In the last few days, our friend and educationalist Dan Meyer has once again inspired us with his recent post Collective effervescence is the cost of personalized learning.

This term comes from the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, and refers to the fizz or buzz that is generated from the social experience of participation.  It can be an emotional response that comes from being physically present with other people and sharing in an event together. It’s why we go to events like sporting matches, religious services and theatres – and it’s why we respond to these so much more in person than if we were watching them on a screen at home. The best way to build collective effervescence is through activities that see a group come together to participate in the same conceptual thoughts and actions.

Collective effervescence ignites engagement, and is a positive, unifying force in the classroom. This can be achieved by coming together as a group and engaging in discussions and debate, watching videos as a class and pausing to make predictions about what will happen next, and building an environment that fosters shared thinking. Another effective way is to seize spontaneous opportunities by using student-driven questions or provocations to create participatory learning experiences.

Current research and teaching methodologies reinforce the ideaCultural Effervescence 2 that it is paramount to student engagement that learning is personal and relevant. Many online educational programs are tailored and targeted to individual learners, who are free to undertake the activities at their own pace.  The question that Dan raises is that such a personalised and self-directed approach may result in a solo learning experience.  Without the balance and injection of the shared moments or “the fizz” we risk losing the collective energy that is so beneficial to learning.

Equally, too much focus on creating a sense of collective effervescence in the classroom can neutralise the positive effects of the social experience, as it becomes the norm. Students may then feel that they are no longer being treated as individuals with their own learning needs and preferences.

Teachers are masters at cultivating and capitalizing on teaching moments to create engagement.  The continual challenge is to get the recipe just right, by balancing focus and fizz in the classroom to create a learning environment that is as collaborative as it is personal.