Fixing a Learning Disconnect in the Digital Age
by Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor
The relationship between in-school and out-of-school learning has been the source of robust scholarship since the early 20th century. One conclusion that has been drawn from many of the studies of formal and informal learning is that school curriculum and pedagogy should learn from the ways in which learning takes place out-of school.
Several researchers have argued that bridges should be made with informal learning practices and learners funds of knowledge with formal education as a way to promote authentic and meaningful engagement that can support identity development.
A growing disconnect with digital learning
Concerns about the growing disconnect between the digital learner and the school have revitalized public conversations and academic research on the mismatch between in-school and out-of-school learning.
Today, there are varied and conflicting views about young people's use of technology, ranging from grave concerns about lack of socialization and poor interaction skills, Internet addiction and cyber bullying, to idealizations of a new generation of highly motivated, highly technologized learners. (Image ©hackerNY used under Creative Commons License)
Can we make schools relevant to 2030 and beyond?
Efforts motivated by the need to make schools relevant for 21st century learners and — on the other hand — to make learners ready for the 21st century, have resulted in explorations of the ways in which to meaningfully and powerfully bridge between cultures, literacies and social practices of "digital natives."
The techno-enthusiast voices of "smart schooling" describe a vision of future school as a fluid, self-fashioning digital learning arena that is increasingly network-based, spanning boundaries between school and out-of-school sites and formal and informal spaces.
Here, individuals’ interests guide the learning activity towards educational, vocational and civic goals. At the other end of these optimistic views, there are voices that seriously question whether digital technologies and youth media cultures can legitimately enrich the key tasks of the school, envisioning scenarios in which digital media might hinder, distort or even destroy what the school is and should be about.
No matter where you stand on these debates, it's clear that the growing diversity and fragmentation of today's media ecology means that young people have a greater range of and choices in media and communications.
What is also clear is that (currently, at least) it is generally educationally-privileged youth with productive learning supports at home who are able to take full advantage of the new learning opportunities that the digital world has to offer and to translate these opportunities to academic and/or career successes for themselves.
A divisive distinction
In my own research work, I am interested in contributing to ongoing discourse, debates and research between the encounters of informal and formal learning in the digital age.
My research goal is to offer a conceptual framework via which separations between formal and informal learning (and between the digital learner and the school) could be re-framed so as to overcome the traditional divisive distinction between the two.
Cross-context learning for 2030
Students have always engaged and learned within and across contexts, operating in different spaces and places via different tools.
However, creating hybrid spaces of learning that authentically harness the funds of knowledge embedded in the life worlds of digital learners is a key challenge for research on learning and education in the 21st century.
In my view, the role and position of the school in the digital age should not be seen as opposing youth culture nor as digital enrichment of traditional schooling, but rather conceptualizing school as an important part of a network of contexts of learning.
A hybrid ecosystem for today's learners
Together with other learning contexts, a hybrid learning ecosystem can optimally support engagement and identity-building for today's diverse learners. I am suggesting the creation of spaces in which formal and informal meet, creating a third hybrid space for authentic and transformative practices in school and out.
Here, formal and informal learning with digital technologies would reciprocally transform one another.
Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen is a Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki and former Director of CICERO Learning
Kumpulainen, K., Mikkola, A., & Jaatinen, A-M. (2013). The choronotopes of technology-mediated creative learning practices in an elementary school community. Learning, Media and Technology. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2012.752383
Kumpulainen, K., Krokfors, L., Lipponen, L., Tissari, V., Hilppö, J. & Rajala, A. (2011). Learning Bridges – Toward Participatory Learning Environments. Helsinki: CICERO Learning, University of Helsinki. ISBN 978-952-10-6046-5 (paperback).