Immersive, Collaborative Simulations and Neomillennial Learning Styles: Implications for Education
Chris Dede, Harvard University


WARNING: Sketchy session notes follow.

Dede opens with an overview of evolutionary changes in education:

  • 21st century learner is different than 20th century
  • changes are transforming workplace and economy
  • world too complex to fully understand on the individual level
  • need flexibility & tolerance

We’re all familiar with the flat world implications: individuals are empowered to collaborate and act in ways that can have global implications.

Dede cites Levy and Murnane’s The New Division of Labor and extracts two salient take-away skills for the 21st century learners: expert decision making and complex communication.

We’re familiar with the traditional learning style modalities. Dede posits a new one: media-based.

Contrast between current, millennial learning styles, which focus on collecting and comparing multiple sources of information via the web—mindless accumulation—and neomillenial styles, which seek, sieve, and synthesize information.

Thinking has become distributed.

What are today’s challenges? Where are students today? Enter the neomillennial, and what Dede multi-syllabically calls "colllective problem resolution via mediated interaction." Neomillennials will learn in the next generation of interfaces, including multi-user virtual environments and ubiquitous computing.

We’re familiar with powerful pedagogical models: guided inquiry in which students actively construct knowledge, apprenticeship or mentoring situations, etc. Situated learning involves apprenticeship elements, moving from novice to mastery, with what Dede calls legtimate peripheral participation. The student learns from the periphery in a tacit observer role, then moves into a more active, participatory role.

A different pedagogical model is needed, where experiences are central, knowledge is situated in context, and measures of quality include repuation, experiences, and accomplishments. A neomillennial learning style hallmark is fluency in multiple media, valuing each for what it empowers the learner to do and know; the millennial learner tends to specialize in the media or tool that’s most comfortable or best suited to his or her strengths. The neomillennial leverages the whole works, and is constantly inventing and learning new forms of rhetoric along the way. Learning is based on accumulated experiences rather than simply raw information.

What are the professional development implications? The teacher of the neomillennial should keep these points in mind:

  • co-designing the learning environment with students
  • co-teaching with students
  • guided social constructivism and situated learning
  • assessment that goes beyond tests and papers

Changing patterns in adults is emotional and social, not just intellectual. Professional development should support teachers in communities of un-learning. It’s as important to unlearn outmoded patterns as to learn new ones.