How Active, Digital Learning Fosters Business Skills in Students

Image: CC-BY-NC-SA by Matthew Burpee on Flickr
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Why Learn in Community?

Active learning is not a new, revolutionary concept in education, but it has potential to foster relevant “social” business skills in students as never before.  Barr and Tagg’s (1995) article From Teaching to Learning and Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education have become foundational to institutional faculty development programs, emphasizing the benefits of student-centered learning environments.

Being a student in a course designed fully around learner-centered pedagogy might feel a lot more like being a member of a community than it does when you are sitting in a traditional lecture-based class.  And lecture-based social expectations are ingrained in our students.  Go ahead and try this — move the desks around in a jumbled mess your class on day one. Oh, are those desks bolted to the floor?  Well, that tells you something.  But if you can move them, I bet your students will arrange them in perfect rows and sit quietly awaiting you to begin the action.

In a community-based learning environment, the hierarchy between the students and the instructor shifts; the relationship is more flat.  Throughout the course, which is carefully designed around inquiry-guided and project-based activities, students become accountable for their learning. They participate in creating the value of their learning through constructing knowledge with their peers through the guidance of an engaged, participatory instructor.

To me and many other educators, the array of social technologies that make the creation of rich media content easy and free open a dazzling array of possibilities for active learning, particularly in the online and blended teaching space.

Image: CC-BY-NC-SA by Matthew Burpee on Flickr

Image: CC-BY-NC-SA by Matthew Burpee on Flickr

Connecting Pedagogy to the #SocialEra

While the pedagogical implications of community are not new, its relevance to 21st century business strategy is cutting edge.  And this, my dear Edugeeks, makes our jobs even more compelling and arguably valuable to the world at large.

Nilofer Merchant’s new book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, argues that organizations will need to adopt a new social strategy to succeed in the future.  In Merchants’ own words, her book is about “how individuals — connected with a shared purpose — can organize and create value in ways that once only centralized organizations (and people with positional power) could.”  If I was asked to describe the pedagogy I employ in my online classes, I could borrow those precise words.

A few of Merchant’s key principles that I find particularly compelling in a discussion about pedagogy in higher ed include (click here for a complete list):

  • Connections create value.
  • Power is built through community.
  • Collaboration > control.
  • Allow all talent.
  • Consumers become co-creators.
  • Mistakes can build trust.
  • Learn. Unlearn. (Repeat.)
  • Celebrate openness.

Reflecting on these tenets of business strategy in the new social era suggests that applying effective teaching practices in the classroom does more than just foster deep, relevant learning of one’s course objectives.  By designing our courses to have students use social technologies in support of active learning pedagogy, students will be encouraged to participate in the open, social web as they complete their formalized educational experiences.  This pathway into the future will lead us all, in the words of Howard Rheingold, into the construction of a more mindful society, “comprised of empowered participants, rather than passive consumers.”

References

Barr, R. & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning — A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change. Vol. 27, No.6.
Chickering, A. & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin. Vol. 39, no.7, pp.3-7

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