Learning at the age of digital remix

Strategies of fitness according to a study supported by MacArthur Foundation

If we should indicate an electronic device that, other than cellular phone, has a great chance to be carried inside westernised people’s pockets,  we would not be wrong answering a small usb-device.  Diffusion and adoption of pen-drivers and sophisticated audio/video players to maintain and transport programs/files or the loved personal playlists due to the amazing developments of microelectronic and the success of usb standard interface. The plug-socket system named  Universal Serial Bus seems  to be maintain the promise hailed by its name becouse, in its normal or mini version, it is present upon almost all electronic devices wanting to ease digital interconnection in a prompt “plug ‘n play” logic. In this way, data and programs utilised in diverse activities and circles – products and sources of personal projects – glue themselves with the other our whole of  intelligence and sensibility tying us with hardware and software of computerized machines distributed in our vital environments.

Usb as metaphor
ciucciousb Indeed, usb system is becoming the metaphor to indicate the growing ibridation  among universe we considered (and sometimes were) separated. The images here reported, for example, are part respectively of  a book and an article that have as topic changes happen in the multi-media age in terms of mentality, actions and environmental ecology. The usb pacifier over the Italian book cover of Born Digital by John Palfrey e Urs Gasse gives us a clear idea about a new generation of people that, born between 1980s-1990s, feeds and acclimates itself in a material and socio-cultural world strongly innervated with computers and media, shaping relationships and mindness with which it is convenient to establish a critical (but positive) confrontation. Digital natives have naturally established relationships with themselves, others and external reality counting on space-time possibilities concretised by Icts. Identity, privacy, creativity, innovation, social aggregation, information overloading, learning, activism, knowledge and information sharing are all new chapters of an other way of being, so extended and deeped to merit, according to the authors – parents and teachers, alongside digital (or peasant) migrants  – an insight to govern its risks and share its potentialities.
But the marks of this kind of connections are composite and various, as illustrated by Luca Rosati and Andrea Resini into the article La cross-medialità e il remix delle esperienze (The architecture of information. Cross- mediality and remix of experiences). Focusing on a wider range of plot, it is possible to note the mix of physical and digital contests, the daily passage through cross-media experiences in a variety of “shared informatcupusbion spaces” in which we find products and processes organized correlating informative and material logics.
Digital pollination of new information architectures pushes to affirm new philosophy  of design in which “focus moves from design of single artefacts to the design of experiences or services that embrace a network of elements”.  In this case, image shows an usb-plug going out from a cup, as to say that also the world of object once unspoken, even those very simple, is operating to communicate with the rest of world.

The positivity of cognitive eeriness
In front of this new ecology it is almost normal to registry a sort of disorientation. Discomfort transpires even in delicate and primary sectors. Educational institutions, that have the role in maintaining an adequate  analysis regarding changes, show an increasing difficult to elaborate strategies capable to understand and explain how people are modifying their ways to absorb, share, create and spread meanings in the increasing and various plot of informational flows.
With the purpose to give force and address to institutions otherwise condemned to disqualification,  a series of  researches and publications supported by  MacArthur Foundation try to explore relationships between digital media and knowledge, even underlying the positive sides of innovations.
One of these reports, The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, – as others freely available in its e-book version  on MIT press site – reports the ten tendencies that, according to authors, will strongly affect new learning strategies.  They seem us very meaningful to capture in a collateral but central prospective some effects about aforesaid processes. We try to summarize them  as useful reflections on practices and systems in which we are immersed. At the same time, they show us some challenges brought from new media.

 1. Self-Learning
Going online to discover information is an increasing activity  “now developed from early childhood through advanced adult life”. So, reading becomes an interactive, non-linear, relational action. In browsing activities we section and put together “midparagraph if not mid-sentence to related material, look up information relevant or related to what we are reading”. Hypertextually easily transport us toward new paths in an intricate and confuse web of passages that often works “ as a productive if complex and challenging switchboard”.

2. Horizontal structures
Schools, colleges, universities, and their surrounding support apparatuses – the institutions that would teach to handle learning – suffer the effects of this horizontal  movements. “Institutional education has tended to be authoritative, top-down, standardized, and predicated on individuated assessment measured on standard tests. Increasingly today, work regimes involve collaboration with colleagues in teams”. The skill to operate on problems, elaborating solutions and collaborating to complete projects are reinforced including multidisciplinary approaches instead of single individual energies. “Given the range and volume of information available and the ubiquity of access to information sources and resources, learning strategy shifts from a focus on information as such to judgment concerning reliable information, from memorizing information to how to find reliable sources. In short, from learning that to learning how, from content to process”.

 3. From Presumed Authority to Collective Credibility
Learning is more related to credibility than authoritativeness. “A major part of the future of learning is in developing methods, often communal, for distinguishing good knowledge sources from those that are questionable. Increasingly, learning is about how to make wise choices – epistemologically, methodologically, concerning productive collaborative partnerships
to broach complex challenges and problems. Learning increasingly concerns not only how to resolve issues regarding information architecture, interoperability and compatibility, scalability and sustainability, but also how to address ethical dilemmas. It concerns, in addition, issues of judgment in resolving tensions between different points of view in increasingly interdisciplinary environments”. We are projecting in a  new kind of circles based on interdisciplinary and collaborative knowledge capable to treat objects of analysis and research issues that are multidimensional and complex. They could not be resolved by some solitary approachs.  “Knowledge formation and learning today thus pose more acute challenges of trust. If older, more
traditional learning environments were about trusting knowledge authorities or certified experts, that model can no longer withstand the growing complexities-the relational constitution of knowledge domains and the problems they pose”.

 4. De-Centered Pedagogy
There are many signals of banning, from institutions and simple teachers, against the use of new information tools and knowledge resources elaborated collectively and collaboratively for classroom works. “This is a catastrophically anti-intellectual reaction to a knowledgemaking, global phenomenon of epic proportions. To ban sources such as Wikipedia is to miss the importance of a collaborative, knowledge-making impulse in humans who are willing to contribute, correct, and collect information without remuneration: by definition, this is education. To miss how much such collaborative, participatory learning underscores the foundations of learning is defeatist, unimaginative, even self destructive. Instead, leaders at learning institutions need to adopt a more inductive, collective pedagogy that takes advantage of our era”. The meaning of this de-centered method can be found in inserting collective checking, inquisitive skepticism, and group assessment inside the pedagogical practices.

 5. Networked Learning
It is possible to integrate the benefits of individualized learning with collaborative and socially networked learning, that includes not only “taking turns in speaking, posing questions, listening to and hearing others out” but even “correcting others, being open to being corrected oneself, and working together to fashion workarounds when straightforward solutions to problems or learning challenges are not forthcoming”. To be clear, individualized learning could encourage such habits too, but it often remains involved in a social model that “ stresses competition and hierarchy rather than cooperation, partnering, and mediation. If individualized learning is chained to a social vision prompted by ‘prisoner dilemma’ rationality in which one cooperates only if it maximizes narrow self-interest , networked learning is committed to a vision of the social stressing cooperation, interactivity, mutuality, and social engagement for their own sakes”, often generating a more powerful productivity.

 6. Open source education
Networked learning is deeply based on social regime of public and open contents hailed by an open source culture. It counts on the fact that “its processes and products improved through the contributions of others by being made freely available to all”. Individualized learning tends to be hierarchical “one learns from the teacher or expert, on the basis overwhelmingly of copyright protected publications bearing the current status of knowledge”. Open source model effectively contrasts unfair distribution of resources and digital divide helping a greater inter-exchange, offering “the circuits and nodes, the combustion energy and driving force for engaged and sustained innovative activity, sparking creativity, extending the circulation of ideas and practices, making available the test sites for innovative developments, even the laboratory for the valuable if sometimes painful lessons to be learned from failure”.

 7. Learning as Connectivity and Interactivity
Digitally enabled social networking creates learning environments  empathizing active roles of members through connectivities and interactivities. “Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around-together”.  An architecture that becomes a working in progress laboratory where networked creation is the rule of thumb. Educational and pedagogical institutions  “are just starting to catch on and catch up”.

 8. Lifelong Learning
Participative learning fits the need of continuous learning “to face up to the challenges of novel conditions as we bear with us the lessons of adaptability, of applying lessons to unprecedented situations and challenges”. But, over all, it doesn’t have peculiar ends, “It is not just that economic prospects demand it; increasingly ‘our’ sociality and culture now do, too”.

 9. Learning Institutions as Mobilizing Networks
Networked learning also changes how we think of our institutions generally conceived “in terms of rules, regulations, norms governing interactivity, production, and distribution”. On the other side, “the networks enable a mobilizing that stresses flexibility, interactivity, and outcome. And the mobilizing in turn encourages and enables networking interactivity that lasts as long as it is productive, opening up or giving way to new interacting networks as older ones ossify or newly emergent ones signal new possibilities. Institutional culture thus shifts from the weighty to the light, from the assertive to the enabling”. In the constitution of this new institutional context “considerations as reliability and predictability alongside flexibility and innovation” are becoming central factors.

 10. Flexible Scalability and Simulation
New technologies help people and groups to interact and learning in remote conditions but also have the capability to respond with flexibility in terms of scale and simulation in facing both audience and the various knowledge domains. “The scale will be driven by the nature of the project or knowledge base, ranging from a small group of students work ing on a specific topic together to open-ended and open-sourced contributions to the Encyclopedia of Life or to Wikipedia. Learning institutions must be open to flexibility of scale at both ends of the spectrum, devising ways of acknowledging and rewarding appropriate participation in and contributions to such collective and collaborative efforts rather than too quickly dismissing them as easy or secondary or insufficiently individualistic
to warrant merit”.

Palfrey, J., Gasser, U., 2008, Born Digital. Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, New York, Basic Books.

Rosati, L., Rosmini, A., 2009, La cross-medialità e il remix delle esperienze, Milano, Apogeo Online.

Davidson, C., Goldberg, D., 2009, The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Mitpress.