Why 21st Century Learning Communities Improve Learning

21st Century Learning Communities improve learning because they use 21st Century Tools to optimize “Information Communication.”

“Information Communication” is the bedrock that learning rests upon because the better the “Information Communication” the better the learning.

By using 21st Century tools (The Internet, Context Sensitive databases and search engines, Smart Browsers, Interactive blogs, Video, etc.), a Learning Community can optimize “Information Communication.”

What makes 21st Century information communication systems better than all previous Information Communication systems are the tools available help us “focus” on what is important and “filter” out what is not important.

Two critical reasons why focusing and filtering are so important:

  1. By focusing and filtering, the learner can focus on the learning and filter out noise that distracts from learning.
  2. By focusing and filtering, those doing the grading can focus on what was actually learned and filter out the biases that prevent effective feedback.


Focusing and Filtering – Knowing what you want to learn and knowing how to get it

The key to improving learning is:

  1. Understanding what we want to learn – Focusing.
  2. Understand the things that prevent us from learning – Filtering.



Focus concentrating on those things we want to learn, but the first step is knowing what we want to learn.  Filtering reducing things that prevent us from learning, but the first step is knowing what prevents us from learning.

Of the two, effective filtering is much more difficult because focus is almost completely under our control,  whereas the things we need to filter might be completely out of our control.  Let’s say you are sitting in a classroom and there is loud construction going on outside the window.  You need to filter out the  distraction of the construction sights and sounds in order to focus on learning.  But the actual construction is out of your control.

For a physical example, radio is a good example.  When you tune a radio you are doing two things, focusing on the radio signal you want and filtering out the radio signals you don’t want.

The Internet is another good example.  For the Internet to be effective you need to focus on the information you want and filter out the information you don’t.

Most things we need to filter exist as something we did not start nor can we stop.  These things exist independent of our efforts.   Other radio signals, construction outside a classroom, or misleading information on the Internet exist independent of anything we do.  So, while some effort should be made to stop the learning distractions, our efforts are better spent minimizing the distractions negative effects on learning.  (I’ll talk about this later, but I don’t really want to stop the distractions completely because in many cases the distractions can lead to innovation and creativity.)

“Noise” is a simple word I use as a global catch-all for things that reduce learning and need filtering.   When I think of “filtering” I think of noise.

Noise – The Greatest Killer of Learning – What it is and How to Minimize it

In my garden I define a “Weed” as anything that is not what should be there.  A flower in one place may be desirable but in another place might be a weed.

The key to knowing what is a weed or not is; my “intent” at that particular place and time.  The better I am at understanding what I am trying to accomplish, the better I am at identifying what is a weed and knowing how to get rid of it.

If my intent is to grow a seamless green lawn, anything that is not intended is a weed.  Even though Tulips are beautiful, and in the proper setting breathtaking, in the middle of my lawn, if my intent is to only have grass, they would be a weed.  However, tulips along the edges of the lawn might be important and beautiful eye candy.  Another way to say this is: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  It just depends on the intent of the man.

In terms of learning, there are a lot of weeds too.”  Weeds in Learning would be anything that reduces the ability to learn.  And, as with weeds in my garden, what specifically might be a learning weed is based on the specific situation, the specific learner, the specific subject, and the specific time.

The term I use to describe these learning weeds is “Noise.”  Noise is anything that prevents us from learning.

Noise is to learning as Weeds are to gardening.


Noise can be many things: physical, biological, psychological, social, or political.  As with weeds, anything that distracts from learning is noise.  And, as with weeds, noise happens in spite of our efforts and is something we need to keep on top of.

The key to improving learning then, is to understand and minimize noise.

Noise was first carefully studied by two telephone company engineers in the late 1940’s, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver.  They wrote the seminal work on Communication called “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”

Their intent was to improve telephone communication systems (which makes sense since they worked for the telephone company).  They succeeded.  Their work is considered the foundation of most Communication Studies today.

Here is the Model they developed.



One of the key additions Shannon and Weaver brought to the study of communication was the concept of Noise.

Notice, however, that, in their model at least, they only included Noise in the “Channel.”  This makes perfect sense, since they were telephone guys and mostly interested in just the telephone channel.

Today however, most everyone recognizes that Noise happens in every element of a communication.  Noise happens in the Source, in the encoding of the message, in the Channel (as Shannon and Weaver point out), in the decoding of the message, in the receiver, and in the feedback systems.


Next Sections:

  • Noise is the Fundamental Obstacle to Learning
  • Getting Good Information
  • Valuing Information