A manifesto for participatory learning

Michel Bauwens is participating in the 7th annual Designs on E-learning 2011 conference, held at Aalto University in Helsinki from 27 to 30 September 2011. The following is part of a selection of blogposts used to prepare the conference.

By Ioana Literat:

As we are approaching the commencement of the conference, and as my blogging will give way to a more participatory discussion forum on the conference themes (stay tuned!), I wanted to use these last couple of posts to synthesize what I see as critical directions for the design of future e-learning spaces. Call it, if you will, a manifesto of future e-learning spaces. And since a manifesto should start the like a manifesto…. we demand:

  • a shift towards participatory learning, understood as an ecological system exhibiting the five characteristics of motivation and engagement, relevance, creativity, co-configured expertise, and connection. Via the integration of these fundamental structural qualities, I hope to see the creation of non-hierarchical learning environments that are in touch with the learners’ identities and interests, while offering them opportunities to make connections, exercise their creativity, and become engaged through meaningful experimentation and play. A participatory culture, as described by Henry Jenkins, is one with relatively low barriers to artistic expression, and strong support for creating and sharing one’s work with others; its members believe that their contributions matter, and feel some degree of informal mentorship and social connection to one another. The particular features of such a participatory culture should therefore be allowed to mold the type of e-learning spaces that can best flourish within it.
  • a greater emphasis on communities (digital and non-digital alike) or, ideally, affinity spaces. In close relation to this shift towards participatory learning, future e-learning spaces need to be situated in a meaningful social and cultural environment. Young people today are feeling a major discrepancy between their experiences within participatory culture and, respectively, within formal education, and it is quintessential that educators understand this incongruity and the implications it has in terms of the students’ expectations, learning modes, and collaborative engagement.
  • a digital teachers corps, facilitated by culturally-relevant and progressive professional development programs. It is crucial to understand that the participation gap limiting the opportunities for digital engagement and the cultivation of new media literacies applies equally to learners and educators; if teachers and mentors are supposed to instill these digital citizenship values into their mentees, they must be afforded the opportunities and training to become participants and designers in these participatory learning environments as well
  • educational initiatives grounded in comprehensive research, both baseline (needs assessment and measured baseline knowledge) and endline (detailed program reports, best measures, case studies, worked examples, and so forth). By anchoring digital media and e-learning educational initiatives in a rigorous research strategy, the knowledge and experience gained as a result of these programs can better be understood and disseminated among the educational community and beyond.
  • new forms of learning assessment in regards to the acquisition of media literacy and digital skills. Since grades and standardized testing are often inefficient in stimulating authentic motivation and engagement – and, in some cases, can have a negative effect on these learning attitudes – we need more tailored and more complex assessment systems, which take into account the specific learning processes involved, as well as the characteristics of the learning ecology and affinity spaces that facilitate them.
  • a better understanding of the concept of scalability, and its multitude of advantages and disadvantages that this implies for educational programs in the e-learning field. Greater consideration must be paid to the fine balance between cultural relevance and cross-cultural inclusion. Future e-learning spaces must maintain their cultural relevance and authenticity, while simultaneously catering to a global community and encouraging dialogue between culturally dichotomous groups of learners. Therefore, a quintessential question to be asked is whether such spaces should indeed strive for a greater degree of international scalability, or, conversely, if that would in fact diminish their local relevance in terms of authentic and impactful learning.
  • a more inclusive forum for debating educational futures – one that would include educators, administrators, policymakers, researchers, artists and designers, but also the youth benefitting from these education revolution. For this reason, a conference such as this one is vital in bringing these often disparate stakeholder groups together for a necessary conversation in a stimulating and truly global forum. And having said this, my next and final post will be devoted to the fundamental role of such forums for the crafting and implementation of real, virtual and augmented e-learning spaces. Join us here next time for the practical addendum to this manifesto: the part that points a finger outward and yells “We want YOU to design future e-learning spaces!”

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