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Learning in a digital age

The development of information technologies has had a significant impact on the traditional ‘expert-driven’ modes of teaching as ‘new technologies continue to proliferate extending the ways in which knowledge and learning are shaped, accessed and managed’ (Ryan and Tilbury 2013, p. 7).


The concept of ‘cybergogy’ was coined by Wang and Kang (2006) to describe an approach for creating engaging learning opportunities in digital contexts. At the heart of this concept is the recognition that strategies deployed for face-to-face learning may not be optimal for digital contexts. They suggest that emotive factors can influence the students’ engagement with learning, and that for the ’…online learning experience to be successful, students must:


  • have sufficient prior knowledge;
  • be motivated to learn;
  • be positively engaged in the learning process;
  • be comfortable with the learning environment; and
  • feel a strong sense of community and social commitment’ (Wang and Kang 2006, p. 247).


The UK Higher Education Academy report into ‘flexible pedagogies’ provides a comprehensive overview of the changing nature of learning involving technologies and asserts six new pedagogical ideas for the digital age (Ryan and Tilbury, 2013). A summary of these pedagogical ideas are provided in the following table.


Flexible Pedagogy

Key Principles

Learner Empowerment

To engage and promote active student participation in learning development and ‘co-creation’ of learning experiences. This is aligned with the concept of rhizomatic learning in which the curriculum is negotiated and shaped by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process (see Cormier 2008a).

Future-facing Education

To include opportunities for learners to consider and work towards alternative and preferred future scenarios, to challenge existing practices and prepare them to be adaptable in uncertain and changeable conditions.

Decolonising Education

To develop learners’ inter-cultural understanding and promote consideration in the context of global issues and perspectives. Educators and educational institutions should also strive to develop their understanding of global and local connections, and provide more examples in global contexts. This means creating more inclusive learning environments, encouraging and supporting informal learning opportunities and cross-cultural activities.

Transformative Capabilities

To refocus educational approaches beyond knowledge and understanding, to include agency and competence, using transformative and student-centred approaches to learning. (See the SAMR model introduced in the previous section.)

Crossing Boundaries

To promote and support opportunities for interdisciplinary and interprofessional learning, interaction, collaboration and authentic learning activities.

Social Learning

To foster interactions and collaborations outside the formal curriculum using both physical and virtual learning spaces.


Some initiatives may support the application of multiple pedagogical ideas. For example Schmitt et al. (2012) report on a pilot project that was conducted in America, Finland, and the Philippines. Students in community health classes were required to complete an assignment in global health perspectives. To do this they were invited to participate in a private wiki (see section on ‘E-Learning Tools and Technologies’) and share information and resources on health promotion and preventive care and about the health services in their countries. The students were able to learn about international cultures and health systems in a more active way. They were also able to learn and apply new digital skills (such as recording audio over PowerPoint presentations). There were a number of challenges that needed to be overcome such as the time delays and the time required to establish the group.

Thinking points

Select one of the six pedagogical ideas and identify how you may implement an aspect of that idea in your clinical or university based teaching practice. What are the challenges of implementing this change? How might you overcome these challenges?

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