Future learning environments must capitalize on the potential of Web 2.0 by combining social software tools with connectivist pedagogical models. That’s the argument put forth by Catherine McLoughlin and Mark J. W. Lee in their article “Future Learning Landscapes,” published in the June/July issue of the online magazine Innovate. The authors propose a “Pedagogy 2.0” that augments student-centered teaching strategies with the Web’s power to connect — or, as they put it, the “real-world interactivity and community engagement that social software can contribute.”

The challenge is to enable self-direction, knowledge building, and learner control by offering flexible options for students to engage in learning that is authentic and relevant to their needs and to those of the networked society while still providing necessary structure and scaffolding.

Anyone who has worked extensively with teachers to bring about this marriage of constructivism and digitally enhanced social learning knows it can be quite a challenge. I’ve had the opportunity over the past three years to take part in a “21st Century Learner” project supported by Microsoft Partners in Learning and organized by the visionary Alabama Best Practices Center. Much of the future-thinking that permeates the project comes from TLN charter member Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, an elementary teacher and school technology coach turned professional developer and “networked learner,” as she likes to sign her emails.

Our experience working with a group of 200+ teachers and principals (using live online conferencing and the NING social network environment) has been promising, stimulating, illuminating — and sometimes frustrating. Most often the frustration comes not from the participants’ disinterest in Web 2.0 software — they can see the excitement and engagement these tools produce among their students. What’s frustrating is that the “sell” often requires two jumps — first, from teacher-centered teaching to student-centered teaching, and THEN to experimentation with the digital software that can produce what might be called “21st Century constructivism.”

Constructivist approaches have never been ubiquitous in modern American schools, and the knowledge of why and how to teach so that students (paraphrasing Schlechty) are the real knowledge workers — whose product is life-long learning — is still not something to be taken for granted in every school and classroom. Add to that the undeniable fact that a common reaction among school leaders and many teachers to No Child Left Behind (whether intended by its social engineers or not) has been to suppress constructivist practices in favor of “fact-tory” teaching that they believe will give the biggest standardized test payoff (whether it does or not).

McLoughlin and Lee write that:

In contrast to earlier e-learning approaches that simply replicated traditional models, the Web 2.0 movement with its associated array of social software tools offers opportunities to move away from the last century’s highly centralized, industrial model of learning and toward individual learner empowerment through designs that focus on collaborative, networked interaction….

Such developments are providing the foundations for and shaping the contours of a new learning landscape, which we call Pedagogy 2.0. Pedagogy 2.0 integrates Web 2.0 tools that support knowledge sharing, peer-to-peer networking, and access to a global audience with socioconstructivist learning approaches to facilitate greater learner autonomy, agency, and personalization.

Sounds great. Sounds right. But unless and until we create school environments where teachers are actively encouraged and supported to master and practice the teaching strategies associated with constructivism, we’re going to be bogged down in Pedagogy 1.0 for some time to come. “Time” being a very operative word here.

We won’t leap into what actually ought to be described as Pedagogy 3.0, until we make a different leap. And it’s really a leap of faith. Do we as a society believe that teachers, en masse, can evolve as accomplished professionals and lead student-centered learning? Can most teachers become accomplished at weaving content standards into project- and problem-based units and lessons — at using 21st Century tools to differentiate the learning experience for each student, and pushing everyone up Mr. Bloom’s stairway to heavenly orders of thinking and doing?

If we don’t believe our American teaching professionals can reach that goal — and then figure out what to do with that belief — the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is wasting a lot of time and effort.

— John Norton

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