Modern Learning: Making Learning Meaningful

One of my most meaningful learning experiences happened the first semester of graduate school for my masters in education. On an early Saturday morning, I met my cohort and professor at “Malcolm X Park” in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and went on a scavenger hunt of sorts with items listed such as “corner store,” “community center,” and “church.” We weren’t asked to put a corner store in a paper bag but instead act as anthropologists by collecting artifacts, speaking to people, and walking the neighborhood. The project stuck with me because it was directly relevant to my role as a new teacher. Not only did my eyes open to where my students were from, but my own assumptions of my students’ backgrounds were challenged. Sixteen years later, I think back to that project as modern learning at its best.

Meridian Hill Park (known as “Malcolm X” Park) in Washington, D.C.

To be a student today looks and feels very different than ever before. In the last several decades, we have seen fundamental shifts in our ability to connect, learn, and engage. Classrooms and schools are adapting in new and creative ways to respond to these shifts through new and innovative models.  And at GOA we are rethinking school and moving beyond “blended” towards a more holistic term: “modern learning.”

Modern learning is not made up of new concepts. Instead, we’ve taken what we know works in the classroom (designing learning that fosters student growth, curiosity, and agency) and rethought how to use time, space, and place. Similar to my graduate school project, modern learning encourages students to have more meaningful and authentic experiences.

The six elements of modern learning offer a simple, connected through line to help teachers and schools design meaningful experiences for every student.

What are elements of modern learning?

  • Modern learning is student-centered: The underlying theme of modern learning is that the student is the agent of their own learning. Simply put, that means that modern learning designs encourage student voice and choice. Student voice gives students a level of control, autonomy, and power in their own learning, allowing their voice to be more present than the teacher’s voice. Equally important is giving students choice of learning environment, subject matter, approach, and assessment.
  • Modern learning is relevant: We all learn when the experience is personally meaningful and relevant to our lives. When students feel both emotionally attached  to content and there’s a relevant connection to something they already know, learning sticks.
  • Modern learning means we assess for learning: To drive student-centered learning, how we assess our students needs to change. We know now that by providing opportunities for authentic assessment, competency based learning, or experiential or project based learning, students grow in new ways. Each of these methods of assessment allows for the student to define what mastery may look like for them.
  • Modern learning emphasizes collaboration: The idea of collaborative learning stems from the concept of social constructivism, one of my favorite learning theories by Lev Vygotsky. Basically, Vygotsky wrote, “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level and, later on, on the individual level.” Learning with and in collaboration with others is how we can then better understand and make sense of who we are and what we know.
  • Modern learning is place-based: Learning is multi-dimensional and cannot happen in a vacuum. It would be amazing if one could just read the manual on flying a helicopter and then go fly one. We have to experience learning to make it stick with us. This means redefining what the classroom looks and feels like and allowing new places and experiences to be a meaningful part of how and where we learn.
  • Modern learning fosters a rethinking of time and schedule: Giving students the opportunity to work at their own pace is integral to modern learning. Online learning is ideal for encouraging individualized student pace through asynchronous activities, allowing a student to complete a task in their own time rather than use precious face to face time in class. Offering flexible pace to school schedules can also provide for more personalized and authentic types of assessment.

When I think of the kind of learning that resonates with me such as the community mapping project, I’m curious about how it made me feel when I was done. Did I feel as if I’d grown in a way I didn’t expect? Did I discover a new concept and have to really defend how I felt about it? Was I somehow better or different as a result of that experience? Yes, yes, and yes. Modern learning is powerful and has great impact because it is designed with meaningful learning as its touchstone.

Teachers and schools are creating modern learning all over the world. In GOA’s upcoming Modern Learning Lab, a two week online course, we will spend time exploring classrooms and speaking to educators who are creating meaningful modern learning experiences every day.

For more, see:

Global Online Academy (GOA) reimagines learning to empower students and teachers to thrive in a globally networked society. Professional learning opportunities are open to any educator. To sign up or to learn more, see our Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators or email with the subject title “Professional Learning.” Follow us on Twitter @GOALearning. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here.

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