Friday, 21 October 2016

Ako: teaching and learning

I have read that if we treat students as our customer (and I do), we may "inappropriately" box education into "a product as opposed to a process" corner (McCulloch, 2009, p. 173).

However, I think of teaching as being like leadership: it is a transformational process. Transformation means change.

De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes & Moors define learning as "ontogenetic adaptation—that is, as changes in the behavior of an organism that result from regularities in the environment of the organism" (2013, p. 631). That is a fairly clinical description of the process.

Making that warmer, Te Kete Ipurangi (citing Ka Hikitia, 2008, p. 20) outlines the Maori concept of ako as "a teaching and learning relationship", where the teacher learns from the learners through the process of teaching. Teaching is developmental, "deliberate", "reflective", and part of the whānau.

Ako is an environmentally supportive definition: interlinked, entwined, inter-connected: that teachers and learners are together in a value exchange process that goes both ways.  

I particularly like the aspect of reflection. That new ideas are introduced, then mulled over for how they fit. That new learning affects the learner, the family and the community.

Te Kete Ipurangi continues (citing Keown, Parker & Tiakiwai, 2005, p. 12) that ako is "a reciprocal learning relationship [where] teachers are not expected to know everything. In particular, ako suggests that each member of the classroom or learning setting brings knowledge with them from which all are able to learn". Responsibility for teaching and learning are shared.

Benjamin Bloom took a very broad approach to learning. He said 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” (Bloom & Sosniak, 1985, p. 4). I suspect that the 'current conditions'  are development, being "deliberate", "reflective", sharing and whānau-focused.

However, in a recent LinkedIn discussion thread, Pekka Linna suggested that teaching and learning are different (Williams, 26 May 2016): 
Learning is the process of growth in understanding, skills, knowledge etc. Teaching is the activity that has as its primary goal learning that takes place in someone else. Studying is the activity that has as its primary goal learning that takes place in the actor self.

With this distinction we can then say that I learn as I teach, but we can also see that these are no longer referring to fixed roles but to activities and results: during a course students can be studying and learning from that and teaching and learning from that. They can also be doing both simultaneously:
"Can I teach this to you in order to learn it myself?"

I was surprised at how much of an isolationist approach this felt, when compared to Ako. No sense of community, of linkage, or of sharing.

With that way of thinking, there is a danger of a customer-centric view becoming a product instead of a process.


  • Bloom, Dr Benjamin Samuel & Sosniak, ‎Lauren A. (1985). Developing Talent in Young People. USA: Ballantine Books 
  • De Houwer, Jan, Barnes-Holmes, Dermot & Moors, Agnes (2013). What is learning? On the nature and merits of a functional definition of learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, August 2013, Volume 20, Issue 4 (pp. 631-642).
  • Grabinger, R. Scott, & Dunlap, and Joanna C. (1995). Rich environments for active learning: A definition. Research in Learning Technology, December 1995, Volume 3, issue 2 (pp. 5-34).
  • Hirst, Paul H. (1971). What is teaching? Journal of Curriculum Studies, May 1971, Volume 3, issue 1 (pp. 5-18).
  • Hollingworth, H. L. (1972). What Is Learning? The Scientific Monthly, July 1932, Volume 35, issue 1 (pp. 63-65)
  • Noddings, Nel (2003). Is teaching a practice? Journal of Philosophy of Education, May 2003, 37, issue 2 (pp. 241-251).
  • McCulloch, Alistair (2009). The student as co‐producer: Learning from public administration about the student–university relationship. Studies in Higher Education, March 2009, Volume 34, issue 2 (pp. 171-183).
  • Te Kete Ipurangi (n.d.). The Concept of Ako. Retrieved 2 June 2016
  • Te Kete Ipurangi (n.d.). Te Tere Auraki Concept Map. Retrieved 2 June 2016 from 
  • Williams, Claire, (26 May 2016). I thought I knew the difference between teaching and learning... Retrieved 6 June 2016 from

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