Becoming educated online: Playfully negotiating authorised forms of learning

Year: 2021

Author: Vermeire, Zowi

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Digital spaces are often seen as alternative domains in which youth can gain control over their own development and learning. Even though these spaces form a rupture with traditional schooling in many ways, research has not paid much attention to what alternative narratives of learning and education such informal spaces produce. Through an ethnographic study of six interest-based, digital, learning communities on TikTok, Twitch and YouTube, including interviews with, and observations of activities of community members and leaders, this paper analyses the playful negotiations of youth with ‘authorised concepts of learning’ with the goal to gain more insight into what forms of learning are generally deemed ‘meaningful’ in online communities. Making use of critical discourse analysis, in particular the notion that playfulness can function as a way to challenge authoritative practices, we analyse how youth play with and at the same time challenge particular elements of formal schooling to create meaningful learning cultures for themselves. Preliminary results show that, partly due to its international composition, members of the history TikTok community playfully negotiate the authority of school as the holder of ‘true’ information while ridiculing the nationally focused history classes within formal education. E-commerce creators on YouTube challenge the performance and measurement culture of formal schooling while exaggerating it as a model to determine success based on large sums of money instead of grades. They look down on spending so much time on performing for school, while you can directly ‘cheat’ towards the outcome of earning money. Speedrunners on Twitch make a joke out of learning as a (repetitive) performance to achieve a certain outcome. Instead they dismiss outcomes and a progressive learning path all together, making repetition learning to perform at maximum speed a core value by endlessly repeating the same game for entertainment. Speedrunners, e-commerce YouTubers, history TikTokkers, they all playfully re-imagine why and when learning is deemed to be meaningful by playing with the expectations set up for learning within traditional, formal schooling. In doing so, these young people both demonstrate some of youth’s critique of current formal models for learning as well as how youth re-purpose and use elements of formal, authorised forms of learning.