Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Learning in the digital age

Whereas in former times there was an assumption of high reliance by students on the knowledge base of lecturers to provide learning opportunities through lectures and books, digital media have made it possible for students to locate information of all sorts via the web without the intercession of teachers. This capability has changed the ways in which many regard learning, with a greater focus on ‘know how’ and ‘know why’ than on ‘know what’. This implies that university teachers should move away from transmissive models of learning to ones that involve higher levels of student interactivity, both in classrooms and in virtual learning environments.

As a consequence, every aspect of learning is in the process of change, from the ways in which students research for their assignments (using fewer books and hard copy journals, instead using electronic means), to their attitudes to attendance at lectures (‘If the notes are going to be on the web, do I really need to get out of bed to go to class?’), to reading (‘Do you mean to say you expect me to read a whole chapter?) and including their attitudes to unacknowledged use of others’ textual materials (‘If it’s on the web, it’s free for everyone to use, isn’t it?’).

We must not forget that there are huge differentials between universities in terms of access, not just to equipment (mobile devices, laptops, PCs, reliable servers) but also to infrastructure (networks, broadband speeds, liberty to access social networks and so on) and expertise (some academics are much better enabled to support their students through digital and social media than others).

Advice on promoting learning in the digital age:
  • Set out your expectations of how much students should read and the ways in which they should be differentially using texts: sometimes reading thoroughly for detailed comprehension, sometimes scanning as background reading and so on.
  • Consider setting tasks in the early stages of each programme that model the behaviours that you are seeking to promote, such as effective information searching (for example, showing why using Google scholar rather than just Google works better for academic activities) and how best to reference their sources (Pears and Shields, 2005).
  • When designing assignments, choose tasks that focus on use of knowledge to test understanding, rather than just recall and repetition.

Useful reading

Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (2013) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing for 21st century learning, 2nd edn, Abingdon: Routledge. Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2005) Cite them right: the essential guide to referencing and plagiarism.

For further thoughts on this area, see Chapters 1, 2 and 6 of Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives