Re-imagining learning for a post-digital world (part 2) – Introducing Post-Digital Learning Experiences


So, five months ago, I left you, dear reader, with a challenge; how do we re-imagine learning for a post-digital world?  Five months on, I have come back to this challenge with some new perspectives, some learned experiences and a significant amount of re-imagining of my own.  At the heart of that is a proposal for a new approach to designing teaching and learning.  An approach that recognises learning outside the transmission and that through the construction and encouragement of experience provides a context for learning to happen in a way that aligns with the conduct of a post-digital life.  This design process build experiences into the learning and teaching by shaping the way engagement, interaction, assessment and feedback is undertaken. They are post-digital learning experiences (PDLE);  found, making, identity, play, discontinuity, authenticity and community.   Inter-weaving these experiences through teaching and learning can shape, influence and enhance the opportunities for students to learn, to share learning and to teach others.  They are part of a post-digital world, made accessible through social  media, serious gaming, personal and collective spaces, apps, making, remixing, bricolage and sharing.  In this blog, we will discuss the context of learning experiences leading to part 3 which will talk about the PDLE model.


So, where did we leave the debate at the end of part 1?

‘Last time on Peter Bryant rants about innovation…’

What I am promising from the next two posts is not a solution in a box. It is not an easily defined pedagogy like social constructivism or connectivism. It is not clean or neat. It is messy and chaotic. The common factor – the belief that the status quo is not inevitable, that the perception of equilibrium is changeable. That innovation is not a buzzword, nor is a dirty word. This is the first part of a three-part article. Parts two and three, which will be published after summer, outline what I am calling a ‘learning experience’ approach to teaching and learning in a post-digital world. How do we leverage the massive potential of modern learning in a higher education context? How do make higher education better and more relevant to the community who clearly value the contribution that a higher education can make? How do we empower teachers and learners to change and make the persuasive case to the institution to change along with them?


Learning Experiences, Mark 1

Higher education is more than a series of readings, lectures, class activities, feedback followed by an endless line of tests and essays  Education is a lived experience.  The process of learning, collectively, individually, online or face-to-face is in part, a construct of the way it is experienced.  We know learning and teaching spaces influence the way way we teach, we know environments are critical to shaping learning.  We also know that doing, seeing, practicing and succeeding/failing are all fertile sites for learning. It is these assumptions that makes the idea of lifelong learning so compelling and aspirational.  If learning at a higher level only occurs at the moments when we are exposed to transmission pedagogies, then it can then be argued that itself learning can stop.  We can stop consuming; we can stop listening to the message, read Facebook and life our lives in splendid isolation.  We can stop learning for life.  But that is not the case. Each experience we have, however hard to describe, deconstruct or explain is a learning one.  It puts context on the other stuff we have learnt.  It augments, affirms or contradicts baseline knowledge, higher order skills or more complex critical thought.  It translates theory into practice and research into doing.


Knowles in his seminal text ‘The Modern Practice of Adult Education’ describes what he calls ‘learning experiences’.  These fit into teaching and learning process as connective tissue and sinew, they weave the gaps knowledge and skills, integrating the problems, scenarios, applications and schemas in the learner’s brain through the thematic links within and between disciplines.    He describes this type of learning design as an art form, rather than a process, because it is not a prescribed science.  This is not something that can be applied universally.   It is messy and chaotic (see part 1).  It often requires a guide, a guru or a light to illuminate a path.  It is a framework that allows people to understand and evaluate the experience through their own filters.  I have read this book many times.  I like the theory of andragogy. I like the skills set he puts forward for teaching adults.  But there is more to this book that than the words and ideas contained within.  The book is a learned experience for me.  I learnt about teaching by doing some of the things that Knowles suggests.  This copy of the book was my fathers.  It still has slips of papers marking key sections that he thought relevant to his PhD in the 1980s.  I learnt about teaching from watching him, good and bad.  One of the sections he has marked is about learning experiences co-incidentally.  It is the section that argues how learning is constructed through sensory experiences, from concrete to abstract, from direct, purposeful and contrived experiences like observation, simulations and demonstration right up to the burgeoning new fields of semiotics driven by media and computers (Filmstrips! Slides! Teaching Machine Programs!).  This book is far more than a workbook on adult teaching.  Informing my practice directly through instruction and reinforcing, challenging and explaining the context in where my practice rests, it is a living, breathing map of sensory learned experiences.  And it was my dad’s.


Learning happens when it is experienced.  Transmission pedagogies like lectures and class teaching are still learning experiences.  However, they are often one-way, decontextualized and essentially normative. The learner’s experience lacks relevance to the process, as the teacher often creates an experience that privileges consumption as the only mode of active learning.  Modern assessment practice does much the same.  Consume, repeat, consume, repeat, sometimes apply, some combine, but always repeat.  You see a number of research studies that say attending lectures increase student achievement (as an argument against lecture capture), that writing things down with a pen increases recall (as an argument against devices in classrooms) and that exams that reward memory are what employers want to assure and certify learning (as an argument against diverse assessment practices).  These are not experiences that dominate post-digital living.


Learning Experiences in a post-digital world (Mark II)

So why is any of this different to what it was in say 1970? Aside from the progression from the filmstrip to the glorious VHS tape to YouTube, are learning experiences any different in the post-digital world?  I guess it is too easy to simply say yes.  Like most things, there is evidence and there is opinion. The evidence part is easy (cite 2014, cite 2011, cite 2018).  The opinion, as always, is much harder, especially as I would like to convince you of my opinion, by not citing the opinion of others (what a tangled web we weave!).  So, in the time honoured tradition of academics everywhere, here is a list of five reasons why my opinion is what it is.


  1. All our students are already using technology to a wide variety of degrees.
    This is a simple assertion. All of us are using technology; from cash machines, to smartphones, to laptops to tablets to our oyster card. Each of these pieces of technology serves a purpose. They change the way we do things. They change the language we use and they shift core practices around processes (such as paying, communications, processing and thinking). There are no universal rules about this. Generations after us are not naturally better than their parents at being technologically adept. These technologies are simply there. They develop, change and progress like most other means. In your classroom you have an array of devices more powerful than any of the ones that went before. There are ways to use that technology for the benefits of learners and learning. Instant communications, collaborations, interactions outside the classroom, annotations, engagement with readings, critical thought, right down to managing the calendar. These skills are not native, nor are they uniform. But they have been learnt through experience. From the first time you swiped left or right on an iPad to learning that not carrying money and getting on the last Tube was pretty damned convenient, even if crowded and hot.
  2. All the jobs students will do are shaped in part by technology
    We use technology to do all our jobs. You are reading a blog now. Almost every discipline has been impacted by technology; from research practice to visual rhetoric through to open access. How do we integrate these changes into curricula, teaching and assessment? Like any other programme/design process, we are research informed, we maintain rigour and we understand what skills and knowledge graduates will need to be develop expertise and understanding. Technology is just another part of that. Technology can make, stimulate or replicate experiences. Technology can help simulate real world employment situations, global phenomena or inter-personal scenarios. Technology can develop the communication, collaboration, identity or teamwork skills required in most modern workplaces. Technology skills such as media making, coding, social media or searching are critical trans-disciplinary concepts. Experience is at the core of these practices (and it is how we translate learning into working).
  3. Technology is not a scorched earth approach to teaching
    No institution wants to replace you with robots after recording your lectures. There is no replacement for the interaction and engagement face to face contact supports (either live or facilitated online). Technology does what it says on the box. It enhances, it adds, it disrupts and it transforms. Technology is not cheaper, faster, better or more. It is not an either/or choice. This is not a judgement call that marks online as better than face-to-face or that residential education makes on-line learning look like the poor cousin. Whether this is technology students use outside the classroom, or the innovative, flexible spaces were are looking to create within; Technology does not teach. Technology does not make people learn. You do. Students do. Experience does.
  4. Technology can make things possible that you previously thought impossible
    One of the great potentials of technology is change. Technology for education represents a wonderful catalyst for change. One colleague commented to me recently that they have been waiting for the technology to catch up with their thinking. Maybe thinking about technology will change the way we think about assessment, challenge some of our assumptions about feedback, maybe it will open a door or close another. Maybe technology will shift the lecture from being bounded by transmission pedagogies to being discursive and interactive. We advocate for technologies to be more than an economic replacement of one practice with another. They are a chance for a rethink, a chance inspiration or a series of experiments that allow you to embed some play and fun into your teaching and learning.
  5. Technology does enhance learning
    Give it a go. The gap between what our learners see and understand as their online learning experience and the face to face experience is narrowing. It is all just learning. The capabilities required to search quickly, determine the veracity of information and do this whilst doing three other things are developing rapidly. These skills are by no means universal or natural, but they are developing and they are shaping how people learn. From students being able to re-watch lectures 8 or 9 times to make sure they understood concepts to being able to access a support network at 4am through twitter (or just to know when the Library lift is out of order) technology is enhancing learning right now.


What is a learning experience in the post-digital age?

Learning experiences are still the connective tissue in the process of learning and teaching.  With all the routine and standards around quality assurance and enhancement, much of our focus is almost entirely on the skeleton of learning; the curricula, learning outcomes and modes of assessment.  Then there are the methodologies of teaching; lecture, tutorial, seminar, class, group work, exam, field trip or discussion.  These are structured and shaped by expensive embedded infrastructure that itself shapes the type of teaching done within it.  Teaching rooms with a front and a back. Projectors that can be seen by all and controlled by one. Four walls that contain what happens within them.  Timetables, administration and practices that dictate massive over intimate.  Technology that replicates and reassures the existing practice as a safe and comfortable blanket of conformed practice.  A safe experience. A timely experience. A didactic experience that feels the same as the ones that shaped who we are.


But in the end, for all the predictions and the manufactured nostalgia, Back to the Future II was not a documentary, nor was it written by a futurist or a genius.  What we imagined as the future of education in 1985 is not what it should be in 2015, because it is not the 18 year old us that is experiencing it.  It is the next generation and they are not us, as we are not our parents (Heaven forbid!).  What technology, social media, and the impacts of technology on life, love and work have done is change that equation.  Experiences are virtual and real, they are offline and online and they are dangerous, risky, traumatic, joyful, connected, isolating and overwhelming.  And they are ours and they are theirs.


The next part of this blog post will look at seven learning experiences that I propose make up a model of post-digital learning.  These experiences are not the exclusive domain of technology and the modern.  Far from it. But, they are facilitated more effectively in a post digital institution, drawing from trans-disciplinary knowledge and rooted in a society that has been transformed (disrupted) by interactive and collaborative technology. They are the bits between curricula and teaching practice. They are the things that shape how we teach and how something is learnt.  I believe that they can work in predictable and unpredictable ways, across disciplines and levels.  Once again, that is opinion.  The reality only comes from when you experience it.


And now, some music to make you think (or forget). I have been in an Australian music mode recently.  Music is a great example of a learned experience.  I am always learning about music through experience. Not books, or being told that these are the 100 tracks I have to listen to.  I live it.  I experience it.  So, do the same.  They are both poems of lived experience.  Maybe you will like these two tracks, or maybe they will make you find the connections, the relationships, the lineage or the opposites.  or maybe, by experiencing it, you will decide that it is not for you.  Either way, it is up to you.

* A part of this was previously published in an amended form on the LSE LTI Blog*

The Digital Stranger: Participation, social networking and creativity


There is a long, controversial and interesting debate in articles, book and literature about what it means to interact on line.  This is supported by a number of contested and contradictory ideas about the skills we need in order to conduct different forms of digital communication.  In my last blog post, I talked about the ability of web 2.0 users to simply absorb or be exposed to knowledge in whatever context they choose to use the web, as opposed to creating and consuming that knowledge.

However, if we treat the web as a passive form of information access then the benefits of user generated content, of collaboration and of interaction may be lost.   In order to participate in something, some authors such as Guy (2007) argue that we need to take part in it, which might imply some aspect of action and commitment (as opposed to passively letting the information pass you by, as you may do skimming a newspaper).  Taking that logic one step further, the nature of social networking tools seem to provide ready instruments to allow people, in whatever form they comfortable, to take part in a variety of collaborative and creative processes.

Clay Shirky argues that there is a place online not just for individual promotion or mindless consumption, but for initiating and sustaining creative action.  Collective action is the ability of groups of people working collaboratively and together to make changes in society or in their community and is a well explored concept in a number of theoretical fields like politics and activism.

In his book ‘Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Penguin 2010), he makes the case that instead of viewing usage of the net (or consuming media) as a time waster, where we randomly surf our way through web pages, endless youtube videos or as some of us are well aware, waste time on facebook, we can see it in a different light.  He states that our consumption or absorption of this content doesn’t often result in tangible, creative outcomes.  He states some of the data that suggests that the current generation is consuming less television per week than their predecessors and becoming more involved in activity on the net (a practical example of this might be that whilst we are consuming youtube videos, there are easily accessible and simple to use technologies that encourage us to also make our own, respond to other peoples and engage with a community of fans and makers of each video.  We can also aggregate the videos we watch so that we can share them with our friends).

He goes onto say that perhaps we can harness this time we spend creating and sharing, in small or more substantial ways to impact on our world and our community.  He talks about the use of a blog to initiate and co-ordinate crisis responses (the site is called and you can hear the full story in the video linked below) and at the other end of the spectrum he points to the development and distribution of LOLcats (those cute cat pictures with funny slogans).  His argument is starts with the idea that ‘even the stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act!”  And perhaps the way we define action in a digital world is different to that of the non-digital one.

Now, what does this have to the idea of the digital stranger?  Much of the interaction that occurs on the web can happen without us even knowing who the person is or people we are interacting with actually are.  We might see comments they have made, or we might be replying to something they said.  We might be sharing our opinion on a person’s youtube video, or contributing to a discussion on a board.  It may be that we are collaborating on a document, or creative piece through a wiki

The interaction that occurs between these people is sometimes asynchronous (ie: happens not in ‘real time’) and is often text based with little visual stimuli like a camera or sound.  We are communicating without knowing very much about our colleagues in the digital environment.  How many of your fellow learners you have met on the BAPP course?  We may have their photos, or perhaps a little insight into the bio, or at best we have seen their youtube video (or perhaps met at a campus session.  Does this level of knowledge about them impact on our interaction?  In many ways, of course it does?  It might make our communications less targeted or perhaps less personal.  It might increase misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

But in understanding, managing and adjusting to these limitations (if they even that) we are able to continue to collaborate and create in this environment.  Recognising the nature of these relationships is an important step.  Perhaps these people are what we might call digital strangers.

Digital strangers are people we interact with, people we are inspired by, people we understand (even a little) about their views and their position in a specific network, but know very little about.  We may not even know their true identity (just their avatar or nickname).  Yet, we can still learn from and with them.  We can create and share.  We can innovate and solve problems.  We can increase awareness and affect change.  We can engage, entertain and provide comfort or inspiration.  All without knowing the things we might want to know if those interactions occurred off-line.

Is being a digital stranger with someone a bad thing?  Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article entitled “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” stated that whilst web 2.0 has increased peoples participation in collaboration and relationship building, it has not developed the strength, quality or capacity of that relationship to increase motivation or action.

‘Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece…Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.’

I argue that being a digital stranger is not a negative, as Gladwell might argue.  Building on Shirky’s idea that any act of creativity is positive simply because it is creative and that the actions of a digital strangers banding together represent an action that might otherwise have happened,  could we argue that in the case of Darfur as given by Gladwell, that there are now 1.2 million people aware of the horrible events of Darfur? Is it good that there is now over  $115,000 more money being used to support the political campaigns to bring awareness? And that through the facebook page, there are over 25 different aggregated calls to action including youtube videos, notices of rallies, news stories, petitions and photographs.  The formation of this community of digital strangers has arguably resulted in some form of collective action.  Gladwell typifies these actions as a failure, actions of people who couldn’t be bothered to do something in ‘the real world’.  I would argue the opposite.  These are actions of people who are making a commitment to increase awareness and share that with people they don’t even know.

Now, let’s look at this in terms of our interests as professional arts practitioners.  We as a collective network of BAPP people are a group of people, some digital strangers, others acquaintances, maybe some friends and colleagues.  What our social networking participation has done for us is to provide the environment and the commonality to begin to interact, to aggregate content (like videos and photos on flickr) and then to produce and create content.  Is that process harmed by us being digital strangers?  I would argue that it has been supported and perhaps even enhanced in that the social network (and the use of it as part of the course) has provided all of us, both staff and students with the medium in which to engage, interact and construct meaning.  It could be easily imagined that these outcomes, had they relied on more traditional forms of interaction may simply never have happened.