My definition of contemporary learning is about utilising the affordances of modern and available technology to support learning while building upon an understanding of how we acquire and apply knowledge.
Despite crystallising this concept as I have done, I believe it remains fluid in nature, as it has and will continue to develop over time. Yet, in order to see what contemporary learning could become, it is necessary to observe the contrast with traditional teaching practices first.
The most apparent contrast between contemporary and traditional learning is decidedly the participation and presence of the learner within the educational setting. This aligns with features of the acquisition metaphor for learning. Traditionally, students are said to embody a passive role: learning from teachers (as experts) and being thought of as vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, delivered through teaching by rote and repetition. Knowledge was considered a possession or commodity and the purpose of education of this time was not to develop understanding and skills through practice, but rather to showcase the acquisition of knowledge through recall and testing.
Going back to my original definition of what contemporary learning looks like, I believe that a fluid perspective of learning offers a better narrative for children and young people in education today. The technology available to us offers access to vast amounts of data, information and provides the opportunity to share and communicate in unprecedented ways. Utilising these tools could enable learners to move beyond the traditionalist, acquisition metaphor of old, and towards a modern, participatory metaphor in which learning is constructed socially and moves organically in the direction that learning communities take it. So why aren’t schools moving in this direction?
During the 2000’s, the use of technology in schools became commonplace. Schools and local authorities purchased classroom technology (including interactive whiteboards) in an effort to reflect the pervasiveness of technology in society and the expected prosperity that would accompany this pervasiveness in the future. However, this did not come to fruition. A lack of long-term strategy and vision made plans for embedding technology and changing the way pupils learn, limited in its effect. This initiative was marred by a change in government and a decline in both the standards of education and the visible impact of technology in education.
Since then, the revival of a no-thrills, “back-to-basics” education has seen the return of some of the aspects of traditional teaching in modern classrooms. This return to an unashamedly old-fashioned, British style of education, popularised by a conservative grammar-school imperative, has been promoted as the remedy for the issues above.
Years on from the original classroom technology movement of the 2000’s, we find ourselves at a time in which the technology available to us is even more powerful, prevalent and affordable than it has ever been before. Applications such as YouTube and Google Classroom, amongst others, sit between the two metaphors for learning (acquisition and participation) as they offer the flexibility to move between these metaphors seamlessly. Thus, as they are both built to enable a community of participants to interact and develop while access is focused around the individual, they prove themselves as tools for contemporary learning: fulfilling whatever need and direction the educational imperative demands of it.