“Learning Identifies in a Digital Age: Rethinking Creativity, Education and Technology” Book Review

How do we think about and make sense of education, technology and creativity? “Learning Identities in a Digital Age,”  Avril Loveless & Ben Williamson

9780415675727The bookLearning Identifies in a Digital Age: Rethinking Creativity, Education and Technologyis thought provoking and rich with concepts and research about the relationship between education and technology, and its influence on learner identity. Released in February 2013 as part of Routledge publishing’schanging times in education series’, I’ve  been challenged by this book. It brings forth the issues that I don’t always consider, but should when reading and writing about the technological applications and platforms that education institutions are embracing and promoting, i.e. MOOCs, machine grading, social media in education etc.  I am not opposed to progress and innovation by any means, but I am concerned about the long-term implications for learners, and high school and higher education in general. I’ve found this book helpful for guiding my thinking about these issues; it focuses on one important aspect, learning identities. It examines how learners see themselves, and how they are influenced and shaped by factors not within their control.

The authors take abackward gaze’ perspective, where they approach the subject matter “as a historian from the future might, looking back at our present time and seeing vast numbers of unresolved issues, differences of interpretations and general confusions….” (Loveless & Williamson, 2013).  The authors’ approach rests on the idea described by Nigel Thrift in his book Knowing Capitalism (2005). Thrift suggests this method prevents what he calls ‘historical atrophy’, where past events often are packaged up in order to move on and embrace modernity (Thrift, 2005, p 3). This sounds familiar. Though I do find that the book emphasizes more of the ‘now’, and promotes thinking about how policy decisions of governments and curriculum choices made by education institutions impact our students. Rather than provide answers, Loveless and Willamson aim to stimulate deep thought by treating education, technology and creativity as objects of thought, which I believe they do quite successfully.

Digital Identity vs. Learning Identity
I’m familiar with the term digital identity, yet learning identity, I discovered is more complex. Digital identify can be described as one’s persona that is displayed and shared online through social media sites and other platforms. Learner identity in the context of youth and young adult learners encompasses their online persona and another dimension—identity that is created through academic learning and pedagogy. For the most part, these latter factors are not within the learners control but are shaped by programs and methods driven by policy, an institutions curriculum, educators and even society’s use of, and attitudes towards technology.  For readers interested in learning more about digital identity for students, I’ve included links to resources at the end of the post from Catherine Cronin, an educator with considerable experience in teaching digital citizenship.

Big Picture Overview
An interesting fact about the authors, is that they are two decades apart in age, which according the preface, promoted differing viewpoints that led to different types of questions and arguments within the book.

The scope of the book is guided by these three questions:

  1. How is the future of education being through and re-thought in relation to new technology and media?
  2. What kind of learning identities are presupposed and promoted by the merger of new technologies and media with education?
  3. How are those learning identities to be organized in emerging models of learning, curriculum and pedagogy?

Content is divided into two sections, Part I, Reconfiguring education and technology, and Part II, Thinking, curriculum and pedagogy. You can review the specifics of each of the eight chapters by visiting Routledge’s website here.

I highly recommend this book for educators that work within K-12 and higher education settings, and I’ll go so far as to suggest it is a must-read for individuals in either of those groups that teach or support online education in any capacity. Decision makers in education public and/or institutional policy would also benefit from the book’s topics and arguments—it could provide a basis for promoting constructive dialogue among stakeholders about learner identities. The book is dense with ideas, addressing through the topic of learner identity how technology is interwoven with education and its effect on education and students.  I do hope that this book makes its way into the hands of educators and decision makers sooner rather than later.

Resources on Digital Citizenship:

9 thoughts on ““Learning Identifies in a Digital Age: Rethinking Creativity, Education and Technology” Book Review

  1. Hi Debbie – really enjoyed this post and many thanks for the mention! I’ve recently read Loveless and Williamson’s book and I found it a thoughtful read also. The different standpoints of the authors, which they shared openly and integrated into the work, made it most interesting. I found their concept of ‘learning identity’ useful in some ways — particularly the sense that it refers not only to identities *as* learners but the fact that identities themselves are learned. The notion that identites are mutable, changing over time and even in different contexts, is an important aspect of identity.

    As educators we also have our own digital identities and learning identities to consider as we interact with students in online spaces. I return often to Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn’s (2010) advice: “Learners need to practice and experiment with different ways of enacting their identities, and adopt subject positions through different social technologies and media. These opportunities can only be supported by academic staff who are themselves engaged in digital practices and questioning their own relationship with knowledge.” (from Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age, edited by Sharpe, et al. The 2nd edition of this book was published earlier this year, Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age).

    Thanks again for another great post.


    1. Hi Catherine,
      So nice to hear from you! Excellent point regarding thinking of our own identities, and the implications when we interact with students in online spaces. Teachers and professors are role models for students, therefore we have the opportunity to set the standard and example.

      Thanks for the reference to the book, Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age, that is a must read on my list.

      Thanks again Catherine for commenting and all the work you share with us. So many other educators are able to benefit.:)


  2. It is pretty exciting to see algorithms that serve up curriculum based on an learners identity come out. It will take us several years (not decades) to hone the craft, but will increase comprehension of learners around the world. Looking forward to reading the book!


    1. HI Marcus,
      There is so much opportunity in learning design and customization based upon learning patterns with online platforms. It will be interesting to see how this develops! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂


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