In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 1


After quite some time of thinking, this is a summing up and an elaboration on some of the issues that have been under scrutiny in my explorations in this series of blog posts. It represents a recursive process, or maybe a matter of bricolage, as it reveals itself in four parts that can be read as one fairly short piece and three quite long pieces with pauses in between, or as a genuinely long read tuning in on 1) pedagogies in an era of knowledge abundance, 2) learning modes and a posthuman perspective, 3) the state of participatory culture and digital literacies, and 4) knowledge management and learning for and from the future.


Change has become the motive and a persistent concept in present discussions about the function and role of education and its relationship to society in a digital age. Developments in technology and media have led to not only rapidly changing knowledge but also to increasing sources of knowledge, and as a result change has pervaded the ideas of education, pedagogies and necessary skills and competences in an era of knowledge abundance and complexity. Some theorists are framing these changes as the result of the postmodern, some prefer to call it the late modern and others have named it the risk society, the knowledge society and the network society. Whether they are leaning on and propagating the ideas and the thinking of Castells, Bauman, Beck, Luhmann, Deleuze and Guattari, Latour or others, they are all concerned in teaching and learning in an era of knowledge abundance, considering what education is for and what education is about. And they wonder which pedagogies are suited for connecting knowledge while education is developing from Learning 2.0 to Learning 3.0 and seeing Learning 4.0 in the horizon. Just see Steve Wheeler’s Learning Modes Grid below – also introduced in Part 1 of this series on pedagogies in an era of knowledge abundance – to get a grip of the connections between developments in technology, media and pedagogies.

Learning Modes GridSteve Wheeler: Learning Mode Grid

I’ll add new characteristics to this model during this summing up while following some of the thinkers and researchers introduced in this series and drawing on others, too. These researchers and thinkers come together in their responses to the changes, the challenges and the possibilities in education, teaching and learning in a digital age, when they urge educators to rethink, reexamine, reimagine, recast, evaluate, update and redo the existing pedagogies and our models of learning and teaching to suit a world of knowledge abundance embracing digital media and new social and cultural practices. ‘Re-‘ as an approach to change in education implies that core conceptualizations and practices of relevant pedagogies are retained , but also that they are being realized in new forms due to the ongoing discussions about what education is about and what education is for.

But the question is not just what education is for and what education is about in a digital age and a time of knowledge abundance and complexity. It is also a question of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge in a phase of change when the function and role of education, including the focus of knowledge production, is moving from one state to another, from knowledge production and knowledge dissemination in the industrial society, or the modern, to a focus on development, circulation and use of new ideas and new knowledge in the postmodern, the late modern, the risk society, the knowledge society, the network society or the actor-networks, depending on which theory and conceptual framework one prefers. This is a main issue in the discussions of the relations between Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge production which I introduced in my comparison of rhizomatic learning with networked learning as possible pedagogies of abundance in Part 5 of this series. In the pieces summing up on this series I will extend this focus to modes of learning, modes of knowledge production and conceptions of knowledge and look into how they are incorporated into the idea of knowledge management and how they are influencing forms of learning and visions of teaching and learning for an unpredictable future.  This has an impact on how pedagogies might be reimagined and recast for a digital age and a time marked by rapid changes. And so they must be uncovered as part of the challenges put forward by Martin Weller that started off this series on pedagogies in an era of knowledge abundance:

“The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:232-233)

In line with Weller’s point of view Tony Bates has stated in his e-book “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015) that the development of skills should be given the same attention as content acquisition so that learners have both the knowledge and the skills needed to handle and succeed in a digital age characterized by for instance knowledge abundance. Bates emphasizes that knowledge management is perhaps the most important and overarching skill needed in the 21st century (Bates 2015:19). I quoted this statement in Part 5 of this series where I also introduced The Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden which is the knowledge management model that Dave Cormier has chosen to embody his vision of learning when he talks about rhizomatic learning in his video talks. But how does it all fit together, and what about participatory culture, digital literacies and the model of 21st century learning that I have brought into my attempts to pin down what pedagogies of abundance might look like? They are certainly aspects that go into the answers offered to Weller’s challenge, but what goes into seeing them as broader perspectives on pedagogies, teaching and learning practices, too? I will try to gather the bits and ends while summing up on this series on pedagogies, knowledge and knowledge management in a digital age.

A new model of education

Due to the effect the abundance of learning content and resources has on how we approach teaching, learning and education, Martin Weller suggested a shift in education from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’ in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011) As a consequence he also suggested a new model of education to replace the traditional model of education that has dominated higher education but also has influenced K-12 teaching and learning and its basic understandings of education.

A traditional model of education is based on that:

  • Expertise is scarce.
  • Learners come to the place where the experts are located.
  • The lecture is the place for students’ physical interaction with the expert.
  • Content – books and journals – are manufactured according to demand.
  • Access to content is scarce and only accessible through libraries. (Weller 2011:226)

and hence a pedagogy of scarcity has developed promoting:

  • A one-to-many model to make the best use of the scarce resource – that is the expert.
  • The lecture.
  • An instructivist pedagogy as a direct consequence of the demands for scarcity. (Weller 2011:226)

Now a new model of education emerges that builds on new developments in technology and media and on new forms of cultural competence which education needs to address:

  • Expertise is still rare, but access to content associated with it is now much easier – e.g. resources, critical analysis, dialogue, discussion and reflection are abundant.
  • The traditional model of supply-push needs to be replaced with one of demand-pull due to the growing demand for education and lifelong learning.
  • A shift to active participation will characterize students’ interaction with content and expertise.
  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:226-228)

As mentioned this new model of education emerges as a necessity for education to adapt to developments in technology and media in order to be relevant in a digital society. But it is also necessary to notice that technological changes are often merely part of much broader societal and historical developments causing societal change (Buckingham 2008:10). Caroline Haythornthwaite stresses this in her view on the impact of social and technical changes on emergent models of knowledge and educational practice, and this way Haythornthwaite is complementary to Weller’s new model of education when explaining what this shift from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’ means to pedagogy and educational practices:

 “The dynamic and emergent nature of our media and learning spaces reformulates questions away from what is the best structure, system, or set of facts to address a problem to how to plan for complexity, be prepared for emergent factors, and continue to evolve and use a knowledge base. This changes the orientation from: closed systems and communities to open systems and crowds; information retrieval to contribution; individual – to – social learning; individual – to – community knowledge-building (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 2006); authority-defined knowledge and practice – to – peer knowledge and practice; following a class syllabus and being in a class to defining the content of the class and what it means to be in  a class (Paulin & Haythorn-thwaite, in press)./This is not a call for a clean sweep of past questions and practices. These have worked well for many years and continue to be important ways of learning and knowledge building. But, like the complexity brought about by the interplay of contemporary new media trends, learning practices also have become more complex.” (Haythornthwaite 2015:302)

Weller and Haythornthwaite both agree on identifying significant changes in structures and authority within education, and they see the closely connected changes in cultural practices and in spaces for student’s agency as determining factors for changing and developing teaching, learning practices and pedagogies within education. But they promote a continuum from ‘old’ to ‘new’ when it comes to revisiting pedagogies and exploring existing and new theories and learning practices in order to reexamine, reimagine, recast, evaluate, update and redo pedagogies and approaches to teaching and learning that are suited for a digital age.

Through their models both Weller and Haythornthwaite answer to what Zygmunt Bauman has called ‘the present educational crisis’ in his essay “Education: under, for and in spite of postmodernity” (2001). Here Bauman points to how the postmodern crisis is haunting educational institutions at all levels, although he focuses especially on the situation of universities. In a comment on the role and the legitimacy structures of the modern university he puts the discussion of what education is for and what education is about at the very center of educational change:

“The institutional centrality of knowledge and its practitioners was anchored, on the one side, in a state-national reliance on legitimation (Max Weber), a ruling formula (Gaetano Mosca), or a central cluster of values (Talcott Parsons) for the translation of domination into authority and discipline; on the other, in the practice of culture (education, Bildung) which was meant to shape individual members of society into social beings fit to perform, and willing to abide by, the socially assigned roles. Both anchors were serviced by the universities – the crucial sites where the values instrumental in social integration were generated, and the training ground where the educators meant to disseminate them and translate them into social skills were trained. Both anchors, though, are today afloat…After all, both the autonomy and the centrality of the universities and the scholarship as such are today in question. “ (Bauman 2001:128-129)

Exactly the two anchors of the modern university also affected education at all other levels, due to the authority, I would say, and although discussions about the role of education, about teaching and learning practices, and about students’ agency might take different roads depending on educational level, I think Weller’s and Haythornthwaite’s models can work as emerging models of education in both K-12 schools and higher education in most respects. Weller and Haythornthwaite are in both their own ways responding to social, technological and cultural changes and to the present educational crisis, which is still going on:

“The present educational crisis is first and foremost a crisis of inherited institutions and inherited philosophies. Meant for a different kind of reality, they find it increasingly difficult to absorb, accommodate and hold the changes without a thorough revision of the conceptual frames they deploy, and such a revision, as we know from Thomas Kuhn, is the most overpowering and deadly of all the challenges thought may encounter. Short of designing different frames, philosophical orthodoxy can only set aside and dismiss the rising pile of new phenomena as so many anomalies and deviations.” (Bauman 2001:128)

When it comes to universities and higher education, it is the discussions about the function and role of the university and its exclusive relationship to society during the modern era that has also caused the discussions about legitimacy structures and practices, and as a consequence the evaluation of what counts as knowledge has resulted in the differentiation of knowledge production into Mode 1 and Mode 2 as introduced in Part 5 of this series. Mode 1 knowledge production belongs to the closed systems of the autonomous university in the industrial society, while Mode 2 knowledge production is a child of the knowledge society according to Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny et al who have introduced this distinction between Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge. With Mode 2 knowledge production the changes that occur are among others that the connection between university and society becomes closer and stronger, that the hierarchy between core functions – like research – and functions regarded more peripheral – like teaching and public engagement – is flattened, and that not only traditional research led by scholars counts as knowledge production but also existing knowledge can be systematized and combined in new ways through inter-disciplinary work involving a web of co-producers coming from different disciplines, domains and contexts inside and outside of universities and higher education:

“Gibbons et al write (1994:vii): “A new mode of knowledge production affects not only what knowledge is produced but also how it is produced; the context in which it is produced, the way it is organized, the reward systems it utilizes and the mechanisms that control the quality of that which is produced.” (Darsø 2001:127)

And in fact, the starting point of Martin Weller’s challenge is resting on the changes that Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny et al have captured, as he introduces Boyer’s work on scholarship as a backdrop for his own challenge to educators : to place all scholarly activity on an equal footing:

“ What we urgently need today is a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar – a recognition that knowledge is acquired through research, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching ” (Boyer, 1990,24)” (Weller 2011:223)

So both on an institutional level and at the level of the individual educator ‘the present educational crisis’, as Bauman called it, challenges ‘old’ frameworks, conceptualizations and understandings of education at universities and in higher education. And I would say that a lot of the fears, the challenges and the changes implied by Bauman are being discussed under the umbrella term of ‘openness’, seeing open education, open scholarship and the open educator (aka the networked educator) as revisions, renewals or unbundling of well-known conceptual frameworks of education being promoted in the light of technological possibilities and global perspectives and under influence of social and cultural changes. Debates about the advantages and disadvantages of campus based courses seen against blended learning and online courses, recommendations of schools working with their community and education working with real-world problems and in real-world contexts (which come from Mode 2 knowledge production), as well as discussions of badges and block chain for learning are all part of this discussion.  It has caused more complex teaching and learning practices which has hopefully been demonstrated throughout this series. Martin Weller’s and Caroline Haythornthwaite’s new models of education take part in and are results of these discussions.

The two sets of legitimacy structures and practices introduced by Bonnie Stewart illustrate the changes in the role of scholarship and education as an orientation away from ‘old’ systems of legitimacy, control and validation, that are synonymous with traditional scholarship, practice and teaching, towards peer knowledge, co-creation and participatory teaching and learning:


Bonnie Stewart: Learning in the Open

As an intermediary between the institutional level and the level of the individual educator and their students and learners, these legitimacy structures and practices draw up the complex contexts educators engage in when they take on Weller’s challenge and start exploring pedagogies to equip their learners with the skills they need in a digital age. They are most likely to balance on the scale from ‘old’ to ‘new’, just like Weller and Haythornthwaite ask educators to work with a continuum from ‘old’ to ‘new’ when it comes to revisiting pedagogies and exploring existing and new theories and learning practices.

Pedagogies in a digital age

The pedagogies that have been explored and touched on in this series as suitable for teaching and learning in a digital world facing knowledge abundance are listed below:

Project-based Learning       Connected Learning

Problem-based Learning    Connectivism

Community of Practice       Rhizomatic Learning

Networked Learning:

-Project- and Problem-based Learning

-Community of Practice

-Community of Inquiry/Inquiry-based Learning

-Community of Learning

-Community of Knowledge

-Actor-Network Theory

More pedagogies and teaching methods suited for an age of digital abundance can be found in Tony Bates: “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015) and in “Innovating Pedagogy 2016” and previous reports in this series of reports. See Garcia: “Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom” (2014) for an introduction to Connected Learning.  If the pedagogies don’t include didactic strategies and guidelines for learning design, Gilly Salmon: “The Five Stage Model” works for designing and evaluating online learning. The model is learner-centered and based on a socio-cultural approach.

The pedagogies on my list focus on collaboration, networked and distributed learning, and as I noticed in Part 5 of this series, they are social and situated pedagogies and theories of learning that foster and build on self-directed learning and participatory culture, too. They are either ‘born’ as pedagogies for a digital age or have been recast and reworked to conceptualize and practice collaboration in groups, communities and networks, to work with applying and producing knowledge and to embrace messiness and complexity. They also aim at embedding learning within real-world problems, and so as a bonus, the pedagogies mentioned in my list above also ideally add aspects of experiential learning to their practices (see Bates 2015:91-92,98).

The pedagogies on my list are in accordance with Martin Weller’s criteria for ‘a pedagogy of abundance’, and they prove that many pedagogies can be reimagined and updated through changing the implied learning processes from unambiguity, linearity, repetition and reproduction and basic applied knowledge to complexity, heterogeneity, processuality, recursivity and knowledge production (Mortensen 2002:144). So maybe it is about time to leave the term ‘pedagogies of abundance’ behind and just talk about pedagogies while implying that adequate pedagogies of the digital age can be practiced in class rooms and on campus, as blended learning and as online learning, but to be such a pedagogy involves contributing to the overall goal of education from K-12 schools to university, as it has been put into words by Tony Bates:

“…it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not). It is equally important also to enable students to develop the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills. All this is needed because of the explosion in the quantity of knowledge in any professional field that makes it impossible to memorise or even be aware of all the developments that are happening in the field, and the need to keep up-to-date within the field after gradua-ting.” (Bates 2015:63).

Not all of the pedagogies on my list above might seem equally suited for all educational levels, but in fact most of the pedagogies on the list can work across the entire educational system after a few adjustments. In the case of rhizomatic learning, I introduced how a pedagogy and learning approach mainly aimed at higher education and postgraduate studies actually has been adapted for K-12 schools, too. The case can be found in Part 3 of this series. But nevertheless, the questions of disciplinary didactics still need to be asked: the questions of who, what, how, why, where, when are always at stake when a pedagogy is going to be the basis of teaching and learning in a specific discipline or subject matter, no matter what educational level we are at. The context of the domain, the discipline or the subject matter may change, but the questions remain. And any pedagogy up for choice would have to be evaluated against both this particular context and against the types of skills that students and learners need in the 21st century. In a roundup Tony Bates points out that this evaluation is vital:

“…First we can identify a number of different types of skills needed:

  • conceptual skills, such as knowledge management, critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, problem–solving, creativity/innovation, experimental design;
  • developmental or personal skills, such as independent learning, communications skills, ethics, networking, responsibility and teamwork;
  • digital skills, embedded within and related to a particular subject or professional domain;
  • manual and practical skills, such as machine and equipment operation, safety procedures, observation and recognition of data, patterns, and spatial factors.

…It is the combination of conceptual, practical, personal and social skills in highly complex situations that are needed. This again means combining a variety of teaching methods.” (Bates 2015:104-106)

These four types of skills correspond with pedagogies and approaches to teaching and learning that focus on collaborative, networked and distributed learning and are dealing with community, networks and complexity, just as the ones on my list.

Further reading:

Bates, Tony (2015): Teaching in a Digital Age

Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): Education: under, for and in spite of postmodernity, In The Individualized Society, Cambridge, UK: Polity

Bauman, Zygmunt and Mazzeo, Riccardo (2016): In Praise of Literature, Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity

Buckingham, David (2008): Introducing Identity, In Buckingham, David (Ed.): Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, Cambridge, MA and London, UK: The MIT Press

Darsø, Lotte (2001): Innovation in the Making, København: Samfundslitteratur (in English)

Garcia, Antero (Ed.)(2014): Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub

Haythornthwaithe, Caroline (2015): Rethinking learning spaces: networks, structures, and possibilities for learning in the twenty-first century, Communication Research and Practice, 1:4, 292-306, DOI:10.1080/22041451.2015.1105773

Mortensen, Elna (2002): At gribe kompleksiteten. Æstetiske læreprocesser og IKT, In Gramkow, K., Lindhardt, L., og Lund, B. (Red.): Innovation, læring og undervisning, Aarhus: Systime

Salmon, Gilly: The Five Stage Model

Sharples, M., de Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C-K., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L.H. (2016): Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5, Milton Keynes: The Open University

Stewart, Bonnie (2013): Learning in The Open

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wheeler, Steve: Next Generation Learning

Photo by Petit-Louis on Flickr – CC By 2.0

Elna Mortensen

In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 1

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