21st-Century Learners: Square Pegs in Round Holes
Students today are too often a square 21st-century peg in a round 19th-century hole. Young children bring a natural digital proficiency to school that doesn’t mesh well with the traditional schooling model — a model that ignores or trivializes the profound implications of the burgeoning digital and networking technologies for learning and for teaching. The result too often is that many students are harder to reach or engage than they might otherwise be. The simple fact is that traditional learning models today struggle to meet our learners where they are ready and willing to learn. With young people today possibly less bound by received wisdom than any generation in history, students themselves already are starting to push learning in new directions, with teachers and schools being pulled along in their wake, taken into new realms. As Mimi Ato, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, undertaking some very interesting research on a new model for “connected learning,” recently stated:
“We are seeing a growing gap between in-school and out-of-school learning as more and more of young people’s learning, attention, and access to information is happening outside of classrooms and through online networks and exchanges. That’s the disturbing news. The good news is that new technology also hands us opportunities for bringing young people, educators, and parents together in cross-generational learning driven by shared interests and goals.”
Learning Environments for Native Multitaskers
Today’s students thrive in a distracted environment that calls on their innate need to multitask. By starting from an understanding that today’s learners often do more than one thing at a time (whether we like it or not, and whether or not it is “a good thing”), and then carefully designing learning environments that address that reality, we can turn what is often a negative experience into a positive one.
Transmedia techniques in particular are helping to propel the traditional educational model into the 21st century by reaching out to learners on their own terms, creating, enhancing and spreading content in a rich and fruitful way, and creating opportunities for exploration, interpretation, and expansion. Through transmedia storytelling, content comes to life using tools that foster community, encourage problem-solving, and allow for interactive learning. Rather than simply expecting student engagement, opportunities for engagement are thought about in the development of the experiences, and learners are reached in a way that they inherently understand. The layering of media into learning engages, informs, and inspires participants to connect with and collaborate over richly textured content and creates transformational learning experiences. Students are placed at the center of the learning process by collaborating, by interacting, and by co-creating content.
Transmedia LearningWorlds: Incomplete and Open by Design
Transmedia LearningWorlds are incomplete by design, conceived and constructed with an openness that enables learners to have different entry points into the environment they help to create. This approach immerses learners in a world where fragmented content converges and allows for information to flow effortlessly from one media to the next, as well as across the curriculum. This strategy ensures that each layer of participation will reach students at multiple touchpoints, drawing them deeper into their own learning.
Far from viewing transmedia as just another content-delivery system, we must understand how it can drive learning, seamlessly, to extend beyond schools and into the community, and indeed further by allowing those who participate to grasp and enjoy their own stake in the learning process far beyond the limited walls of the school. Students and teachers communicate with and learn from each other; they foster a real sense of community in which they can feel personally invested — the heartening effect can often be the creation of a genuine experience of co-learning, in which there is a recognition by all concerned that “We are all learners now; let’s learn together.”
Curriculum and Technology Are One
The key to successful transmedia learning implementations is in the essential interaction between technology and story. Rather than envisaging a process in which technology is “embedded” into the curriculum — which so often relegates the technology to an afterthought, to just another motivating technique — it should instead be about seamless integration: The curriculum and the technology are one. The paradigm of the Transmedia LearningWorld combines technology, real-life experiences, and learner-focused pedagogy, making for profoundly productive learning experiences. Weaving together learning outcomes and objectives from the outset will create immersive, innovative, and transformational LearningWorlds. Content is important, of course, and always will be, but the real power of transmedia is in giving each and every learner a place to share their stories with the world. The learner becomes the story; the story becomes the learner.