How Students Really Learn: Powerful Lessons from a Connected Generation

How Students Really Learn: Powerful Lessons from a Connected Generation
Contributed By

Dylan Rodgers

Content Strategy Manager and Editor in Chief of the Schoology Exchange

How Students Really Learn: Powerful Lessons from a Connected Generation

Posted in Evolving Ed | August 07, 2017

"Are we as schools institutions of learning, or are we learning institutions?"

This is the question Dr. Bill Brennan, Adjunct Professor at Fordham University, asked to a crowd of enthralled educators during a NYSCATE Blended Learning Summit in Albany, NY.

He went on to show a video he took of his infant boy learning to crawl up a small set of stairs. Dr. Brennan made special note of his son's facial expression.

"He's smiling while he struggles," he said. 

This experience resonated with Dr. Brennan and led him down a line of inquiry similar to that of the summit's keynote presentation by Dr. Alec Couros, Professor of Educational Technology and Media at the University of Regina.

Both speakers had decided to explore learning through the eyes and minds of children, and they uncovered something pretty profound.

Students learn differently on their own than they do when they are at school. Let me rephrase—instruction barely resembles the ways children actively learn in our digitally connected culture. 

We live in a world where children, adults, novices, and experts are all avidly sharing what they know online and building connections we could have only dreamed of before the 21st century.

Consider this example presented by Dr. Couros. He played a YouTube video of a young boy who was trying to start a fire using a bow drill.


Notice that instead of teaching others how to start a fire using a bow drill, this boy is asking for help. He clearly lists out the materials and technique he is using, mentions that he knows he's doing something wrong, and then asks if anyone out there in the world-wide-web can provide feedback.

To his surprise (or maybe just mine), four expert bow drillers, along with numerous other people, watch his video and begin teaching him this ancient yet eternally relevant skill.

Wow. There is no better evidence, in my opinion, of the power we have at our fingertips than the response this video has generated—105 helpful comments thus far.

"Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning," said Dr. Couros, following with a quote from one of his students, "YouTube is my main teacher."

No matter how we feel about it, social media has fundamentally changed how we learn. I think Dr. Couros was right to suggest that videos, blogs, and other media are not transformative tools; however, the "share button" is. Our connected world inspires people to learn, create, recreate, share, and participate. It is fueling real and often profound learning experiences on a global scale.

Make no mistake, this social paradigm is here to stay. The real question is—how do we leverage social media (or "communities of practice" as Dr. Brennan prefers it) to engage students, inspire life-long learning, and encourage them to turn knowledge into practice? 

"The Internet is the biggest MOOC of all time," said Dr. Couros. "How are you contributing to the learning of others?"

So, are you contributing to the learning of others?

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