How Youth Construct Learning Trajectories in the Digital Age?
Pasqueline Dantas Scaico and Ruy José Guerra Barretto de Queiroz
Center for Informatics (CIn), Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
Keywords: Youth, Digital Learning, Learning Trajectories.
Abstract: People living with decentralization of knowledge and high connectivity. Digital media has changed how we
learn and the settings in which learning occurs. Nowadays, we have the opportunity to experience many
different experiences through the media and social networks, especially youngers. Although formal spaces
are still the main reference for the learning process, the relevance of non-formal and informal spaces cannot
be ignored, as well as the amount of learning that is being learned and the nature of this learning. This paper
presents an ongoing research which will seek to understand how young people recognize and construct their
learning trajectories through digital spaces and what metrics are valid to outline how knowledge moves
between these spaces. The research method is qualitative in nature and will be supported in longitudinal
studies, which will be the basis for interpreting models capable of representing such paths.
The education model as we know it has been facing
the great challenge of developing new skills so that
young people may be able to establish a new
relationship with knowledge, increasingly affected
by the pace of change and the pervasive use of
technology. Being able to continually update what
we know and what we can do, will be something
essential in the future. To ensure the arc of lifelong
learning it is necessary to revisit the concept of
The type of learning that will define the 21st
century is not only associated with the knowledge
we acquire but also with the contexts of learning,
due to the necessity to better understand in which
settings learning has occurred. Contexts allow
people to develop a meaning for things, understand
the relationship between school content and the
world as well as engage with the learning process. In
this scenario, the use of technology has been
responsible for the construction of a new culture. In
digital world, people learn to observe and
experiment, learn what they are willing to learn, are
guided by their passions and recognize the collective
as an important resource to the process of producing
new knowledge (Thomas and Brown, 2011). People
take greater control of their learning process alone
when they are motivated by interests and when they
have the resources needed to enable them achieve
their goals. The existence of these conditions
provides an environment so that they can develop
their intelligence (Gee, 2013).
The digital era has been marked by
decentralization of knowledge and high
connectivity. Technology has changed the equation
of what it is learned, how we learn it and the settings
in which it occurs. Young people end up engaging in
a special way with different kinds of learning
through participation in communities of practice,
social networks, the use of games and other media.
Thus, although the school is still the main reference
of the learning process, the relevance of these other
areas cannot be ignored, as well as the nature of
what young people are learning. In digital spaces
young people are free to imagine, create and take
part in flow experiences which put them in contact
with states of frustration and epiphany, important
factors for engagement and self-regulation.
Trying to understand what learning represents in
these new spaces, what is its nature and how it
manifests itself, many scholars have been trying to
understand the principles behind the process of
learning in the digital age as well as the cultural and
behavioral aspects that emerge from this intense
interaction of young people with technology.
Ethnographic studies of M. Ito, set in the universe of
social networks, suggest genres of participation. At
first, young people seek to discover the meaning of
being with other people, later on they try to
Dantas Scaico P. and Guerra Barretto de Queiroz R..
How Youth Construct Learning Trajectories in the Digital Age?.
DOI: 10.5220/0004953700870092
In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2014), pages 87-92
ISBN: 978-989-758-022-2
2014 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
understand the environment they are using, and
finally they experience how to use the resources that
the environment provides so that the process of
exploitation gets deeper (Ito, 2010). Young people’s
practices and behaviors in this new culture show that
they are able to develop multiple identities from
different domains, especially when they are in
situations that allow them to exploit opportunities
and deal productively with failure. Similar to the
attitude of a scientist before the failure of a
hypothesis, it is essential that the learner has
available space for experimentation and hypothesis
testing with a chance to receive feedback on the
spot, and, thereafter, she may reflect, share, create,
rework and retest. And in this kind of knowledge
production that Seely Brown calls tinkering, the
learner is able to develop multiple identities in the
spirit of "I am what I create".
When young people use technology, they take
control of what they learn and develop a natural
process to progress in this way. This reflects a
process of paradigm break, in which the idea that
learning occurs predominantly in pre-defined space
and time is being replaced by another one, which
recognizes the existence of a fluid process that
occurs in multiple places, times and circumstances
which invite people to explore, learn and develop
yourself. The diversity of digital spaces constitutes a
network capable of enhancing the intellectual
development of people and a complement to formal
education. Although many things about culture,
practices and behaviors of young people in the world
of technology are being unveiled, we still know a
little about how young people create learning cycles
and routes between spaces mediated by technology.
In this research, we try to understand how young
people construct their learning paths from the digital
spaces they use and which metrics are valid to
outline how knowledge moves between these
settings. Studies of this kind are complex, especially
because they require the researcher is immersed in
the culture and daily life of the research subjects.
This article presents the objectives of a program of
research that has been initiated in Brazil, as well as
its methodological design. As outcome we hope to
create a narrative that shows how young people
construct their learning trajectories, in which it is
possible to identify the main stimuli that cause some
young people follow some paths (and discard others)
remain engaged and develop different degrees of
reasoning skills and cognition to achieve their goals.
We also intend to identify elements that can be used
to measure how knowledge moves from an area of
learning to another and to help young people to
recognize their trajectories.
The paper is organized as follows: Section 2
presents the theoretical background underlying the
research. Then, Section 3 presents related works and
the research questions that will be addressed in the
study. Section 4 presents the research methodology
that will be used. Finally, Section 5 discusses the
relevance of this study.
The 21st century is marked by the influence of
technology in the educational field so that the
learning theories have been revisited. Most theories
were developed in a time when knowledge
production was slower and when people did not live
with such high connectivity. Learning was not
considered as a process that took place out of
But according to Siemens (2004), the creator of
Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age,
learning is a continuous process that takes place in
different spaces and it is governed by the divergence
of views, the ability to create connections between
several sources of knowledge and where the ability
to access new information is more important than
the current stock of knowledge. In this theory,
learning is the process of creating networks, where
nodes can be people (experts, teachers, classmates
and communities), but also the technology itself.
Here, the role of the educator is to create learning
ecologies, form communities and leave students free
to explore this environment.
Converging with this idea, new methodological
concepts have been shifted from the use of
technology as a way to reduce the costs of delivering
content to another one which aims to establish a
network of connections between knowledge,
context, people and different types of media, making
this network work as an enhancer feature and also as
a facilitator of situated learning - which is that one
which occurs when someone is able to understand
the concept and establish meanings to it (Gee, 2010)
- and deep learning, that represents a state in which
the student is motivated to exert the necessary effort
to learn (Schunk et al., 2008).
The holistic view of Connectivism converges
with values and principles of Connected Learning
from Ito et al. (2013), which emphasizes the design
of learning ecologies as part of the instructional
design. The Connected Learning approach
recognizes the power of technology to scale,
diversify, increase engagement and expand the range
of learning experiences.
Realizing the importance of networking in the
construction of the learning process, it is also
recognized that there are different spaces where
learning can rise up. The horizontality of knowledge
shall then be cut by experiences that arise within and
outside the school and allow the transit of learning
through the different areas young people occupy,
whether physical spaces - such as school,
community, church, or family - or virtual ones - like
social networks, blogs, YouTube and games. This
transversality has been kept in social relationships,
academic orientation and communication
infrastructure that turns learning into something
connected to the real world.
People are increasingly learning in different
settings. What we learn manifests itself through
formal spaces which follow a rigid curriculum, the
school for instance; through non-formal spaces
where, although there is the structure, there is no
obligation to follow a curriculum structure, being
considered then temporary environments and
situations, such as those related to dance, theater and
sport. Finally, through informal spaces that represent
contexts in which people engage by choice, in their
own time and pace. In these contexts the learners
make the schedule and decides the strategies they
will use to learn. They are in control of the process.
Several virtual spaces have been presented as
powerful learning environments. This tends to be the
case of videogames. Squire (2006) has conducted
investigations in this direction by studying the
universe of games as learning spaces as well as Gee
(2010) who studied the potential of the world of
videogames for literacy and situated learning.
Steinkuehler (2006) studied cognition and the
universe of multiplayer games and more recently she
has been conducting studies in programs outside the
school that show that skills such as interpretation,
synthesis and power of argument have emerged from
the contact of young people with the media
(Steinkuehler et al., 2012).
It has been clear that young people are going to
build learning trajectories by using multiple spaces.
In the educational context, learning trajectories
characterize the actions and the reflection process of
a person over a period of time. In this research, we
take the concept of learning trajectories defined by
Erstad et al. (2013), which refers to the ways a
person goes through different situations over time.
For us, exploitation of these situations which are
motivated and established by the use of technology
and media can initiate the development of
competencies useful for discovering of new
The discovery of learning paths is an area of
research that has been explored for quite some time.
The area of mathematics, for instance, has been able
to study sequences of activities and stimuli that are
effective for guiding children through their levels of
thinking and skills. The researches in this area have
guided the conduct of teachers and the reformulation
of pedagogical practices (Simon, 1995) (Simon et
al., 2010).
Nevertheless, in the case of technology usage,
young people have control over what they learn and
how they learn because they are free to make
choices based on what looks interesting to them.
Unlike formal education, which can have more
control over the development of such trajectories,
it’s a reverse path when this construction occurs in
the digital world. We do not define the paths that the
young people will take. They do. And, what do we
know about the connections that are established
when young people use media? How do the
knowledge and skills that have been developed
move between spaces that constitute young people’s
daily lives? How do they perceive their learning
process stood before the power of technology? How
do these experiences affect their learning in formal
education environments?
Some studies have been conducted in the attempt
to understand this dynamic. The studies of the
research group Connected Learning have
concentrated on non-formal learning spaces,
although one of its observations have lately turned to
the experimental school Quest to Learn (Salen et al.,
2011). Six case studies have been reported in recent
years and they have demonstrated the application of
the principles of Connected Learning approach to
learning spaces such as libraries, communities of
practice and programs aimed at integrating young
people with industry professionals (Connected
Learning n.d.).
The group has been able to investigate daily
practices that constitute the biggest stories arising
from online contexts. However, Ito et al. (2013)
emphasize that there are few studies that investigate
in a systemic way how the knowledge transfer
between formal education and other contexts that
connect people's lives occurs. As well as the
National Research Council (cited in Ito et al., 2013)
highlight, when it refers to the lack of studies of
systematic nature of these forms of learning
mediated by technology and the requirements that
have been put for learning to occur.
There is a great interest in exploring and
analyzing other types of learning beyond that one
which occurs mainly in schools because learning
does not end when young people leave the school
space. On the contrary, learning is extended and
encouraged when they make massive use of
technology to establish a relationship with the world
they live in.
In order to understand the concept of learning in
the 21st century it will be necessary to dive into
young people’s daily life, their attitudes and into the
new meanings that have been created. As
Eickelmann et al. (2013) said, it is necessary to
develop new conceptions of learning, considering
the different locations and contexts involved in this
process. Erstad et al. (2013), in turn, also claim that
the biggest challenge we have today is finding ways
to interpret the interconnections between the
different worlds that young people experience in
their daily lives. In the studies they have been
conducting with the Learning Lives approach, the
author and his colleagues have tried to illustrate
some circumstances that exemplify the existence of
connections and boundaries between young people’s
practice and the skills they transfer between spaces.
Sefton-Green (2013) also reinforces that we know
very little about how young people can circulate
through informal experiences as well as those that
happen at home or at school.
Thus, in the attempt to contribute with the
research on learning in the digital age, the research
that has been conducted intends to address the
following research questions:
Research question 1: How do young people
establish their learning trajectories when using
digital spaces?
Research question 2: What measures can be used
to model the way in which knowledge moves
between the spaces?
In order to identify attitudes, experiences and
meanings, the method of this research is qualitative
in nature. Thus, we assumed an interpretive
epistemological position In the belief that reality is
socially constructed, we assumed that knowledge
can only be understood from the point of view of
individuals who are directly involved with the study
of the phenomenon of interest.
4.1 Research Design
The case study will be used as a methodological
approach of investigation in this paper to offer a
deeper understanding of how and why certain
phenomena occur. A case study with multiple cases
will be used. In this research, the researchers will
accompany young Brazilians who are attending high
school and who have a daily intense contact with
media and technologies. The investigation will
examine the daily lives of individuals when they are
in their learning spaces to understand the
phenomenon of interest. Besides, it has the intention
of creating models that reproduce learning pathways
constructed by the subjects.
Since it is intended to identify patterns, ideas or
hypotheses to support the existing knowledge base,
the case study is exploratory. The study will be
conducted in a longitudinal way so that it will be
possible to analyze changes during the process of
data interpretation. The longitudinal design allows
the subject to be investigated several times. Thus,
the data can provide greater accuracy in the analyses
which are related to changes that may occur over
One of the used techniques of data collection has
an observational nature. Questionnaires and
interviews will also be conducted, as well as
ethnographic methods. The research subjects will be
followed throughout the year. The process of
analyzing the information will happen through an
iterative cycle that alternates data collection and
interpretation. Several criteria will be used to select
the sample of subjects, which adds value to the
process of capturing meanings of the phenomenon
that has been studied.
4.2 Analysis and Synthesis of Data
In order to properly deal with the wealth of
information that will be collected, we will use
techniques from Grounded Theory as a means to
accomplish the analysis and synthesis of data. The
Grounded Theory is a suitable research method to
identify a recurring pattern of behavior in the
subjects of the research (Glaser, 1998). Thus this
method requires the researcher to let go of
preconceived ideas so that the focus is kept on the
construction of a theory and not in explaining other
existing ones.
However, in this ongoing work the researchers
have a base of theoretical assumptions (which were
mentioned in Section 2) as well as in hypotheses
(presented in Table 1). Nevertheless, even if our
objective of is the understanding of a particular case,
the use of Grounded Theory techniques is justified
by the interest in systematizing the process of data
analysis and, before the exploration potential of the
method, it is possible that in the end of the research
a narrative is constructed (as a "local theory")
capable of adding value to researches in this area.
Table 1: Research hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1: The situated learning occurs with the
existence of learning trajectories.
Hypothesis 2: When a process of knowledge
transference between learning spaces happens, the deep
learning is taking shape.
Hypothesis 3: Young people are able to recognize
what they are learning and when they are transferring
knowledge from one space to another.
Triangulation is one of the strategies that will be
used to enhance the internal validity of the study.
Triangulation schemes of multiple methods and
multiple sources will be adopted.
The ability of young people to collaborate, to see the
technology as a resource to create meanings for
educational content and to develop skills so that they
may be able to solve problems, has motivated
researchers to understand the dimension of the
concept of learning in this century.
In order to understand the digital culture and
young people’s practices, we need a strong
immersion in their context so that we can understand
how the processes, experiences and decision making
are experienced and understood also in informal
learning environments. There are still not much
published research about new ways of learning
which consider ecological and connected approach.
Furthermore, the replication of studies in multiple
cultural, social and economic scenarios will
strengthen the knowledge base in this field. Such
studies conducted in countries like Brazil may
provide important findings.
In the global scenario, this study will be
important to increase the body of knowledge on the
pathways, decisions, skills and attitudes that young
people take when they are engaged in the learning
process. The research aims to identify evidences
which show how young people perceive their own
learning and how they transfer it between the spaces.
This student-focused measurement strategy also
shows to be a promising method in the field of
assessment of learning. The identification of patterns
and the perception of attitudes and meanings will
also be important to understand the relationship
between learning contexts elements.
Regarding the Brazilian scenario, the use of
technology in education is still very much driven by
the instrumental view or how to build something that
can make the learning process funnier, which is
configured in a superficial strategy almost always
doomed to failure. Most teachers who adopt the
technology do it sporadically through limited and
distant forms that allow the students’ understanding
as well as specific practices of everyday life and
school activities (Junqueira 2009). As Bonilla (2012:
77) has pointed out, despite the presence of
technology in schools, there is no strengthening of
digital culture, as it requires a strong immersion in
context so that processes, experiences and decision
making are widely experienced and understood,
making sense of the practices, either social or
pedagogical ones.
Thus, it is perceived that there is to some extent a
state of disregard. Whereas in Brazil technology has
been present in schools for almost 30 years, it is
necessary to advance research in this field, mainly
because it may be possible to see through
quantitative research that young people consume
technology outside the school in a very different
way than it occurs within school. However, more
investment needs to be made in qualitative research
that can influence education policies which value the
intellectual potential of young Brazilians. After
completing the literature review, the research is at
the stage when the first instruments of data
collection are planned as well as the selection of
samples of the participants.
The authors would like to thank National Counsel of
Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq),
which supports this research project (486307/2013-
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