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Vlog Theories vlog: Ola Erstad CO:RE at LSE Published: 09 May 2022

Ola Erstad on the sociocultural theory of learning

In this vlog, Prof Ola Erstad discusses how he became interested in the sociocultural theory of learning and how this approach informs his work on media literacy. Exploring the different traditions within the socio-cultural theory of learning, he talks about the scholars who influenced his thinking. He draws on ideas from Lev Vygotsky, Bronfenbrenner, Shirley Brice Heath, Henri Lefebvre, Jay Lemke, and Michael Cole, amongst others, and discusses the critical thinking needed to bring together these diverse theoretical insights.

I like to listen and see if I can be inspired by some new theoretical positions and concepts and draw on that when trying to develop new understandings.

Using his theory on “learning lives” as an example, Prof Erstad shares his experience on how he approaches the task of creating a new theory and how he makes the connection with his empirical work. We learn about the central role of digital technologies in young people’s practices of learning and the cultural context where this knowledge creation happens. This underpins his interest in the characteristics of digital technologies that young people carry with them from one context to another and how these technologies fit within the flow of everyday life.

As a PhD student or a junior scholar, you should not expect to create new theory. This is too ambitious in a way. Your novelty is more linked to your empirical work and how you use theoretical concepts to understand social phenomena. Theory development tends to come later.

Finally, we discuss how to identify theoretical gaps and how to “speak theory” to stakeholders.

Watch the full vlog with Ola Erstad

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Video: CO:RE theories vlog series - an interview with Ola Erstad

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Ola Erstad

Ola Erstad is a Professor at the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway. He is an internationally leading scholar whose work focuses on digital literacy, firmly rooted in the wider social and cultural context of learning beyond the technological aspects. His areas of teaching expertise are learning, technology and education, children and youth in modern society. For several years (2006-2014) Erstad was the leader of the research group ‘TransAction’ at the Faculty of Education at the University of Oslo. From 2015 until present he has been Head of the Department of Education. From 2015 to 2018 he was Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Science Europe. He has been leading a Nordic network of researchers on ways of studying connections between formal and informal ways of learning and new models of education and schooling in the 21st century. From 2015 to the present he is Vice-Chair of a COST Action on ‘Digital literacy and multimodality in early childhood’. Erstad has also been a member of several international networks, for example ‘Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills’ with large implications in many countries about developing frameworks on 21st century skills for changing labour markets and societal transformations.


Further reading by Ola Erstad

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Erstad, Ola & Gillen, Julia (2020). Theorizing digital literacy practices in early childhood. The Routledge handbook of digital literacies in early childhood. Routledge. ISSN 9781138303881. p. 31–45. Full text in Research Archive

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Erstad, Ola & Sefton-Green, Julian (2013). Identity, Community, and Learning Lives in the Digital Age. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-00591-4. 233 p.

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Erstad, Ola (2018). Trajectories of knowledge builders: A learning lives approach. QWERTY - Interdisciplinary Journal of Technology, Culture and Education. ISSN 1828-7344. 13(2), p. 11–31. doi: 10.30557/QW000002.

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Erstad, Ola Andres; Kjällander, Susanne & Jarvela, Sanna (2021). Facing the challenges of 'digital competence'. A Nordic agenda for curriculum development for the 21st century. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy. ISSN 1891-943X. 16(2), p. 77–87. Full text in Research Archive

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Erstad, Ola; Flewitt, Rosie; Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina & Pires Pereira, Iris Susana (2020). Introduction: the emerging field of digital literacies in early childhood, The Routledge handbook of digital literacies in early childhood. Routledge. ISSN 9781138303881. p. 1–17. Full text in Research Archive

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Jornet, Alfredo & Erstad, Ola (2018). From learning contexts to learning lives: Studying learning (dis)continuities from the perspective of the learners. Digital Education Review. ISSN 2013-9144. p. 1–25. Full text in Research Archive

Further reading by other authors

Cole, M and Gajdamaschko, N (2010) Vygotsky and Context: Toward a Resolution of Theoretical Disputes. In S. Kirchner & J.Martin (eds). Sociocultural Perspectives in Psychology: Constitutive, Strongly Relational Approaches. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 253-279.

Heath, S. (1983). Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511841057

Lemke, J. (2000). ‘Across the scales of time: artifacts, activities, and meanings in ecosocial systems.’ Mind, Culture and Activity 7(4): pp. 273-90.

Lemke, J. (2009). Multimodality, identity and time. In C. Jewitt (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis. Abingdon: Routledge, p. 140–150. (See also: https://multimodalityglossary.wordpress.com/timescale/)

Vygotsky, L.S. (1929). The problem of the cultural development of the child, II. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 36, 414-434.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambrdge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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the author Mariya Stoilova

CO:RE Theories at LSE

Mariya Stoilova is a post-doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) working on children’s rights, online risks and opportunities, and well-being. She is a member of the Work Package 5 team.

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