Prof. Dr. Jan L. Plass

Foto: Sapna Parikh/New York University

Learning has already been transformed by the digital media that permeate our lives. Enabled by new technologies, informal learning has advanced in many significant ways, whereas advances in formal learning are modest.

The Corona pandemic has only magnified this situation, and it has become clear that formal learning – from Grundschule to Universität – needs to be transformed to match what has already been achieved in informal learning, and to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century economy.

In particular, in conceptualizing new learning and reforming formal learning, we need to recognize:

  • Learning is life-long, not limited to formal schooling.
  • Learning is social, an ongoing process of enculturation.
  • Learning should be an active process, engaging the student, with immediate feedback and guidance.
  • Learning can be playful, it does not have to be boring or ‘serious.’
  • Learning should be adaptive and personalized, addressing the specific needs of a learner.
  • Learning should be contextualized, relating to authentic, current problems in society.
  • Learning needs to be equitable, accessible, and culturally responsive.
  • Learning outcomes extend far beyond factual knowledge, focusing instead on comprehension, transfer, and socio-emotional outcomes (21st Century skills).
  • Learning outcomes can be measured in embedded, unobtrusive ways, over time, rather than with high stakes (standardized) tests.

Only digital technologies can enable this kind of new learning at the scale required to have the desired impact. However, few digital tools exist that successfully implement what learning scientists know about how people learn.

Our imagination needs to expand beyond the design of websites with videos and practice items (e.g., Khan Academy) to bridge the virtual and the real, to integrate manipulatives, mobile apps, augmented reality, and virtual reality in a learning ecosystem that embeds learning into students’ everyday lives and gives teachers the tools to guide their students in their exploration of the world around them.

Über Prof. Dr. Jan L. Plass

Paulette Goddard chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences at New York University

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