In Chapter 7 of the New Literacies Sampler book Lankshear and Knobel introduce us to the concept of social learning which is a collaborative form of learning. It also includes a discussion of the “Push” and “Pull” learning environments where the push environment is based on pushing out the learning materials to the students (as in traditional classes) vs the pull environment where students pull the learning material that they need in a given situation. There is also a discussion at the end of the chapter about collaborative learning environments that promote social learning.
Social learning, according to Brown and Adler, is based on our understanding of concepts and processes that have developed through conversations with others working on the same problems or actions. It is more a matter of how we learn, not what we learn. Knowledge is not just a matter of learning about a subject. It also means learning how to participate in a given field of knowledge. The authors contend that social learning will lead to a deeper learning.
“Deep Learning” is learning subjects well enough to apply the knowledge in multiple and varied contexts, instead of the sometimes superficial learning that is only relevant to narrow situations. Or as Gee points out, “…it is necessary to move beyond ‘learning about’ and, instead, focus on ‘learning to be.”
To me, one of the questions that needs to be explored is how do instructors incorporate this social learning into their courses and yet still provide a broad spectrum of learning that we would identify as a general education. It is easier to focus on one area of the curriculum at the expense of other areas, but it is more difficult to engage the deeper learning environment when attempting to cover many topics at once. For example, creating a social learning environment that is focused on a particular science (say Chemistry) is easier to establish than a social learning environment that is based on all of the topics likely found in a general education (like Chemistry, English, Algebra, History, etc.)
It might be a matter of “grit” that enables students to traverse this diverse landscape of topics, and to find new ways to tie these topics together. Gee and Hayes talk about “grit”, or the combination of passion and persistence for experiencing success in different situations. Mastery of a particular topic or skill allows us to recognize opportunities for innovation and creativity.
Brown and Adler also talk about moving from a “push” learning environment where knowledge and skills are pushed out to the learner independent of their immediate need for that knowledge to a “pull” learning environment where the learner pulls the knowledge that they need for the current learning situation, thus creating a “learning to be” situation. From Hagel and Brown, “Pull models treat people as networked creators … who are uniquely positioned to transform uncertainty from a problem into an opportunity.”
Ultimately, in order for the student to successfully achieve the deep learning, it is up to the instructor to create a successful collaborative learning platform. As Gee and Hays say, “platforms can be seen as combinations of components and resources that help us to access, attract, and achieve: to connect with others, optimize the likelihood of serendipity, and persist with our passions”
Platforms of learning are the spaces we create to enable social learning for those with the passion to delve deeper into a particular topic. These spaces include the ability to quickly access the resources needed (usually people) to create and innovate using the knowledge they have acquired. Students participate in authentic activities that give them access to experts, other students, or any combination of resources that they might need for the activity.