Thinking Holistically Through a New Culture of Learning

Part One: A Reflection of D. Thomas and J. S. Brown’s A New Culture of Learning

In the first page, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown address the idea of a new culture of learning through this question: “What happens to learning when we move from the stable infrastructure of the twentieth century to the fluid infrastructure of the twenty-first century, where technology is constantly creating and responding to change?” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 17). Well, you’d have to read the book to find out. But there is one thing I will tell you (and you might have even noticed from their foundational question), Thomas and Brown’s perspective encompass the idea of a holistic approach to learning.

In their book, Thomas and Brown express their belief in that learning should be viewed in terms of an environment—combined with the rich resources provided by the digital information network—where the context in which learning happens, the boundaries that define it, and the students, teachers, and information within it all coexist and shape each other in a mutually reinforcing way (p. 35). Thomas and Brown claim that our system of education has failed because we have not embraced both entities as a whole—only relying on one or the other to produce learning. It is the combination of the two—a massive information network and a bounded and structured environment—and the interplay between them, that makes for effective learning—and the new culture of learning so powerful (p. 19).

In other words, we create constraints in the information and environment from which students are learning, we trust that through their imagination they will ask questions, and we hope that through play they will self-motivate to seek the answers. And lastly, we stand back and see what happens. It doesn’t sound convincing, does it? This goes back to the old response, “seeing is believing.” And that is what Thomas and Brown have done in their book. They have opened the eyes of many through various accounts of a new culture of learning in the works. One of my favorites is Douglas Thomas’ personal account of an accidental, but successful experiment where students from his course, titled “Massively Multiplayer Online Games and the University of Southern California” saw each other as resources and figured out how to learn from one another by illustrating course concepts from the required readings through their gaming experiences in the virtual world of Star Wars Galaxies (p. 23). In his case, Thomas controlled the information and environment and stood back and watched as his students took their learning into their own hands. And that is exactly what I want to see happen in today’s K-12 classroom.

Part Two: A Change in Plans

First, we must accept the idea of a holistic view of learning. We begin with the big picture of transforming our system of education—not starting from anew. And we move towards the analytics by setting goals for what we want to achieve as we combine—not isolate—the entities of a massive information network and a bounded and structured environment.

This is where I’d like to address the extension to my innovation plan. Previously, I had created an innovation plan with the overall objective of improving the system of education in the elementary school level in all content areas by implementing the Station Rotation model via the Blended Learning model (Horn & Staker, 2015).

Click here to learn more about my innovation plan.

Although I would still like to see Horn and Staker’s blended learning model implemented in the K-12 classroom, I’d like to implement a project-based model. This new culture of learning-inspired model, which I shall call “Project-Based E-Learning,” will incorporate project-based/inquiry-based learning where the process asks the question: “What are the things that we don’t know and what questions can we ask about them?” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 83). Through this model, students will be able to develop 21st century skills such as character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and creativity and imagination. The teacher will be able to formatively assess students’ learning through academic and social goals related to the integrated content areas that are currently being explored in K-12 classrooms.  And all of this will occur in an online platform, such as Google Apps and Google Classroom, which will allow students to post their evidences of learning in formats of their choosing.

I recognize that there are many details to be planned and addressed, such as what platform to use and the extent to which each grade level will implement the model, but it all goes back to thinking holistically.


Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2015). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (First ed.). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (First ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

4 thoughts on “Thinking Holistically Through a New Culture of Learning

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