1.1.2 Learning theories and digital pedagogies

  1.1.2. Learning theories and digital pedagogies

When practitioners, educators or teachers who have completed their studies ten or more years ago enter a classroom today it is highly likely that they will come across with a different learning environment to the one they met as learners, since both teaching and learning have changed radically. In fact, over the last thirty years or so, “learning” has become one of the most used words in the field of education. As Smith (1999-2020) points out, “adult education became lifelong learning; students became learners, teachers facilitators of learning; schools are now learning environments; learning outcomes are carefully monitored” with all these being in part due to the rise of individualizing neo-liberal policies along with the contribution of the developments in learning theory.

But what does “learning” mean to each one of us? And what does it mean to learn in the digital era? And how do we learn about learning? Contrary to what one might think, we do not all share the same conception of the learning process. Among those who have studied the issue, is the Swedish educational psychologist and researcher Roger Säljö (1979), who conducted a survey among people with very different learning experiences and defined five different conceptions of the learning process:

  1. Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge (we increase the amount of information that constitutes our knowledge base).
  2. Learning as memorizing and reproducing (we record information that can be recalled and used).
  3. Learning as a means to an end, as acquiring facts, skills, methods, etc. (that we can retain and/or use in practice when necessary).
  4. Leaning as making sense or abstracting meaning (we seek to understand the “hidden meaning” of things).
  5. Learning as an interpretative process and understanding of reality in a different way (we try to comprehend the world by reinterpreting knowledge).

In the following years, various others studies explored the conceptions of learning in different audiences identifying even more conceptions of learning, e.g. learning as personal fulfilment, as changing as a person, as a duty, as a process not bound by time or context or as developing social competence (Purdie & Hattie, 2002).

To move a step further, in an attempt to sum up the five basic learning theories of a) behaviourism, b) cognitivism, c) humanism, d) constructivism and e) the social cognitive theory, the following schematic presentation is given by Merriam & Bierema (2014, as quoted in Smith, 1999-2020).

 As an awareness of the way in which literacy has transformed, fundamental changes in literacy pedagogy are being developed. In the era of digital literacies, educators are no longer the “experts” but rather the co-creators of knowledge, along with the learners. As a result, activities in classrooms are fundamentally different, theory is embedded in practice and the point is to create “new activities on new media” and put the teacher-student relation on a new basis. Educators’ professional growth is the key to successful digital pedagogies and this demands reformed programs for them where digital literacy will be grounded in relevant contexts, collaboration, and multimodal designs, creating and promoting new communities of practice in the digital era (Ortlieb et al, 2018). Being a practitioner or educator in a “digital literacies” environment means to be a lifelong learner.

Milton & Vozzo (2013, p.p. 76-77) point out that “digital pedagogy includes several axiomatic changes to traditional pedagogy and has more in common with a constructivist approach, in which learners construct their own knowledge in a social context. However, digital pedagogy goes beyond that to include teaching about and for digital technology for learning. Central to digital pedagogy is the co-construction of knowledge. A digital pedagogy includes planning for learning which is less content than problem-solving based. It can present knowledge as problematic rather than as fixed”.

Following Kent & Holdway (2009) and Luckin et al (2009) the writers continue by mentioning that digital pedagogy (or even better “digital pedagogies”) promotes higher order thinking skills making learners to move from remembering content to gaining a deep understanding of concepts; digital pedagogy develops critical analysis, metacognition and reflection, often through creation, editing and publishing online, while in addition it promotes connectedness to the wider world (e.g. though the use of web 2.0 technologies and social networking). However, since not all learners know how to use the whole range of new technologies or don’t have good navigation skills, the key for practitioners is to help them how to identify, search, evaluate, analyse and use in an effective way the huge amount of data and information that surrounds us in the digital era.