Significant Learning Environments

True learning is much more than transferring knowledge from one person to another.  We, as educators, must adapt to this new culture of learning to help bridge the gap of educational systems modeled to fit twentieth century learners, being applied to a generation of twenty-first century learners.  We have a world of information and resources lying at the tips of our fingers. “The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 19). The question is- will we allow our students to utilize it?

In a collective, people belong in order to learn

The main idea I want to try to focus on bringing into my classrooms for now is forming a collective versus a community. Thomas and Brown (2011) described collectives as being “defined by an active engagement with the process of learning” (p. 52). I want to create an environment where my students can interact with each other in order to enhance their learning experience.  I want my classes to promote peer-to-peer interaction where students are actually bringing information with them to class to share with their colleagues, rather than coming to class, taking their seat, and waiting for me to come in and pass the information to them. “In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p.52). I want our students to be a part of our classes to learn, not just to get the grade and move forward.  I want them to absorb, understand, and retain the information we cover as a whole, not just faintly grasp the small pieces of the puzzle here and there.  “Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 53).

change motivates and challenges

This change will not come without obstacles and challenges, but as Thomas and Brown (2011) stated, “change motivates and challenges” (p.43).  I am most certain that my most difficult obstacle will be balancing the new culture of learning styles with pieces of the old style that we will have to keep.  In my field, there are certain things that still must be taught as memorization and step-by-step processes. “Learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine… The ultimate endpoint of a mechanistic perspective is efficiency” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 35).  Some of my classes are teaching students how to use machines to perform certain job duties, and future employers want these routine maintenance jobs to be performed in a timely manner; therefore, efficiency is key, and these topics must be taught that way.  While teaching my students how to perform these tasks in the most efficient way possible, my goal is to also incorporate the new culture of learning and try to make sure they have the full understanding of what they are doing, why they are doing it, what the outcome should be, why the outcome should be that, and what could possibly go wrong.  If my students have this complete holistic view of our course content, I have no doubt they will be some of the best technicians in our area!

How will I overcome this? Good question. Yes, I have to teach the processes and techniques, and I have to teach them a certain way; but I do not have to stop at teaching just the basics. “What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention?” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 81). If we could adopt the mindset that Thomas and Brown (2011) share of inspiring students to ask questions that truly interest them about information they really care about, and explain to our students that the questions they have are more important than the answers they can or cannot provide, I honestly feel like we will achieve a deeper engagement and learning process with our students as they dig to find the missing information.

If executed properly, this new style of learning environment will help my students find the perfect ratio of memorization and fact recalling, without becoming blinded by dangerous hazards that exist in the field. Learning through memorization is great for things that do not change often such as formulas, procedures, and maintenance techniques on certain equipment; however, our students must know more than the “steps” in order to perform their jobs safely (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 35). The students must know the entire scenario: the process, the product, the cause, the effect, the hazards, the potentials, etc. If we can achieve this deep understanding and true knowledge of the big picture, while still incorporating the factual information and steps to follow, it will become a huge accomplishment for our organization, and will definitely be recognized be our field partners that become our students’ future employers.  We have the chance to greatly reduce and hopefully eliminate the potential tunnel vision created by memorization alone which in turn possibly leads to injuries and accidents on the job.

viewing the future as a set of new possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust

One more obstacle that I foresee encountering as I look to implement this new culture of learning is the resistance from my fellow faculty members. “It’s time to shift our thinking from the old model of teaching to a new model of learning” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 34). I work with many old-school, very traditional instructors, who still believe and practice the: come to class, sit down, I teach, and you learn, techniques of education.  I am trying to help them transition their way of thinking from us “giving into” our students, to us helping our students reach their full potential.  I learned a new perspective on this recently as Thomas and Brown (2011) state, “Embracing change means… viewing the future as a set of new possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust” (p.43).  This idea goes along with my proactive not reactive argument.  If we initiate the positive changes we are wanting to make now, it will prevent us from being forced to adjust to unplanned changes down the road.  The education system is changing- bottom line.  How we initiate, adjust, embrace, and integrate that change within our classrooms is what counts. “The twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 43).

the new culture of learning focuses on learning through engagement within the world

In order to establish these ideas fully and actually implement these plans, we must begin to look at learning more holistically and naturally, and less structured and linear. “Holistic learning is basically the opposite of rote memorization. Instead of trying to pound information into your brain with the hopes it will simply fall out when you need it, holistic learning is the process of weaving the knowledge you are learning into everything you already understand” (Young, 2007, p. 8).  We cannot expect our students to memorize each and every fact about every detail of each subject we cover. Instead, we must encourage our students to create idea chunks based on models, metaphors, examples, experiences, and prior knowledge and understandings, then form connections of these chunks to create a web of knowledge about the topic to produce a thorough understanding and detailed connection of each integral piece of the topic. “Holistic learning is messy. It doesn’t put things into boxes neatly. Instead it tightly interweaves concepts together” (Young, 2007, p. 9).  Tying the pieces of this information together and truly understanding how they connect and relate will help our students develop the detailed big picture that we strive for them to see.  In 2011, Thomas and Brown’s statement, “teaching-based approach focuses on teaching us about the world, while the new culture of learning focuses on learning through engagement within the world” (p. 38), is another example of the importance of us, as educators, needing to help our students link their learning experiences to the world which they are comfortable and familiar with and establish the relationship between the information they are learning, and the knowledge they currently have.

Where imaginations play, learning happens

We know the world we are living in is constantly changing, and as Thomas and Brown (2011) say, “Change forces us to learn differently” (p. 43).  Because we need to learn differently, we must also teach differently.  We need to embrace the hope of the future, initiate the change, incorporate our students’ passions, and engage their imaginations.  If this new culture of learning environment is successfully implemented, it will in turn have an extremely positive impact on my Enhancing with E-Ports innovation plan, I am currently working on launching in my classrooms.  My students will be able to blog about, and incorporate their new learning experiences on their e-portfolios as they occur. My goal is to see positive feedback as students begin to develop a deeper understanding than any classes I have had come through my classes so far. After all, “Where imaginations play, learning happens” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 118).


Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: Author.

Young, S. H. (2007). Holistic learning [Blog post]. Retrieved from



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