Addressing 21st Century Learning in a Socially Mediated Learning Environment

With the inclusion of Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom, we are seeing today’s modern student struggle to manage the massive amount of information in their world, but even more we are seeing education struggling to adapt and build on this new media. The organization and gathering of information from the internet has led to the students developing a different type of literacy. This has been described by Kress (2005) as “multimodal approaches” (p. 1) and reinforces the idea that students are working in different manners to understand the world around them. The use of tags, social media, bookmarks and other commonplace Web 2.0 tools and applications allows users of internet technology the ability to sort, organize and create a digital profile that is individual and unique for every person (Alexander, 2006, p. 34). It is this type of personalized digital experience that is altering the way in which today’s students learn and interact with their learning material, their instructors and each other.

As Bolter (2001) suggests, writing allows one to reflect and explore themselves (p. 189). As the current generation of learners interact in writing practices that are more collaborative and open in nature than previous generations, one concern may be the loss of one’s own personal identity. It seems however, that the use of such media tools as tags in services such as (Alexander, 2006, p.34) is providing learners the ability to define themselves in their own terms. Drawing on Bolter’s (2001) conclusion on this subject it seems the use of digital mediums for communication will not threaten the identity of individual students, but rather “they participate in our ongoing cultural redefinitions of self, knowledge, and experience” (p.189). This thought from Bolter (2001) seems to emphasise that it is the definition of identity that is changing rather than personal identity itself. Digital media is redefining cultural aspects such as identity, literacy, culture and writing (Bolter, 2001, p. 204) a sentiment that is also emphasised by Wesch (2007) in his YouTube video “The Machine is Us/ing Us” (Wesch, 2007).

Today’s more socialized learning requires students to define themselves in terms of the digital technology that defines their social setting (Bolter, 2001, p. 201).  The use of Twitter, Facebook and similar social media has allowed individuals to share their personal thoughts and feelings with others around the globe; it will be the educator’s role to use these tools to reach students on a format they are comfortable with. It is these connections and the collaboration between students that has led to the creation of new knowledge and a culture of sharing. Wikipedia is an example provided by Alexander (2006, p. 36) that shows the power of this collective and collaborative creation in the digital medium. With ubiquitous access to the internet and social media services that cost nothing, or next to nothing, for students or teachers to use, we will undoubtedly see education begin to integrate this kind of shared knowledge and learning.

With students owning their own personal wireless devices and being able to access the internet in countless numbers of places, the creation of their digital identity remains constant and continuous. These devices also provide students and educators with the ability to constantly be interacting not only with each other, but with the information about the world around them. Wesch (2008) describes this in a talk given at the Library of Congress, where he describes this interaction as “user generated organization”, “user generated content” and “user generated knowledge” (Wesch, 2008). An educator’s roll now becomes to lead students to understand how to sort, analyze and create understanding from all the information they find on the internet. This is how 21st century learning skills need to be addressed in the social context of learning today.  We can link this to the New London Group’s (1996) idea of “design” (p.65) as the meaning of literacy, and thereby learning, is changed by those that use it. This links well with Wesch’s (2007) idea of “form and content” and how digital media is able to alter each one separately to achieve a desired outcome. This redefinition of societal norms through how individuals use new media used by individuals has had an impact on not only the communication between of individuals but also their learning.

In conclusion, the adaptation of new media into lives of students has created a major change in the way students interact not only with each other but with the content in which they are submersed. The digital environment has become a “mediascape” (Wesch, 2008), and has grown to include interactions as well as information. This includes the many different methods that users are able to interact with each other and the form and content of the media they are involved with. As the use of Web 2.0 media continues to link people together, education will need to adapt to fit the needs of 21st Century learners in their desire to be connected. This includes digital writing, video and audio, to bring students together in a manner that enhances their understanding and learning about the world around them. The combining of these forms pushes onto users a new definition of literacy in that one must be efficient at navigating all forms of media into a combined “hypermedia” (Bolter, 2001, p. 155) that will truly define a new generation of learning.



Alexander, B. (2006) Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and  learning? Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44.  Accessed online March 2, 2009.

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print[2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Kress, G. R. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition; Special Issue on the Influence of Gunther Kress’ Work, 22(1), 5-22.

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

Wesch, M. (2006). The Machines are Us/ing Us. Retrived from

Wesch, M. (2008). An Anthroprological Introduction to Youtube. Library of Congress lecture. Retrieved from

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