Learning Theories and the Pedagogy of Multiliteracies


In its 1996 Manifesto, the New London Group examined the radical changes in the personal, public and working lives of people which were being propelled by globalization, technological evolutions, and increasing cultural and social diversity. They laid out pedagogical recommendations which they believed would be conducive in preparing the students for these transformations. The New London Group recommended the need to allow for and to celebrate the diversity in the society instead of the earlier attempts in education to assimilate. They stated that, “The role of pedagogy is to develop an epistemology of pluralism that provides access without people having to erase or leave behind different subjectivities. This has to be the basis of a new norm.”

Their Recommendations

The New London Group postulated that this could be achieved by creating learning environments with the use of designs and multimodalities and by applying these designs and modalities to teach. Existing designs could be used, redesigned and then newer ones could be created in the learning process. They suggested a shift from absolute reliance on text to inclusion of other designs and symbols to create linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial, and multimodal meanings. Text was not only to be limited to paper but could be electronic, live, or multimedia. This way the New London Group acknowledged the crucial role of technology in education. The New London Group recommended that such learning designs should be applied in a socio-culturally relevant context (Situated practice) but with the guidance of the teacher to help analyse concepts through a dialogue (Overt instructions). The students would need to review, reflect, self-assess, and internalize their learning (Critical framing) before applying their learning to a new context (Transformed practice). They termed these recommendations the Pedagogy of Multiliteracies.

Realization of existing learning theories

While the members of the New London Group drew from their own theories and beliefs about pedagogy to come up with this landmark proposal, there are many preexisting pedagogical views that also found credibility and realization in their recommendations. In examining the pedagogy of multiliteracies, I saw application of views that were embedded in Vygotsky Social Development Theory, Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, Activity Theory, Situation Cognition, Distributed Learning, Constructivism, and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence. All these theories are grounded in pluralism. The tenets of these theories get amplified and work in coordination in the world of multiliteracies.

Vygotsky has been mentioned by the New London Group in their manifesto. Vyotsky’s Social Development Theory emphasizes that the learner learns relevant contexts through social interactions and collaborations. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development accentuates the need of guidance for the learner by a more knowledgeable individual to help understand and analyze concepts. Both of Vygotsky’s key ideas make the base of the pedagogical recommendations of situated practice and overt instructions made by the New London Group in applying Multiliteracies. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory also posits that people learn from one another in society through reciprocal determinism, where the society and the individual continue to impact each other. Learning is controlled by the individual and the environment. Nowhere is this more applicable now than in our interactive technological world and in the use of different modalities to interact with the environment, which the New London Group advances as essential tools for learning.

Activity theory, which finds its origin in Vygotsky’s beliefs, states that the artefacts or tools that exist in the community help learners build and experience knowledge. Such tools are effective with collaboration and social learning. These tools are a part of the design, and the multimodal representation recommended in Multiliteracies. The use of Web tools in a collaborative social environment demonstrates activity theory in practice.

Situated Cognition theorists suggest that learning is not about storage and retrieval but rather about the situation. Such views make knowledge inseparable from context, activity, people, culture, and language. They stress on the need to create knowledge within the Community of Practice. The New London Group also recognizes knowledge as being related to people, culture, and languages as a result of globalization and technological progress.

Hutchins(1995), who came up with the distributed cognition theory believes that “the mind is in the world (as opposed to the world being in the mind).” We learn from our environment through the tools and individuals using different media. Again, this theory embeds learning within a social milieu and emphasizes collective creation of knowledge.

The New London Group’s pedagogical plan of situated practice, overt instructions, critical framing, and transformed practice resonate with Driver and Oldham (1986) model for planning constructivist instructions. Their model had 5 elements of Orientation, Elicitation, Restructuring of Ideas, Application of Ideas and Review which synchronize well with the recommendation of the New London Group. The learning theory of constructivism promulgates all the views supported by Multiliteracies about relevancy of content, role of facilitators, social interaction and metacognition, and the need to apply learning to a new environment through activities like inquiry based, product based, project based, problem based or case based activities.

But above all I think by acknowledging that learning environments be designed to create linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial, and multimodal meanings, the Multiliteracies pedagogy has recognized and adopted Gardner’s Learning Theory which states that intelligence is multimodal.


The commonalities in the above mentioned theories clearly show that there was an existing awareness amongst the academics about the need to re-evaluate the existing views about education and attempts were being made to do so . The Pedagogy of Multiliteracies by the New London Group is but a very comprehensive culmination of the key concepts of these philosophies that had been evolving over the last few decades in the face of changing social, economic needs of the world.


New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

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