In music, there is a genre referred to as ‘synthwave’ or ‘retrowave’. The core idea behind that genre is to take modern technologies, emulate music from the 1980s, and perfect that recognizable 1980s sound and somehow improve it. The challenge with the synthwave genre is the question if it really improves the original sound, which despite its flaws continues to make grab people, and if it contributes to something new to our understanding of music? This is pretty much how I look at something like ONL and online problem-based learning (OPBL) in the landscape (discourse) of learning.

Retrowave – emulating and improving existing discourse? [hit the play button and continue reading for full experience]

My own teaching has probably been most affected by the great educational reformer John Dewey (and Paulo Freire, but that’s a topic for another blog post), so I am very partial to methodologies such as problem-based learning (PBL) and notions such as ‘reciprocal learning’ and ‘experiential learning’ have become very influential on my own academic work. This does not as such (I think) mean that I am partial to early 20th century views on learning and pedagogy but rather that I spend quite a lot of time thinking about the inherent philosophical underpinnings and metaphysics of different teaching/learning methods. Any reading of an answer to the question ‘Who are you as an individual in the digital age, and what characterizes your journey so far?´. The context of Dewey’s writings also matter, for a question that takes its starting point in a ‘digital age’, as Dewey’s own thinking was greatly affected by what he called the ‘machine age’ (industrialization) had destroyed local communities, and much of his writings about learning is also about how to reestablish or replace a local community, which he saw as central to establishing links between education and democracy. He stressed how individual and social goals of education are inseparable and how notions of ‘community’ is central to any and all educational endeavors. The way I read Dewey is that democracy is not the primary outcome necessarily, but rather the method of social learning. These are also the reasons (and reasonings) why I tend to react in skeptical way about a ‘tools first’ approach to Online Learning – which was basically the starting point of our discussions in our fantastic problem-based learning group (or ‘community’ in a non-Deweyan sense) aptly named ‘ONL201 PBL 04’, an aptly technocentric abbreviation that really captures the challenges (but perhaps also dreams) of online social learning environments. For me, the primary question is not about ‘tools’ but rather how to grasp the social contexts and fabric of learning/learners are situated in, what social associations are replaced and what a ‘local community’ means in an online setting…

Do not get me wrong, I see great potential and benefit to situating learning in a digital age (I took my first course on online learning in 2003, and I have invested heavily in developing online learning environments in my own teaching) but I have (metaphysical) questions about trying to emulate John Dewey (& PBL) into a fully digitalized landscape. We probably either need to create a completely new learning philosophy for online learning or stop trying emulate “community” in the digital fabric only. Yes, you can see where this is going… blended learning blog entry here I come!

Assumed references

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: MacMillan.

Dewey, John (1954) “Public & its problems.” Swallow Press

Fougère, M., Solitander, N., & Maheshwari, S. (2019). Achieving Responsible Management Learning Through Enriched Reciprocal Learning: Service-Learning Projects and the Role of Boundary Spanners. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-18,

Digital literacy, synthetic learning and synthwave