Jul 17 · 4 min read
The world is now firmly into the 21st century. We can’t rely on learning theory from the past to equip Generation Z students to tackle the world’s problems. Today, dramatic shifts in learning theory are guiding educators toward a more connected form of learning to acquire and curate knowledge. Even, classroom setups have moved away from rows and textbooks to collaborative grouping and a tidal wave of information thanks to the internet. Teachers have to adapt their craft to students who have access to information and global connections both at lightning speeds compared to previous generations. Thanks to innovators and adaptive technology at their fingertips, kids are learning in a more connected social environment, and context provides perspective in a way it never has before — and this type of learning is seeping its way into educator professional learning as well. It is all so exciting!
Three trends currently dominate education discussion and research:
Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura, 1971) — where people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling.
Networked Learning Theory -or Connectivism- (Ivan Illich, 1971) — the process of developing and maintaining connections with people, and information, and communicating, therefore supporting, each other’s learning. In this theory, relationships matter, and they develop and deepen. Peer networks provide support. Learners benefit from a connected community and shared information.
Constructivism (L. S. Vygotsky, 1980) — the idea that learning is active, a process of using context to construct learning instead of acquiring it. This theory considers personal experiences and cultural factors that learners bring to each new situation.
All of these learning theories focus on the importance of relationship, connection and experience in learning. They provide an avenue for educators to best learn to serve Generation Z (and the new Alpha Gen) students.
Not only are these theories helpful in guiding students, but they are also poised to make an enormous difference to the learning of educators. So how will the convergence of these three learning theories be important for teachers in the next decade?
Context matters- In the same way students’ culture and life experience brings texture to the process of constructing knowledge, educators bring cultural background and experience into their interactions with students. Teachers who don’t understand their students’ unique take on their world are at a disadvantage, and they will have a hard time making learning meaningful to kids. Educators have to keep actively learning to deepen their practice. They must learn about how kids learn best, and see that learning never stands still it is always in a growth pattern. Because of this, students must come up with solutions to problems — instead of looking to teachers for expected answers. They don’t prepare for a test; they prepare for their future. So teachers need to take constant inventory: is my teacher prep program still relevant for today’s students? Is my school PD addressing student learning needs? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no’, then it’s up to us as educators to continue to help learners construct knowledge for themselves.
Relationships become a crucial learning resource- it is no longer adequate for teachers to enclose themselves in a classroom and learn in a vacuum or to consult traditional, district-provided PD. Teachers will have to get out of the classroom, share strategies and insight, and learn by observing and modeling best practices. They have to spend common time together, supporting each other and calling each other to continue to evolve to meet student need. Teachers also need to learn to observe their colleagues, collect valuable information, provide meaningful feedback and be a safe place for each other to learn and grow. Do your professional relationships improve your practice and call you to greater heights?
Distance is no longer obstacle- Want to find a best practice for your subject matter? An engaging and meaningful experience you don’t see in practice on your school site? Maybe a science class in Spain or Japan or New Zealand can demonstrate the best way students can conduct research on the functions of the human endocrine system. Or a calculus class in Beijing has determined a great way to solve an equation that has been perplexing your students. Want to see how students in Edinburgh present their take on Macbeth? Develop professional relationships with educators worldwide and take a look at their best practices — a classroom across the globe may have the answers to your questions. Global networks bring out the best connections — teachers from all over the world can access the most innovative and meaningful professional development without traveling outside their school site or home, thanks to the availability of connection with technology.
In the same way our students respond positively to observation and modeling, we educators can dramatically improve our practice. With technology and a focus on interaction, we have a world of resources at our fingertips, if we will only take the leap to connect to it.
One great way this will be happening in the future is through a new social learning network called EdSpace — sign up HERE to be in the know when this new learning platform comes out!
Holly Clark is the Co-Author of The Google Infused Classroom follow Holly on Twitter or Instagram or FB Group .