Five Building Blocks for Digital Learning

A starting point for designing learning that integrates technology in purposeful ways

In recent post, Bella Funck explored the idea of unbundling learning as a key 21st century approach. Unbundling liberates learning from traditional settings and opens up new ways to make it effective, lasting, and even transformational. She writes:

When we unbundle, it quickly becomes clear that there are infinite ways to creatively recombine and mix building blocks to serve different situations and learner needs — and use a purposeful blend of technologies

An unbundling approach can help educators go beyond conventional one-size-fits-all lesson/course/program formats that we tend to fall back on. In this post, I’ll break down five common building blocks of learning and give concrete examples of how you can use them in unbundled ways.

Digital Learning?

Before the building blocks, a few words on digital learning. At Colearn, we think of digital learning as the integration of technology in purposeful ways that actually makes learning more effective. It’s not about online vs. offline. It’s about asking: how can I use technology to enhance the experience and outcomes for my learners in this situation? Sometimes you might use a lot of technology in a learning experience. Other times none at all. It’s about making active, well-informed, creative choices. And the unbundling approach can help!

Five Building Blocks

Okay, where to start? The key to designing great unbundled learning is to have a solid understanding of different building blocks. You need to know when and how to use each, as well as useful technologies and services that can support. As a starting point, here are five building blocks from our learning framework, and some examples of how they can be used.

1. Content

Use content to help learners discover new ideas and information when and how it’s relevant for them. Unbundling content is about liberating content consumption from the classroom/learning environment, by making material accessible to learners in ways that make it more relevant and personalized. For example:

  • Curating diverse collections of content that learners can explore on their own
  • Spacing content delivery in easily digestible chunks at regular intervals
  • Having learners seek out and share the best & most relevant content they discover

Try this: Build a simple website, where a rich collection of curated content is available to your learners. Have them seek out, digest and apply the content, as needed, throughout the learning journey. One free and easy service to use for this is Google Sites.

2. Collaboration

Use collaboration to get your learners working together, co-creating, and learning from each other. Unbundling collaboration is about giving learners space and time to work together in ways that get them learning from each other, strengthening social skills and bringing their ideas to life. For example:

  • Creating project briefs that teams complete independently with guidance
  • Creating a digital learning community with your group, to foster continuous collaboration
  • Having learners reach out beyond the ‘participant group’ to find partners to work with

Try this: Create a digital learning community where learners can share, exchange, ask questions, reflect and work together in any number of sub-groups and working teams. Encourage active participation and a culture of sharing and support. One free service to use for this is Slack.

3. Reflection

Use reflection to give learners the chance to extract insights from experience and figure out how to apply them. Unbundling reflection is about going deeper than most learning does by creating moments for deliberate and structured processing and insight generation. This is what makes learning personal, emotional and actionable. For example:

  • Having learners keep a reflection journal, based on given prompts, that they share with peers
  • Having physical or digital meet-ups to have learners reflect together in small groups
  • Having participants turn their insights into stories that can be shared

Try this: After having participants reflect individually or in groups, get them to package their insights in the form of a digital story, using whatever media formats they prefer (audio, video, images, etc.) Have them share what they create with each other and/or their wider social networks.

4. Research & Inquiry

Use research and inquiry to get learners actively seeking out knowledge, ideas and perspectives from diverse sources. Unbundling research is about making learners the agents of their own learning by challenging them to explore outside the learning environment and find relevant input for themselves and their peers. For example:

  • Have learners go out and interview “users” or people affected by a relevant issue
  • Give learners a research brief to dig into a certain topic and then present back to peers
  • Get learners to identify relevant experts and invite a few of them into the learning environment for a panel

Try this: In the lead up to a learning experience, give all learners the task to interview 2–3 people who are connected to the key topics but not part of the learning group (e.g. people affected by a relevant challenge, coworkers, stakeholders, etc.) Get them to summarize their insights in a shared document, like a Google Doc, and later present to the group

5. Experimentation

Use experimentation to get learners putting ideas into action in a real-life context where they can see results, iterate, and then experiment again. This is about helping learners build confidence and competence to apply their skills in a range of settings and situations. For example:

  • Get learners to practice one specific skill or method outside the learning environment, within a set period of time
  • Have learners create something tangible (a presentation, piece of writing, video) that they put out in their network and ask for feedback
  • Get learners to lead a workshop with their own peers to test an idea or practice a skill and get feedback from peers

Try this: Use freely software for prototyping and media production and have your learners bring their ideas to life in tangible ways. Challenge them to jump to the end and learn by making and testing. Get them sharing with each other and with the world for feedback as early-on as possible. On easy and free tool for prototyping is Marvel.

What will you create?

Each building block above represents one powerful way to foster learning. Different situations and groups of learners will call for different combinations of blocks. Using an unbundling approach, you can choose and combine the mix of building blocks that will best serve your context.R

Finally, remember to use tech purposefully, not just because it’s there. Nearly all the examples in the bullets above could be put into practice with or without the use of technology. The suggestions of approaches to try show what a tech-enabled approach can look like, but you can easily imagine analog versions of each. Start with your learners, your purpose and key desired outcomes in mind — and integrate technology from there.

How might you use the building blocks above to create the next learning journey for your learners? Let us know in a comment or join us and share in the Colearn Community.

Are you driving learning in your organization and based in Stockholm, Sweden? If so, join us for a free half-day workshop on May 17th: The Future of Learning in Organizations. Seats are limited!