Is there a new (media-)historical type of learning emerging?

Sebastian Fiedler

In my recent live presentation/session for PLENK2010 I was trying to argue that if we want to get any further with the notion of Personal Learning Environments (PLE), we need to stop staring exclusively at the current (and transient) level of technological (Web) development. Instead, we need to analyse the “personal learning” side more seriously.

One possible perspective to take here is a (socio-)historical one. What types of learning have emerged over time and coupled to what (media-)historical developments? Personally, I find it rather useless to talk about environments for personal learning (or Personal Learning Environments) without an exploration of the types of learning (or the types of learning activity) these, so called, environments are supposed to constitute, support, or facilitate (you name it).

In their recent book chapter “Lernkultur oder Lernkulturen – was ist neu an der ,Kultur des Lernens’?” Erdmann & Rückriem (2010) discuss, among other things, the emergence of new types of learning (Lernformen). In this context they provide a short and simplified overview of three central (media)-historical types of learning that they distinguish:

  • Contextualised, experience-based learning
    (kontextualisierts erfahrungsbasiertes Lernen)

    “Learning” is coupled to the body and (mostly local) social practice. Think: observation, co-ordinated action, apprenticeship, and so forth.

  • De-contextualised, knowledge-based taught-learning
    (dekontextualisiertes wissensbasiertes Lehr-Lernen)

    Book- & text-culture allow for the emergence of a new media-historical from of “knowledge”. The book (text) becomes the new leading medium. In this context “learning” emerges as “activity” (Lerntätigkeit). De-contextualised, systematic taucht-learning becomes the dominant format and gets institutionalised in “school”. Contextualised, experience-based learning is gradually de-valued in society and taught-learning is treated as “learning” par excellence.

  • Re-contextualised, sense-constituting, reflexive learning
    (rekontextualisiertes sinnkonstituierendes reflexives Lernen)

    what gets on centre-stage is the learning of sense-constituting. Erdmann & Rückriem acknowledge that the former (media-)historical types of learning were also “sense-based”, of course. However, sense was either coupled with the actual contextualised personal (and social) experience, or the de-contextualised (book-)knowledge. What the authors see emerging is the de-coupling of knowledge (generating?) system(s) and meaning (generating/constituting?) systems(s) in the information society. Learning how to constitute sense becomes thus an important individual and societal task. This new type of learning can be (should be?) characterised as net-worked (I spare me a more detailed description of the “networkedness” as it is understood by Erdmann & Rückriem).

Erdmann & Rückriem prosose that these historical types of learning have emerged and developed in a successive, irreversible manner. However, they co-exist largely unconnected (which is really to be expected in the early stage of the ongoing cultural transformation).

I am not trying to say that Erdmann & Rückriem (2010) are drawing the one and only meaningful distinctions here. Nevertheless, they point us in an increasingly important direction for analysis and discourse:

…if we want to theorise about “learning” what boundaries do we want to draw? … and why?

…do we want to model individuals, groups, networks, organisations, etc. as the agents (of learning)?

…if we choose to model “personal learning” … what types of learning (Lernform) do we want to (or should we) focus on in the light of the ongoing (digital) transformation?

…if there is really a new (media-historical) type of learning emerging, how would a “personal learning environment” for such type of learning have to look like?

… and so on…


Erdmann, J. W., & Rückriem, G. (2010). Lernkultur oder Lernkulturen – was ist neu an der ,Kultur des Lernens’? In G. Rückriem & H. Giest (Eds.), Tätitgkeitsteorie und (Wissens-)Gesellschaft (pp. 15-52). Berlin: Lehmans Media.

[Sebastian Fiedler]

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