A New Culture of Learning

Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change

By: Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

Published 2011

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In the book A New Culture of Learning, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, they explain how twenty-first century education is taking a dramatic change compared to twentieth century education. In twentieth century education it was a matter of a teacher spitting out information to the students. Education was a step-by-step process that was intended to master. Standardized test showcase the results of the old process.

Today, in the twenty-first century education learning is everywhere, according to Thomas and Brown. Throughout the stories that were told one teacher explained how he was taught by his taught, “They, however, had taught him a great deal about what the new culture of learning might look like and how powerful it can be when students see each other as resources and figure out how to learn from one another” (Thomas., Brown. p25). The world of technology opens up endless possibilities for students. Students do not have to sit there and receive information from just a teacher on one subject. The new age of education allows students to learn what they want to learn from other people besides a teacher. Thomas and Brown still believe that teachers are necessary, but they explain how the new error of learning in the twenty-first century allows students to go further than before (39). Learning isn’t just through one source. The new source of learning is without books, teachers or a classroom. Thomas and Brown give an example of how cell phones today have “more compute power and internet access than he average home computer did in the 2000” (Thomas., Brown. p42).

Embracing change is a crucial part for the new culture of learning according to Thomas and Brown. We must expand the type of learning environment that attract kids to learn about the core topics through books, websites, blogs and more. Teachers should allow their students the ability to use the vast opportunities that are offered to learn about topics of interest.

Thomas and Brown suggest three “principles of the new culture of learning. One, the old ways of learning are unable to keep up with our rapidly changing world. Two, new media forms are making peer-to-peer learning easier and more natural. Three, peer-to-peer learning is amplified by emerging technologies that shape the collective nature of participation with those new media. (Thomas., Brown. P50) The new learning happens through learning knowledge without the roles of teachers or students. Students are able to share their knowledge in a specific subject with others from around the world. Thomas and Brown suggest that social media networking sites, like Facebook and more amplify students learning. These networks constantly relate the learning process back to personal connections making it more influential. (Thomas., Brown. P67) We are learning knowledge through everyday activities using these resources compared to just learning during formal education.

It is suggested that when giving students information they don’t just learn in different way, students even different things. Most of the time we do not accept students arriving at different answers within the education system, which leads to eliminating the student’s imagination. (Thomas., Brown. P79) Using the process of learning through inquiry can expand the imagination of students. Thomas and Brown suggest that teachers should reverse the order of things so that the goal is to ask questions. A disposition is apt to learn how a student will make tacit connections. It does not provide answers about what someone is apt to learn but how someone might learn. A person who plays a multiplayer online game is referred to as a gamer. A “gamer” disposition based on six characteristics. One, they want to improve so seek to be evaluated. Two, gamers understand the power of diversity through teamwork. Three, they thrive on the change that is embedded in the game. Four, they see learning as fun. Finally, five, they live on the edge and push the boundaries of the environment of the game. (Thomas., Brown. P87, 88) Gamers are becoming the more common students within education.

To redesign our educational institutions, Thomas and Brown suggest three frames- homo sapiens, homo faber, and homo ludens. The authors explains how homo sapiens is the “where” questions that are becoming more relied on through the context. (Thomas., Brown. 93) Homo faber is not just learning through doing but finding the meaning through “contextualization rather than “interpretation. Thomas., Brown. P95). Homo Ludens is the idea that mostly overlooked. The ideas that play is meaningful to the human culture. (Thomas., Brown. P97)

Thomas and Brown go on to discuss how hanging out and geeking out are social practices that provide meaning that is the first step of indwelling. (Thomas., Brown. p101) The second step of indwelling is messing around. While messing around children begin to explore and expand their understanding. Then, the final step of indwelling is the ability to engage with media and technology in an intense way and learning to navigate esoteric expertise. (Thomas., Brown. P104)

According to Thomas and Brown a perfect example of the new learning environment would be the game World of Warcarft. WOW serves as a “large-scale social community that provides a case study in how players absorb tacit knowledge, process it into a series of increasingly sophisticate questions, and engage collective to make the experience more personally meaningful” (Thomas., Brown. P107). More of the general aspects of the game relate back to the new culture of learning.


As I read the book the new culture of technology seemed hard to come to grasp with. I am an old school person who does not like to rely on technology. Thomas and Brown really made me think twice about how beneficial technology can be. The new culture of learning s definitely for the better and should be incorporated into education. The necessity to have learning coming from other resources, besides the typical books and teachers is a must. The new culture of learning is a better tool that expands the learning and ability of students. Students are not just asked for one answer, but asked to explore their creativity. The push towards the new culture does seem intimidating for a person who does not enjoy technology. The book did seem to leave me with many questions about the new culture of learning, which makes me wonder if it works for everyone.