The Characteristics of 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:

Here at Project New Media Literacies at USC Annenberg, we’ve spent a significant part of this year discussing what we believe to be the principal characteristics of participatory learning, and I think that this discussion is highly relevant to our current debate around future learning spaces, since these spaces must, without a doubt, exhibit these fundamental characteristics in order to fully reach their educational, experimental and socio-cultural goals. While our framework is still a work in progress, earlier this year we opened it up to discussion and feedback from both researchers and educators within an interactive workshop at the Digital Media and Learning conference in Long Beach, CA. For a complete description of the genesis of this educational model, you might be interested in reading Vanessa Vartabedian’s post on the New Media Literacies blog, in which she explains how this way of thinking emerged from NML’s previous work with teachers in New Hampshire, as part of the Early Adopters professional development initiative.

In extended conversations with these educators, we have identified five main elements that are quintessential features of meaningful participatory learning for the 21st century: motivation and engagement, relevance, creativity, co-configured expertise, and connection. Thus, in other words, these five characteristics of participatory learning (CPLs) are, in our view, the features that foster:

  • Heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation;
  • Learning that feels relevant to students’ identities and interests;
  • Opportunities for creating and solving problems using a variety media, tools and practices;
  • Co-configured expertise where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and share in the tasks of teaching and learning;
  • An integrated system of learning where connections between home, school, community and world are enabled and encouraged.

The way I see it, the beauty of this framework lies in the interconnections between these five different aspects: I believe they are simultaneously interdependent and complementary to one another.

If we look at motivation and engagement, for instance, these attitudes are made possible in educational contexts only if the learner feels a sense of relevance to their own experiences and identities, as well as an authentic and meaningful connection to their multiple social environments that make up their lived realities. Learning should not occur in silos and, as the youth of today and tomorrow are part of an increasingly wider array of communities and social learning spaces, it is now more important than ever to offer them an educational experience that parallels these multiple social memberships and ensures their seamless transition between these learning spaces – online and offline, local and global, analog and digital.

And what is needed for this new type of integrated learning is, without doubt, a propensity and appreciation for creativity; thus, educators need this creativity both in designing relevant and meaningful curricula and in encouraging their students, via these curricula, to exercise and cultivate their own creative endeavors and expressions.

Furthermore, I appreciate how this framework truly calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view both learning and teaching, the role of the student and that of the educator. At Project NML, we envision co-configured expertise as more than just a hip buzzword; indeed, it is a reimagining of the pedagogical dynamic, and one that starts with the humble acknowledgement that in the future educational realm, we are all learners in one way or another.


2 Comments The Characteristics of Participatory Learning

  1. AvatarGary Lewis

    I wonder why the participatory learning being described seems to be directed at youth. If true, doesn’t this focus limit what could be imagined and created? For example, if participatory learning meant lifelong learning wouldn’t the creative ideas be broader?

    Learning tomorrow seems unlikely to have any age restrictions.


  2. AvatarPoor Richard

    I have found the level of immersion and participatory engagement in educational experiences in 3D virtual environments like Second Life to be nothing short of amazing. I think this is the distance-learning modality of choice going forward.


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