Learning in the Digital Age

This is the third post in a series of three written by students in my ENGL 175T: Writing in a Digital Age course.

by Brandon Gunderson

With the advent of new technologies, online culture has become both a place for socialization and learning, and, in a way, digital literacy has become more important than ever before. Educators and students alike are being forced to reassess the way they teach and learn, and the educational methods of yore[1] are being subverted by more effective passion based forms of learning. These innovations in education are taking place online, and, as digital education has redefined the way we learn, it is necessary to reevaluate digital learning as a viable source of education. In fact, when used in conjunction with more traditional forms of erudition (i.e. accredited schools), digital learning environments can become places for individuals to develop passions for their focus of study, real world applications for subjects like mathematics, and a general understanding of rudimentary courses.

James Gee and Elizabeth Hayes in their article, “Language and Learning in the Digital Age”, outline a form of learning environment that has been generally overlooked in our public school system; a learning environment they dub to be passionate affinity spaces. A passionate affinity space is a place in which people with a common interest in a subject can form together to pursue a common goal. It helps develop networking skills and real world applications for things like geometry by placing its members in a hands on learning environment. An example of this would be the authors’ case study, Jesse. Jesse was a girl who struggled in her high school geometry class, but, through The Sims’[2]application Second Life, Jesse found people with common interests in designing houses for the game. These people taught Jesse how to design an online structure on x, y, and z coordinates, thus giving Jesse a real world application for geometry. Today Jesse is a graduate student who happens to tutor people in geometry.

Another common form of online learning environment would be the implementation of MOOCs (i.e. massive open online courses). A MOOC is an open course online taught by an expert in the field, typically a professor, in which anyone can enroll. MOOCs offer an online environment for students who happen to be interested in a field of study, but, for one reason or the other, can’t take the class somewhere else. The program is a more economical alternative than enrolling in a college course, and, while the course doesn’t count towards college credits, San Jose State University is using them to get students on par with their academic standards. This is due in part to the fact that more than 50% of their entering students can’t pass elementary placement tests for college classes. While MOOCs are taught by experts in their field of study, they generally have a high pass rate, and, one could argue, that they are a prime example of an online passionate affinity space. In fact, MOOCs are great ways to get troubled student back on track.

Again, the influx of online technologies has reshaped the way we learn which is why digital learning deserves to be at the forefront of our educational skill sets.

[1] Specifically test literacy and essay literacy.
[2] The Sims as in the online video game.

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