Reflection on “learnification” of education
Posted October 6, 2014on:
If you have not read Ryan Tracey’s piece about the learnification of education, you should. It is something that made me pause for thought.
Tracey extracted parts of Biesta’s work which opposed the “neo-liberal” movement that seemed to emphasize learning over teaching.
Thought leaders who contribute to the discourse on learnification are merely trying to rebalance an equation that has focused too much on teaching (often bad teaching) towards learners and learning.
I am not devaluing teaching. I was a teacher and a teacher educator. As a consultant now, I still play the latter role and have expanded my scope to include other educators. But I emphasize the conditions that bring about learning over the act of teaching because there is greater value in the former.
The act of teaching should lead to learning, but there is no guarantee. Why?
Far too many teachers forget what the struggle to learn feels like. They may not know how, when, or if to alleviate the struggle. They may not know when to facilitate instead of teaching so that the learning is better.
It does not help that the discourse on teaching has put the sage of the stage in bad light and the guide on the side in a starring role. This is not only a threat to teachers, it is also a false dichotomy. What about the meddler in the middle who knows how to balance being both?
To put the problem another way, consider two questions reflective practitioners might ask. How do I teach better? How might my students learn better? Most good teachers ask the first question. Few teachers ask the second one and even fewer consider ways their students might learn without them.
Even worse than than not asking the second question is teachers who do not (or refuse to) understand their learners.
Consider this Edmodo message that a teacher sent to her students.
The teacher might have been concerned that her students were distracted by activity in Edmodo so that it might affect their exam revision.
However, the students were asking each other questions about homework and reference materials. There were only a few messages a day and this was easy to read, respond to, and manage.
I suspect that the teacher might have responded to a complaint from an ill-informed parent. Alternatively, she did not use Edmodo as regularly as her students and the notifications might have built up to the extent that it looked like they were spending more time in Edmodo than they should.
The students were merely asking each other for help when their teacher was not around. What is wrong with asking your peers? Why would a teacher stop them if they were getting help and the task was not distracting?
Preservice teachers here get a heavy dose of educational psychology and understanding the learner. But it is often dry and theoretical because they are removed from the context of having their own classrooms.
The Ministry of Education is moving into a phase of professional development (PD) that puts weight on teacher mentoring (it is more like coaching than mentoring, but that is a separate fish to fry). The temptation will be to focus primarily on content development. This would be a mistake as that focuses on teacher capacity.
There should be an emphasis on the learner and learning. Consider using the pedagogy of questions with broad topics like:
- How do people learn?
- How do my students prefer to learn? (This is not about learning styles and about learning habits instead.)
- How do I teach more progressively so that my students learn meaningfully and powerfully?
- How do I know my students have learnt? How do they know they have learnt?
Ultimately, the PD should be designed to nurture a teacher who is a learner first. A learner who is driven by questions instead of answers. A master learner who leads other learners by focusing on the hows of learning instead of the mechanics of teaching.