Our current educational systems follow a traditional instructor-led learning model despite myriad technological advancements and numerous studies that prove the value of implementing collaborative classroom environments. In their book Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, Richardson and Mancabelli lay out a step-by-step transitional process for schools and other learning environments to begin designing and implementing curriculums around networked learning. The authors assert that as individuals practice and participate in a culture of networked learning by utilizing various emerging technologies, educators and learners have greater potential for diverse and pluralized teaching and learning capabilities due to global and unlimited connections.
As we contribute to the perpetuity of the cycle of networked learning, we all continue to glean and gain knowledge. This kind of radial learning emits from the center, and appears conceptually sustainable due to a strong infrastructure. In this pivotal time for education, it is evident that current students are less satisfied than ever with rote learning and seek more active models of engagement. Driven by technology, today’s learners have evolving skill sets that match the impulse to flow with tech changes.
One critical argument purported in Richardson and Mancabelli’s (2011) text is the need for educational models to match student needs in preparation for a future that will undoubtedly rely heavily on advanced systems and technologies. They assert that implementing networked learning will help prepare students for “life and work in the 21st century” as well as “make classrooms more engaging”, facilitate student responsibility, and “individualize instruction.” (p. 27) The authors refer to Tony Wagner’s “seven survival skills” claimed to be essential for today’s learners in tomorrow’s world. They include “critical thinking/problem solving, accessing and analyzing information, collaboration/leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, and finally, curiosity and imagination.” (p. 27)
While it is clear that immersion and active engagement with transmedia literacies is critical to ensuring future successes in business and learning environments, it is also a great concern to envision a sea of blank student faces staring at their computer screens waiting for permission to proceed to the next task instead of interacting directly with educators. One might argue that the difference is negligible but I wonder what happens to humanity as younger and younger learners are taught to fear and revere their electronic devices. Concurrent with this risk is the predilection for heavy tech users to maintain “continuous partial attention” as purported by Linda Stone. (p. 26). Will this detract from a learner’s ability for deep focus and concentration on assignment or self-reflexive tasks? Will learners become so dependent on groupthink and collaborative knowledge that they will be less able to solve problems and independently assess situations? Educators will need to consider the divisiveness and possibilities for alienation inherent in the continuous use of technologies, and direct students on how to utilize these learning tools advantageously to avoid these risks.
Richardson, W. & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
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