EdTech / Pedagogy

(Post) Modern Learning Environments

The buzzwords in the field of education surrounding issues of technology, specifically those centered around “21st Century Learners,” amass like a landfill, piled on the pages of mission statements everywhere. But what they actually mean is rarely explained.

One of the most common phrases has been “modern learning environments.” The concept revolves vaguely around the idea that the manner in which students learn, coupled with available technology, requires a re-thinking of space and time in a manner that doesn’t require classrooms shut off from one another and a schedule that implies 9 sequential periods a day will result in a complete, educated student.

Conceptually, this is utterly compelling and a great argument against what is happening in Education today. However, the term is utterly inadequate.

What education reformers (true education reformers, not test advocates masqurerading as reformers) shoudl be focused on is not Modern

The buzzwords in the field of education surrounding issues of technology, specifically those centered around “21st Century Learners,” amass like a landfill, piled on the pages of mission statements everywhere. But what they actually mean is rarely explained.

One of the most common phrases has been “modern learning environments.” The concept revolves vaguely around the idea that the manner in which students learn, coupled with available technology, requires a re-thinking of space and time in a manner that doesn’t require classrooms shut off from one another and a schedule that implies 9 sequential periods a day will result in a complete, educated student.

Conceptually, this is utterly compelling and a great argument against what is happening in Education today. However, the term is utterly inadequate.

What education reformers (true education reformers, not test advocates masqurerading as reformers) should be focused on is not Modern Learning Environments, but Postmodern Learning Environments.

As a teacher of media studies, I focus a lot on issues of modernism and postmodernism. Much of this is built around a study of Marshall McLuhan. If you don’t know or haven’t read McLuhan, he has written what is likely the most important pieces on internet culture in the last 50 years. A caveat: he was dead about 20 years before Web 2.0, which makes his material all the more amazing. Modernism, in the case of media studies, is focused on the individual, the orderly, the structured. Every. Piece. Builds. To. The. Next. Piece. The factory system, specifically the assembly line, is an example of a modernist invention. The school, coming of age during the modernist period, is another. The school is just another assembly line: Start at 1st period Math; add History, Science, English, etc. over the course of an orderly schedule, and, like the car that comes off the assembly line, you have a thinking human.

McLuhan points out that the rise of electronic media is part of post-modernism: a process by which order is devalued, synthesis occurs in a non-linear fashion, and the group is valued over the individual. Education, today, is a post-modern process. We don’t learn in a linear fashion; we look to groups for collective intelligence, and we constantly synthesize. Looking forward, it is my sense that media experts, not necessarily “education” experts, will lead the revolution in education. The more educators understand the media around them and their students, the better they will be able to shape the learning environments of the future.

So what should our learning environments look like? First thing every educator should do is read Marshall McLuhan (a great primer can be found here: http://goo.gl/m3KAQ) Second, we must first by giving them a term that is more descriptive and less buzzword-y: Postmodern Learning Environments. From there, we need to build virtual and physical spaces that emphasize the realities of a connected world.

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