Investing in the New Culture of Learning


Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown talk of a new culture of learning: one focused on process and engaging within our environments, and using digital media as a tool to enhance the experience. The various schools highlighted in the video Digital Media- New Learners of the 21st Century are living this new culture of learning. The stories shared in this documentary are compelling. Students are using various forms of digital media to showcase their knowledge of traditional K-12 topics in engaging ways. Seemingly, quite successfully at that.

I am sold. I have been sold for some time. My personal philosophy of teaching and learning follows this new culture of learning. I believe in this approach wholeheartedly and live it as congruently as I am able. I am invested.

Are educational institutions invested? I’m not very sold on that one. And here is where I digress a bit.

I want to believe that such all educational institutions, primary through higher, would be invested in adjusting their approach to something more meaningful…and dare I say, effective. I am continuously frustrated by what I see in classrooms closest to me. In higher education, greater value is placed on bringing in substantial funding for research. Faculty are hired, especially in Research-1 schools, to conduct research. I am certainly not downplaying this essential activity. Research must continue to happen. It should be valued. But at the expense of our students’ learning?

In my experiences, personally and professionally, I have found that value is not placed on quality teaching in higher education. Faculty who conduct phenomenal and incredibly important research are not always the best teachers. Even if they are devoted to providing a learning environment in line with this new culture of learning, their time is precious and inflexible. How can they put in the time and effort to cultivate this culture when they barely have time to eat lunch some days? How can they foster the process and learning within environments with 100+ students in a class? Hence, lectures become the easiest way to get through.

Despite my somewhat negative statements thus far, I fully believe that the vast majority  of educators want their students to actually learn something in their courses. Unfortunately, we do not have the support and tools to fully implement the new culture of learning Thomas and Brown speak of. How do we convince the powers above to invest in this culture with us to provide us what we need? I am encouraged by a growing movement of Collegiate Professors- faculty primarily hired for their pedagogical practices. Virginia Tech has recently joined this trend. I only hope that other colleges and universities will follow suit, and begin to equally value teaching alongside research.



American Association of University Professors- Virginia Tech Chapter. (2016, April 15). Comments on collegiate professor series. Retrieved from

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). Digital media: New learners of the 21st century [Video file]. Retrieved from

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





4 thoughts on “Investing in the New Culture of Learning

  1. Thank you for your post. I enjoyed reading it since I believe the issues you mentioned are there and a lot of people know about them but cannot do/want to do anything for getting them improved. I might digress but I wanted to emphasis that the quality of teaching is really important, might be the most important issue. We are talking about educating, not just transformation of information and evaluation of the fact that who remembers what! Majority of the teachers and the students are concerned about grades only, but here is the question at the end of the day when we finish a course, what did I learn? and the course topics are minor portions of it! what we do is we justify the answer to that question by the great grade that we got and forget about it.


  2. You bring up some fantastic points Mary. I think that is the next step in the educational revolution, to educate policy makers on what it effective rather than what is not working anymore. I do believe that there is a possibility of striking balance and I think for us as educators, we need to find what that balance looks like for our respective professions.


  3. You discussed a very important issue. The reality is most of faculty members who invest time in research do not have enough time to think about the quality of learning, granted they care about this. Part of this comes from institutional structure which creates pressure on faculty, and in particular those who started the journey. Perhaps initiatives like the one you mentioned can be one approach that institutions can adopt to highlight the importance of teaching and learning.


  4. Hi Mary—I liked your post too. I wish quality teaching was more rewarded. Do you think that integrating digital learning in the classroom might offer some solutions to some of the barriers you mentioned that that teachers face?


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