So here is the money quote from the just released study from the MacArthur Foundation titled “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project” (pdf):

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in  classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and  the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented toward set, predefined goals.

I would take a few thousand words to unpack just that paragraph in terms of what the implications are for schools, and if we read that without some sense of both fear and excitement, I just don’t think we’re paying attention.

And please, send your administrators and IT folks this message in 42-point bold type:

Social and recreational new media use as a site of learning. Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technological skills they   need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning. Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access “serious” online information and culture. Youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration that are generally not characteristic of educational institutions. (Emphasis mine.)

Finally, sit down, and mull this concept over:

Youth using new media often learn from their peers, not teachers or adults, and notions of expertise and authority have been turned on their heads. Such learning differs fundamentally from traditional instruction and is often framed negatively by adults as a means of “peer pressure.” Yet adults can still have tremendous influence in setting “learning goals,” particularly on the interest-driven side, where adult hobbyists function as role models and more experienced peers.

Let me try to make a few points that come quickly to mind.

  • Kids respect other’s knowledge online because their knowledge and expertise is transparent in ways they haven’t been in the past. The study says that kids “geek out” by finding those who share their interests both inside and outside of their face to face groups. What a surprise.
  • They are more motivated to learn from their peers because they can connect around their shared passions, most of which the adults in the room don’t share.
  • They are self-directed because they can be. They can get what they need when they need it.
  • Their learning is “knowmadic”, as is most learning in the real world outside of school. We’re not linear, test assessed learners once we leave the system, are we?
  • We have to be more willing to support this type of learning rather than prevent it, but, as always, we have to understand it for ourselves as well.

So stop reading this and go read the report, and let these questions hang:

New role for education? Youths’ participation in this networked world suggests new ways of thinking about the role of education. What would it mean to really exploit the potential of the learning opportunities available through online resources and networks? Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally? Finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from engaged and diverse publics that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions?

What do you think?