What are the principles of modern learning? Well, that depends on how you define ‘learning’ and what you’d consider ‘modern.’

Richard Olsen had put together this in a useful visual way in 2013–a chart that lays out three categories of a modern approach to learning–Modern, Self-Directed, and Social. These broad categories are then broken up into four principles per category. Each principle is then described by its Reality (its function) and Opportunity (the result of that function). Honestly, these two categories are a bit confusing–or at least the distinction between some of the entries are (the ability to participate and enables modern learners to participate, for example). Overall, though, defining ‘modern learning’ through inquiry, self-direction, and connectivity is at the core.

Let’s take a look at what it’s saying by exploring the first category, Modern Inquiry Learning. The 4 principles in of Modern Inquiry Learning, according to the graphic, are Compile, Contribute, Combine, and Change, with their respective Realities and Opportunities shown below.


  • Reality The ability to save and retrieve information in a variety of formats.
  • Opportunity Give modern learners virtually unlimited capacity to retrieve and store information.


  • Reality The ability to participate in more complex projects.
  • Opportunity Enables learners to participate in more complex projects.


  • Reality The ability to reuse and build upon the work of others.
  • Opportunity Allows learners to move beyond individual and isolated projects.


  • Reality The ability to quickly obtain feedback from multiple sources.
  • Opportunity Enables learners to continuously improve work.

While the graphic doesn’t really get at the core values of what makes each approach Inquiry, Self-Direction and Connectivity valuable and worthwhile and so misses a huge opportunity, the trifecta of the three does in fact represent prevailing movements in progressive education. Technology, for example, would be a part of each. It supports inquiry and self-direction while being both a cause and effect of connectivity.

How should you use this to guide your teaching? You could take the verbs shown here e.g., contribute and correlate and design projects or activities alongside your students. You could also present a document like these at staff or department meetings by slamming it down on the table and asking ‘Where’s the progress? ”

* * *