New Structures and Spaces of Learning – the WHAT

In considering where to start, I have decided to take Stephen Covey’s advice and endeavour to ‘Begin with the end in mind’!  This seems fitting as perhaps the greatest takeaway from the article, for me, is found in its conclusion, all be it in a slightly altered order!

Education is concerned with the act of becoming… learning assists individuals in coming to understand the world, to contemplate worthy and significant ideas and concepts, …learning is the process of coming to understand the world broadly and from many perspectives in order to see one’s role in advancing the needs related to ethics and humanity. (Siemens, 2008)

Education is not an end in itself. Education will continue to develop as the central element in preparing individuals and societies to participate in the information and knowledge age. The critical challenges facing humanity are many. A highly connected and well educated populace appears to hold the greatest prospect for meeting these challenges. (Siemens, 2008)

Regardless of your views about the future of education, I think there are few who would disagree with the sentiments express here.  Education has always been charged with the responsibility of preparing student to be  productive members of society, that’s nothing new.  Where the controversy and debate seems to arise is in what that mean in the 21st century?

To answer this question, we need to get straight to the heart of what it means to teach and learn – the transfer and acquisition of knowledge and skills.  I know, this highly simplistic view doesn’t sit well with me either but I am trying to consider the nature of our core business from an outsider’s perspective.  With that in mind, any justification for change then would need to address a failure in this definition, right?

So, the way I see it this definition has two components, the WHAT and the HOW.  What we teach and learn and how we do it!




According to George Siemens and Stephen Downs, “Knowledge—the core product and source of engagement in education—has become increasingly fluid” (Downes, 2006; Siemens, 2006 as cited in Siemens, 2008).  A position supported by the work of Gunther Kress and Norbert Pachler (2007 as cited in Siemens, 2008), “[w]hat we have here is a transition from a stable, settled world of knowledge produced by authority/authors, to a world of instability, flux, of knowledge produced by the individual.”

The reason for this change lies primarily in the technological advancements that enable us to access information when we want, how we want, where we want and in whatever form we want!  What is more, these same technologies are changing our relationship information.  We are no longer just passive consumers, we have the ways and means to produce and share our thoughts and ideas with the world on a scale barely imaginable.  Consider, that for the vast majority of the students currently sitting in our schools, this is the world as they have ALWAYS known it!

So, in returning to our definition of the role of schools, if teachers are no longer the keepers of all wisdom, how then can we continue to maintain the view and approach to education that children arrive at school an empty vessel to be filled?


In trying to ascertain what skills students will need to full fill their role as productive members of society, one might as well consult a crystal ball.

crystal ball

Granted reading, writing and basic mathematical understanding will always have a role to play but the notion of a single career or job for life, as experience by previous generations, appears to be a thing of the past.  The nature of the workplace, and indeed work itself, seems to be constantly evolving to meet the change needs of the world around us, again due in not small part to technology.  The world has become a much smaller place and the students in our classroom will be competing, not only with the children sitting beside them for jobs, but with their counterparts from all around the world.  They are entering a competitive and rapidly changing work environment operating on a global scale.  So what skills will serve them best, given that we cannot predict exactly what those work environments might look like next year, let along 20 years from now?

In Siemens (2008) article, he alludes the increasing importance of mindset – “The development of a certain type of person with certain mindsets exceeds the importance of being in possession of a particular type of knowledge—becoming in contrast with knowing.”

Which brings me back to the work of Carol Dweck and her research into how an individual’s mindset can impact on both achievement and success.  Though I have made mention of Carol’s work before, I include the following explanation by way of further elaboration.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. (Dweck, 2010)

It seems to me that in preparing for an largely unknown future, the ability to be optimistic, resilient, hard working and determined provide a pretty solid foundation upon which to adapt, survive and even thrive in such a world.

Granted there will be those that say that students need the 3Rs and to be technological literate and I agree.  But if you have belief in your capacity to adapt and learn, and understand that that process requires hard work and commitment, I would also argue that you have the tools to learn, unlearn and relearn the skills required to be productive in any workplace, and surely that increases your employability.

I would also argue the importance of ‘Character Education’ in preparing students to not just be productive member of society but leaders within that society as well.  But perhaps that is a discussion best left for another day!

It would seem that my thoughts are running away with me a little (surprise, surprise), so I have decided to break this post into two parts, having covered the WHAT, see Part 2 for the HOW!


Dweck, C. (2010). What is Mindset. Retrieved August 31, 2014, from

Siemens, G. (2008). New structures and spaces of learning: The systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism, and networked learning. Actas Do Encontro Sobre Web.



Creative Commons - by-nc Image by Jonathan Cohen

crystal ball


Creative Commons - by-nc Image by byronv2


One response to “New Structures and Spaces of Learning – the WHAT

  1. Pingback: How NGL can inform my role as teacher | EVEN ELMO'S GOT A MOBILE

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