads to a change in thinking or behaviour resulting from experience (Mayer, 2002). If we lean towards Mayer’s definition of learning, then we must accept that:
- Learning is a process, not a product.
- Learning involves a change in knowledge, beliefs, behaviours or attitudes.
- Learning is a direct result of how students interpret and respond to their experiences – conscious and unconscious
(Ambrose et al., 2010)
The historical learning method was based upon the transmission of knowledge from those who had it to those who did not. A commitment to developing a literate society offered some expansion of who could obtain knowledge. Reading literature for learning became more accessible. The development of radio and television provided exposure to different cultures, ideas and norms. Learners had minimal choice or the ability to filter what they learned. Shifting to the modern digital age, learners are now in control of what, where, when, how and with whom they learn. Foundational math and literacy skills are still integral. They should be the school curriculum foundations, but students should have an opportunity to self-design more of their learning experiences inside and outside the classroom. Student learning results from experiences and interactions with their peers and the world. These experiences and social interactions lead students to develop new thoughts, ideas, and understandings continually. John Dewey believed that learning is adapted as students grow and have new experiences and new social interactions (Hargraves, 2021).
Throughout human history, learning has been integral to human survival. Acquiring the skills and knowledge to collect food and water, build protective and sustainable shelters and communicate with each other were the key to survival for thousands of years. As the world evolved and the industrial age erupted, a new type of education was required. Industries required workers with basic math and literacy skills and a commitment to do well in life. This model of education, based on the transmission of knowledge from an expert (Resnick, 2014), allowed world economies to thrive in the twentieth century. However, the emergence of new technologies and the internet have radically changed the type of learning required to meet the needs of the evolving schools and workplaces (Nakamura & Thomas, 2016). Modern learning requires a constant re-evaluation of the definition in evolving schools, workplaces and the world. We can no longer define learning as a relatively permanent change in knowledge and understanding resulting from repeated practice (Hilgard & Marquis, 1961). Modern learning needs to include customization, technological literacy and experimentation and understand that the process is equally essential to the product (Nakamura & Thomas, 2016).
The traditional classroom was where learners were grouped by age, not ability. They would learn certain subjects at certain times, all at the same level. Current technologies allow learners to engage with others at different levels of knowledge and to come together and experiment and problem solve in their chosen subject areas. Piaget identified that learning needs a practical and social application component to construct knowledge and understanding (Hargraves, 2021). Nurturing and maintaining connections are required to facilitate continual learning (Siemans, 2004). Technology, when used as a tool effectively, can provide these opportunities. Customization is not limited to school-level education but also to the workplace. The accessibility of learning online has expanded the potential for life-long learners. With easily attainable knowledge, the focus shifts to connecting, creating, critical thinking and problem solving (Battelle for Kids, 2019). Learning communities can support learners in expanding their skills and knowledge to remain current and innovative in the modern world. A modern connectivist approach allows for interaction, sharing, dialoguing, and thinking together (Kop & Hill, 2008). Building customized and personalized learning environments takes time. Educators need to integrate and leverage technology, foster an environment that encourages independence and risk-taking, incorporate universal design principles to ensure accessibility for all learners, and plan for authentic assessment of learning (Domenech et al., 2016). A customized approach builds on students’ prior knowledge, understanding and skills. It allows for multiple entry points and a high ceiling.
Navigating the modern online world in the effort to learn can be complex. Developing the ability to use multiple device types, apps, and operating systems have become the base level of interactivity. Learners must now be able to use critical thinking skills to identify what information is valid and research-supported and what is not. Learning goals and educational opportunities must be crafted with this in mind. Educators need to be aware of what the purpose of a lesson is – is it to gain knowledge and understanding of a curriculum expectation or to learn to use new or emerging technology? Technological literacy is the ability to use, manage, evaluate and understand technology (ITEEA, 2007). Students that develop technological literacy will be able to understand the nature and scope of technology, how it impacts social learning, and how it can be applied to improve performance in education. Technology can enhance the learning of material in traditional curricular areas like math and literacy. The emergence of tools like the Google Suite and virtual meeting programs like Zoom can also build on global technological literacy skills, providing collaborative real-time learning with students from different backgrounds (Google For Education, 2019).
Students require the opportunity to learn by doing – creating, sharing, receiving feedback, reflecting and correcting. Students can build deep learning by engaging in a learning process that allows learning through interaction, construction, practice, communication, and problem-solving. Deep learning is
learning that occurs as students begin to uncover the relationships between two or more concepts and monitor how those relationships strengthen and change as we continue through the learning process (Hattie et al., 2020). Deep learning builds on surface learning that is based on the acquisition of information about a topic or skill to create a foundation of understanding – it is more than memorization. Too often, educators move to the experimentation stage without ensuring the students have acquired the basics to be successful. As educators develop their pedagogical and content knowledge of investigative learning methods like makerspaces, problem-based learning and thinking classrooms, with the support of school board initiatives, student opportunities for experimentation are bound to grow. The outcomes for students that engage in experiential learning versus traditional instruction show that students develop deep and transfer learning, perform better on summative and standardized assessments and have an improved attitude towards learning (Juliani, A.J., 2018). This deep learning results from conscious and unconscious interactions throughout the learning process. Incorporating experimentation into learning allows students to become active participants and researchers in learning. Students can develop problem-solving and planning skills, function in various roles and connect learning to the outside world (Mahasneh & Alwan, 2018).
Educators need to plan learning activities that allow students to construct their learning through various opportunities. Forethought is also required to enable students to connect with others in the learning process and engage in an effective peer feedback cycle. Technology has expanded the ability of students to do this. Research supports that the effective employment of technology in learning as a tool – to enhance learning through connecting and collaborating – increases student engagement (Hargraves, 2021). Learning in this way provides students with more opportunities to engage in and hone their 21st Century competencies and expand the desired skill set for the workplace. Educators and learners can ensure that the process is most effective when they partner and collaborate to achieve learning goals. Proactive planning and adaptation by educators will continue to be the keys to success as learning and technology evolve. Learning in the digital age is a complex and ever-changing process, but the foundation of customization, technological literacy and experimentation will remain constant building blocks for the future.
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