October 20, 2011

Introducing the Digital Learning Quadrants

This is the follow-up post and answer to “The Fallacy of Digital Natives“.

Let us agree, therefore, that regardless of age or situation, the learning process is one in which any learner can utilize formal, informal and social means to actually learn. It has nothing to do with generational divides.

If we were to re-categorize the foolish Prensky and Tapscott terms of Net Generation, Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants into a classification that encompasses all ages and takes into account the realities of access and participation levels, we might use the following:

The definitions presuppose we have consensus that learning can (and perhaps does) occur with the aid of technology mediums but regardless of age.

Those that are Millennial have equal the opportunity to learn in a digital way if the environment exists in terms of levels of access and participation as with those in GenX, Baby Boomer or Silent Generation types.

The four classifications outlined above are connoted by a combination of one’s access level through digital means as well as their own personal level of participation. The higher degree of access to digital learning methods, coupled by the participatory level of the individual, equates to their position in the ‘Digital Learning Quadrants’.

These definitions are not age discriminatory. They are based solely on the learner’s willingness to participate and to what degree they choose to (or can) access digital technologies that might aid in the learning process. It also takes into account the fact many individuals in the world have no access to learn through technology whatsoever.

And yes, learning CAN occur without technology; I’m merely having a ‘go’ at the myths surrounding the terms Digital Natives, Net Generation and Digital Immigrants.

  • Disconnected Nomad
    • This type of learner has no or very low access to technology coupled by a low or non-existent level of participation. Millions of individuals in the world fit into this category. Think of the poor, the homeless, those starving in parts of the world; they may never have seen a laptop, tablet or mobile device (let alone use it to learn) thus they have a non-existent level of access. This category also includes those individuals who, on limited occasion, utilize technology at a public library, school, community center, or friend/family’s home to access and participate in limited ways. They may want to participate more, but access prevents them from doing so. Regardless of age or generation, this is a category that needs the biggest level of assistance from a global perspective and from the learning and Enterprise 2.0 community as a whole.
  • Connected Lurker
    • This type of learner has a number of technologies and levels of access at their disposal, but they consciously decide to be a part-time or infrequent participant. Although lurking is learning, they much prefer to consume, absorb and interpret available collateral than actively participate with others or contribute back. It’s their natural style to be on the periphery soaking everything in. Their access levels range from internet at home/work up to and including full media-rich, mobile and tablet ‘always on’ access. They may have a work computer but as they move up the device chain, they begin to acquire other apparatus including home computers, tablets, online video consoles, cell phones and/or smart phones. The key differentiator is that even as the number of devices or level of access increases, this learner tends to occassionally participate rather than on a continuous basis.
  • Willing Participant
    • This type of learner is handicapped only by time and tools. As a ‘willing participant’ they possess the enthusiasm to actively be a part of the learning process as often and as best they can. Access to technology and thus the tools to connect, share and exchange thoughts in a timely basis can cause learning friction. They seek out ways in which to connect, but can bump into technology access roadblocks. For example, recent data released by Statistics Canada suggests 71% of Canadian households have a desktop computer with internet access. Urban areas with 100,000+ residents possess 81% home internet access penetration rates whereas areas with less than 10,000 contain 71% home internet access penetration rates. 15% of Canadians lack a device at home to actually get online and 12% lack confidence to connect to the internet itself. Willing participants in the learning process yes, but technology access becomes a burden.
  • Collaborative Learner
    • This type of learner has access to at least one device and the internet most of if not all the time. As they progress up the quadrant, multiple devices and a continuous stream of internet access, it affords them the opportunity to be connected wherever and whenever. To complement their access riches, this learner also prefers to be at least partially if not fully participative in the learning process. They are not one to sit quietly in the background, rather, they seek out content, knowledge and intellect as often as they are willing to contribute back to their strong and weak-tie networks. The ‘collaborative learner’ considers the technology and access to it to be an essential component of the learning process itself. They often and naturally utilize the ‘collaboration cycle’ as a means in which to achieve success in their learning quest.

In summary … learning and technology has nothing to do with generational divides.
Do you agree?

11 Replies to “Introducing the Digital Learning Quadrants”

  1. Dan,

    While I agree with the premise and the break-down of the how and the type of “learning” that takes place on-line, the question that arises for me is, but what are we learning. There is no argument that digitally we have much greater access to information and a greater potential to “learn”. But who is to say that what we are learning is worth learning at all. Are we at least some of the time filling our heads and wasting our time with the nonsense of the masses. With the ease of which information can be disseminated, and with virtually no barrier to being viewed as an “expert, the danger is we become a culture where there is no real truth. Anyone with an opinion, an Iphone and some ability to write can “teach” . So while with traditional style learning we lose the benefits we gain from digital learning, we at least had information that had a strict process to follow in terms of being considered truth, or even slightly correct. So, the question becomes, not can we learn digitally, but how should we be learning digitally and from whom. Learning digitally is not going to go away, but we need to get a handle on what is being taught.

    1. But surely James the only person capable of determining the ‘worth’ of what they are learning is the learner themselves?

      And ‘from whom’ should we be learning? Why everyone and anyone perhaps? Should we not be encouraging our young people to develop the critical skills to judge the value and veracity of the information they are processing?

  2. I was excited by the quadrant at first, but what I’m really looking for is a greater degree of granularity. I’m trying to make visible the learning my pre-service teachers are doing and visualize the changes they are making toward more active participation in collaborative learning.

  3. You have made an excellent argument for revising the concept of digital natives/immigrants and I agree with your premise. I do think that learning digitally crosses generational lines though there are differences as younger generations would have only known what its like to be connected and don’t have the historical perspective of how new this level of access is. I do have some reservations about how you have categorized the 4 quadrants though. While I like this set-up to describe digital learners, I have some reservations about the use of the work “lurker” in “Connected Lurker.” This word carries significant negative connotations that I don’t think you intend to imply from the description of this type of learner. I’m also not sure about the breadth of people included in “Disconnected Nomad.” While I agree that homeless and poor in countries around the world lack digital access, I wouldn’t incude them in the group but perhaps have an outer circle that are not even part of these quadrants because this population is vastly different from the other group you include who have some access and do occasionally use computers to read or find out information. Finally, I agree that a vast population of learners who are wiling lack home access, but many of these often do have access at schools or work and that connection can be quite rich and interactive. On the other hand, there are students who have high interactive digital access outside the classroom, but the schools they are in lack high quality technology. Which student is actually learning more? I’m not sure how to incorporate that into your scenario but this problem does exist.

  4. I agree with your statement “that regardless of age or situation, the learning process is one in which any learner can utilize formal, informal and social means to actually learn. It has nothing to do with generational divides.”
    However, I think there is a lot more to be gained by looking at the practice of individuals in different contexts than by classifying them per se.
    You might be interested to check out some conversation going on in another corner of the blogosphere http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/digital-literacies-in-he-constructive-dialogue-between-teachers-and-students/

  5. I agree with this framework completely, and hope some day we see all people as learners…get rid of pedagogy and andragogy labels, and just help each person learn. Mentoring beats labeling in my book.

  6. I mostly agree with your definitions, but again then something is wrong with the model, where you only operate with the concept of learning in one of the squares. We learn – for example from Schön and others that the lurking position can bring about quite a lot. A danish situated learner researcher once found that teens could learn to operate an aeroplane just by visiting the pilot during an ordinary flight with their parents. We should not underestimate the lurker! He/She is also in the future a potential participant, right? And there are many reasons for the lurking position. Best wishes from Rene

  7. […] In fact, I tend to lean towards Dan Pontefract’s reclassification of Prensky and Tapscott’s Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Pontefract’s categorisation cuts across the generations and focuses on the individual’s accessibility to the digital world. He classifies us in terms of our ability and willingness to access and participate in this world. Although in his classification he refers to Learners, I think that it can be extended beyond just the learning domain. Below is his four quadrant model. Dan Pontefract: Digital Learning Quadrants. […]

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