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A New Culture of Learning 

A New Culture of Learning 

25 January, 2016

A New Culture of Learning is an inspiring short book about learning by John Seely Brown and Doug Thomas.

The following paragraphs are the highlights of the book.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

In the new culture of learning, people learn by their interaction and participation with one another in smooth relationships that are the result of shared interests and opportunity. In this environment, the participants all stand on the same ground wherein no one is assigned to the traditional role of teacher or student. Instead, anyone who has particular knowledge of, or experience with, a given subject may assume the role of mentor at any time. Mentors give a sense of structure to guide learning, which they may do by listening empathically and by reinforcing intrinsic motivation to help the student discover a voice, a calling, or a passion. Once a particular passion or interest is unleashed, constant interaction among group members, with their varying skills and talents, functions as a kind of peer amplifier, providing numerous outlets, resources, and aids to further an individual’s learning.

Learning from others is neither new nor revolutionary; it has just been unnoticed by most of our educational institutions. The college experience is a perfect example. When students set foot on campus in their freshman year, they begin a learning experience that is governed only in part by their classroom interactions. Assuming they live on campus, sleep eight hours a night, and attend classes three hours a day, students are immersed in a learning environment for an additional thirteen hours a day. Simply by being among the people around them—in study groups, for instance—students are learning from their environment, participating in an experience rich in resources of deep encounters.

The Emergence of the Collective

Our ability to produce, consume, and distribute knowledge in an unlimited, unfiltered, and immediate way is the primary reason for the changes we see today. One no longer needs to own a television station, a printing press, or a broadcast transmitter to disseminate information, for example. With just a computer and access to the internet, one can view or consume an almost unimaginably varied array of information and points of view.

But equally important is the ability to add one’s own knowledge to the general mix. That contribution may be large, such as a new website, or it may be a series of smaller offerings, such as comments on a blog or a forum post. It may even be something as trivial as simply visiting a website. But in each case, the participation has an effect, both in terms of what the individual is able to draw from it and how it shapes and augments the stream of information.

This core feature of education in the new culture of learning presents a model for understanding learning in the face of rapid change. Teachers do not have to scramble to provide the latest up-to-date information to students because the students themselves are taking an active role in helping to create and mold it, particularly in areas of social information.

We call this environment a collective. As the name implies, it is a collection of people, skills, and talent that produces a result greater than the sum of its parts. For our purposes, collectives are not solely defined by shared intention, action, or purpose (though those elements may exist and often do). Instead, they are defined by an active engagement with the process of learning.

Students learn best when they can follow their passion and operate within the constraints of a bounded environment. Both of those elements matter. Without the limit set by the assignment of playing the prelude, there would be no medium for growth. But without the passion, there would be nothing to grow in the medium. Yet the process of discovering one’s passion can be complex.