The Internet Style of Learning

By Robert Sibley and Frank Odasz

Getting a handle on what the Internet Style of learning (ISL) entails is a more
difficult task than it might at first appear. This is because it is such a
new and dynamic phenomenon. Students and teachers are literally redefining
ISL every day as they explore new technologies and new ways to use and combine
technological and pedagogical approaches. One way to understand the Internet Style
of Learning is to examine the new resources and capabilities that the Internet provides
and then to explore how these capabilities are and might be used to change the way we

'do' teaching and learning.


1. Access to Vast Information Resources

The most widely known fact about the Internet is that through it you have access to all kinds of information, from up to the minute weather reports to copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls If it exists, you can probably find something about it on the Internet, and you can find it fast.

2. Technology-based Information Processing

That's a mouthful, but think of it as taking word processing and expanding it to all forms of information from numbers to images, to sounds to every conceivable combination of these, and from a single file located on your hard drive or floppy to all the information in every computer that can be connected to the internet anywhere in the world. With all that information out there, you need powerful tools to help you find and make use of the small fraction that interests you. Luckily, the technology is doing a fine job of keeping pace. Web based search engines and directories help you find your needle in that very big haystack. Once you find what you are looking for, your Web browser goes to the electronic address and brings it to your computer and displays it for you. If the information is what you want, you can copy it and paste it into another software application on your computer, like a word processor, spreadsheet or database, and analyze and manipulate it there in many ways. For example, if you have imported columns of data into a spread sheet, you can compare it with other data and create a chart to visualize it graphically. You can import large amounts of text into a word processor and search through it electronically for a word or phrase, and find and export to another document those few sections that are relevant to your interest. Image, sound, and video processing software provide equally as powerful tools in those media. And the power and ease of use of these technologies increase constantly.

3. Collaboration

Internet Email may be the most underrated communication and collaboration tool in history. It is easy to use, extremely powerful, available world wide and usually very inexpensive. Information and documents can be transferred, commented on, edited, analyzed, manipulated etc., by one or any number of people, any number of times, in truly global collaboration. And Email is just the beginning. Every day

4. Internet Publishing

The ease, both in terms of work and of cost, with which information can be published, in a growing number of formats and media over the Internet, especially the WWW, is astonishing. What is less well understood, is the publishers' ability to target his or her audience. A publisher (any one who can create a Web page and access a computer to 'host' it) has the ability to broadcast the address (url) of his or her site by registering it with all the search engines and promoting it on or off the Net, or he or she can distribute it to a selected audience, perhaps another school or class, or just one other person. In addition, the growing interactive nature of many sites means that the "audience" can also be 'participants". Put in an historical perspective, these are awesome publishing powers, and they are the same for text, images, sound, animation, video and any combination of these. And, at the current rate of change, who knows what additional capabilities we will see next week or next month.

5. Realities and Possibilities

It is the process or using and combining these capabilities in powerful and innovative ways, that makes Internet style learning so exciting, for educators and students alike. This is still largely uncharted territory. It is what students and teachers do with these capabilities, not software companies or curriculum designers or boards of education, that will determine the ultimate success of ISL in our schools and lives. While the technology is exciting, and a strong motivating force for students, the fundamental characteristic of internet style learning is that the  technology does the grunt work, it provides the capabilities for learners to cut to the chase and engage in high level, intellectually challenging learning. What follows is a very short list of some of the ways that students and teachers are using these capabilities to transform the very nature of teaching and learning. But I must stress that we have only scratched the surface of ISL potential.

6. Inquired-based, Global Research

Internet search engines allow students the ability to perform research using global resources. A teacher can solicit topics of interest for students to research and helps students develop successful search strategies by giving examples and focusing on two or three different search tools.

7. Resource-Sharing and Collaboration

The Internet allows students many options to access expertise and to collaborate with peers. For example, single classroom or multi-classroom collaborative projects can be text-based (non-web such as email and listservs) OR web-based such as hypernews and web-conferencing. Web pages can be edited or contributed to as text documents or CGI's etc. and uploaded from almost anywhere. Email, Listerves, Newsgroups, etc. also allow access to experts and expertise in almost any field. In addition, individuals and small groups can combine and leverage the knowledge and skills of each member to create deeper and richer understandings and works. ThinkQuest Entries are prime models of this kind of collaboration.

8. Teacher as facilitator

Because the Internet can provide students with unlimited amounts of highly specific information, the role of the teacher shifts from being the primary content provider to that of facilitator of the process by which students access and build their own knowledge (constructivism). It quickly becomes apparent that students will soon collect specific knowledge beyond the expertise of the teacher, which is a truly wonderful outcome. What teacher doesn't dream of a class in which students become experts and teach each other.

9. Student: from consumer to producer

Students are lead change agents these days due to their attraction to, and proficiency with, technology. Since students, particularly those with home Internet access, have far more time for exploring the Internet than teachers do, individualizing their self-directed learning activities makes good sense. As students build their own knowledge, particularly with others in small groups, they can learn how to share it by posting resources on their own content related web pages and through a growing number of interactive and collaborative software tools and multimedia options.

10. Taking learning beyond the classroom

Distance learning and home-based learning are both alternatives and additions to classroom learning. In internet style learning the walls of the classroom expand to encompass the world in every imaginable way.

Information, experts, collaborators, and teachers are available to you from wherever you are, and vice versa. This encourages students to become self sufficient and self directed learners, to recognize and create value from raw information, to develop collaborative, time management, and project management skills (to name just a few) that will prepare them for the great challenges of adult life in the 21st Century.

Robert Sibley
Educational Project Manager
Advanced Network & Services
200 Business Park Drive
Armonk, NY 10504