Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Five conditions for learning

I recently read this tweet on the web by David Gurin, the Teaching Professor: "Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech".

A good point. What is good teaching?

Benjamin Bloom, a eminent educational researcher said toward the end of his career that “After 40 years of intensive research [...] my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions for learning.” The education guru felt "conditions for learning" were of prime importance.

So what are 'learning conditions'? How do we know when they are 'right'?

My mentor, when I started teaching, said that students need structure, so that they understand where they will go. I think of this structure - my topic outlines and mindmaps - as our itinerary, which frames up our walk together through each semester's material. 

My focus over the years has been to clarify the structures and provide meta-structures where possible so that students who start at the detail AND those who start with the big-picture have their needs met.

I am just starting to think about this, but - as a first cut - my conditions for learning are:
  1. Structure: I think of myself as a net mender. I create, repair, and reinforce the links in the mesh that holds the learning together and guides learners as they move forward. It is my job to be alert for weaknesses, and reinforce before a failure appears. 
  2. Openness: learning will come from anywhere in the room, as we share discovery. I encourage students to bring new learning every day so I too learn. This openness means that students can bring challenging ideas to class and we can approach them safely together that allows us all to learn fairly and equally.
  3. Questions: I try to be an asker of questions, not a provider of answers. Together we work through problems, situations, and personalities in case work and real-life questions that students bring into the classroom. 
  4. 6 Billion Solutions: We talk often complexity and the range of ideas, skills, insights, self-knowledge and tools that students will take with them in their toolkit to solve their first graduate problems. I try to diffuse the idea that there is 'one best way', and to show them the shades of grey that is the sum of us on the planet.
  5. Fun: learning should be fun for all of us. It is my job to build an environment that is passionate, entertaining, enlightening and electric.
I am not sure if these are 'right' yet. I will have to reflect quite a bit first.

Interestingly, to return to the Teaching Professor's tweet, teaching technology has not made my list. It is not - in my view - a condition for learning. I think tech is simply a delivery channel: part of the many different ways to approach material, the many teaching tools that can be used, many ways to communicate that teachers can use.

Because what we use to teach does not equal how we learn.


Sam

References:
  • Bloom, Dr Benjamin Samuel & Sosniak, ‎Lauren A. (1985). Developing Talent in Young People. USA: Ballantine Books
  • Gurin, David (11 November 2015). Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach. Retrieved 26 April 2016 from https://twitter.com/teachprof/status/664564071837118464 [Tweet]

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