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Posts Tagged ‘learning

The first week of June in Singapore might mark the start of a month-long school vacation for students, but this is rarely the case for teachers.

There are workshops and conferences galore that they get to attend. For some, have to attend.

This CNA piece on one such event gleefully reported how well “blended” learning is happening here.

Video source

There is much to unpack even if you consider just the first example in the video. It is the blending of levels and talents of different students. That is a form of blended learning.

We need to focus on the content co-creation, not e-book or other technologies that remake the book. The news report dangled the shiny and distracting object, but we need to be smarter than that.

Is the use of technology blended? It could be. Does it enable blended learning? Most certainly. But it is what student do with it that matters most.

The voice in the podcast excerpt belongs to Dr Paul Penn, author of the book, The Psychology of Effective Studying

In the short clip, Penn explained what the most popular understanding of learning styles was. He also declared that:

You’re as well off knowing someone’s star sign as you are their learning style if you want to help them learn.

Reaction 1: Ooh, burn! 

Reaction 2: Here is why no educator worth their salt should waste time on learning styles.

Links to full podcast episode: [Apple] [Google] [Spotify]

Reaction 3: I agree with this tweet, #DieLearningStylesDie. 

Yes, 71!

That is not an exclamation of the number seventy-one. It is the factorial of 71, i.e., 71 x 70 x 69… etc.

71! is a huge number. The factorial calculator puts this at: 850,478,588,567,862,317,521,167,644,239,926,010,288,584,608,120,796,235,

Can you imagine having to individually address this many different number of, say, learning variations among your students?

Well, you would have to if you blindly buy in to learning styles. According to this 2009 article by the Association for Psychological Science, there are 71 different models of learning styles.

If you take learning styles seriously, you would have to address every style in each model. 71! If you do not, you are ignoring a style that supposedly best suits that learner.

Thankfully for you, the same article categorically debunks learning styles based on the poor research designs of studies that claim to support learning styles.

This does not mean that people do not learn differently. They do, but not in the way that proponents of learning styles insist.

One takeaway from this old not not-cited-enough article is that it is both irresponsible and impractical to try to teach by learning styles. These have not been empirically established and there are far too many to address for every lesson.

Another takeaway is how some practices go unquestioned because they seem plausible. Why are questions not asked about the validity of learning styles? Perhaps teachers (and even teacher educators) do not know what they do not know. That is, they have not kept up with the research.

A teacher should not reach the age of 71 to realise that learning styles are a myth. That teacher would have retired by then. She would not be able to put her energies into better approaches or mentor younger teachers by modelling reflective and critical thinking.

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This video on student “hacks” and tips on doing assignments, homework, and online learning will upset some teachers the wrong way and other teachers the right way.

The wrong way to get upset is to be defensive about current teaching practices and to push against what some students are already doing.

The right way to get upset is to reflect on our collective practices and to adapt to what is possible. This is not a war between teacher and learners. It is an opportunity for teachers to learn from their students. 

I enjoyed the video embedded in this tweet about how academics write.

But I had a different application of the video. Mine about how it applies to folks who arrange for professional development for their staff.

I have observed that such events are often standalone, i.e., they do not serve a longer term purpose or are not linked to an overall theme. Some organisers are just happy to check off an item from a to-do list.

Seminar on new policy, check. Workshop on new skill, check. But do these sessions result in learning and changed behaviours? If not, the interventions are like the person pulling the sheep out of the rut. But the sheep has not learnt anything and jumps back into the rut.

There is nothing inherently wrong with arranging on-going development for your workers. It is the responsible thing to do. But it is irresponsible to not also address mindsets that affect behaviours. 

In December 2020, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in a press release that it would build on the home-based learning experience — made mandatory due to our COVID-19 lockdown — by “making Blended Learning a key feature of the schooling experience”. 

The MOE defined blended learning (point 4 of the press release) as “a mix of home-based and in-school activities, and leverage both online and offline approaches to learning”. This definition is limited to modality: Outside and inside school, offline and online.

Photo by cottonbro on

I have critiqued this approach before because it limits the scope of blending to just one aspect. As my thoughts were scattered over several reflections, I summarise some key ideas in point form. Blended learning: 

  1. requires a clear and shared meaning, otherwise some people will just do the same old thing differently
  2. focuses on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching, i.e., do not confuse blended teaching with blended learning
  3. can be about skilfully mixing different strategies, content, contexts, timeframes, tools, evaluations, etc.
  4. is about providing learners with seamless experiences, i.e., the differences above are not obvious to the learner (like a smoothie)
  5. is about the long tail, not the short game

The rollout of the exact nature of blended learning is left to schools and this is an excellent strategy. The annex to the press release states that the frequency of such blended learning is once a fortnight.

The MOE has mandated that secondary-and-above students experience this by Term 3 of 2021. This means that school personnel have started their planning. So I offer some unsolicited advice on how to approach the design of blended learning.

Address the low bar of continuity 
The blended learning initiatives might absorb the schools’ e-learning days or stand alone from them. Either way, it cannot run away from the fact that we need to keep preparing for the next lockdown, be that due to another pandemic or something short of an apocalypse. 

The key question to answer is: How do we continue with near business-as-usual in terms of curricula and schemes of work without resorting to make up sessions when everyone returns to school?

Address the meaningful bar of context 
The unstated beauty of the mandate is that each school needs to devise its own plan. This means that each school can take into account its overall profile of its students. 

This means that a school with students from lower-income groups who have just received devices and dongles can have a programme that is different from one that competes with the best on the world stage. This should be the case.

The key design question is: What is best for my learners over this period of time?

Design beyond modality and synchronicity 
The idea that blended learning is limited only to mixing the “traditional” with the “technological” is not only passé, it is harmful. It limits what teachers can design for their students.

In my third summary point on blended learning, I mentioned several things that can be seamlessly blended. For example, teachers from different academic departments could co-design a common project for students that addresses different content areas and standards.

Such cross or inter-disciplinary content design not only helps students see how different subjects work together, it also prevents teachers from designing in isolation. The latter design results in multiple tasks that all seem urgent to students. This results in stress and resentment of “blended learning” days.

The guiding design question might be: What else can be blended to create a learning smoothie?

Start simple
One principle I share with teachers and graduate students alike is this: Start simple because things will get complicated.

Do not be over-ambitious with the design of learning tasks. What seems easy and obvious to you as a teacher is not so to a student. Practice empathetic design.

One question to keep asking during planning: How can this be further simplified without compromising on quality or challenge? 

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on

Again, this is unsolicited advice and limited only to overall approaches, not specific strategies. I have called on my previous experience of providing consultations with teacher educators and university faculty on all manner of blended designs. You can take it or leave it.

I have said it before and I will say it again: I do not deliver learning.

Far better and wiser people have said it too. Do not take my word for it, consider theirs.

I liked George Couros’ distinction between school and learning. I would label the headers schooling and education, but that is just me.

I would also take pains to explain why this is a false dichotomy because each side has their values and we need both.

For example, an education focuses on generating meaningful questions, but it also requires the critical collecting, analysing, and evaluating of answers. Such question asking might lead to the challenging of norms, but schooling serves an important social function of enculturating. This means learning when to be compliant.

The dichotomy is not wrong. It is just not nuanced at face value. This is like how I say that a coin does not just have two sides. There is a side that goes all around and gives it depth. Exploring that side makes it real.

Today I draw on two news reports to reflect on teaching and learning.

Video source

If any student and teacher in Singapore complains about school, they should watch this short BBC report about a school in Yemen.

The teachers and students returned to their bombed out school building after rebels were chased out by the government. I am in awe of their desire to learn despite the daily dangers they face.

The teachers work for free because of the civil war. While I do not expect teachers to work pro bono, this could be a reminder for teachers elsewhere to remember why they answered the call to teach.

The news snippet also featured a blind nine-year-old child stepped in when teachers did not show up. Talk about an extreme form of learning by peer teaching!

Video source

The second video was of a five-year-old boy who saved his mother because he called an emergency number that was printed on his toy ambulance.

In the interview, his mother revealed that she did not teach him how to use a phone, to remember emergency numbers, or even what to do in an emergency.

This is a three-part reminder about how we sometimes learn: We can do so by observation, we do not always require someone else to teach or model, and we best apply when there is an authentic need.

It should not take extremes of schooling during a civil war or a home emergency to remind us how to teach better. It is about focusing on what is best for our learners.

This is the best tweeted nugget so far about the myth that is learning styles.

I have ranted so much against this pseudoscience so much that I wonder if I look like a crazy doomsday crier on the street. Nevertheless, here is yet another resource that summarises some evidence against this still propagated myth.

There was nothing new in the article for me about the debunking of learning styles by researchers in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. But I did find out that learning styles are not peddled as test items in teacher preparation in the USA states of Arizona and Indiana. These are the same states where I got my Masters and Ph.D. respectively.

I used to wrongly teach learning styles to preservice teachers before I pursued my higher degrees. I have been practically at war with this pseudoscience as a professor after I got my Ph.D. and as a education consultant now. I see how I might have been influenced to switch to the right side.

But back to the article. The author declared:

Sound professional judgment requires that the best available knowledge gained through empirical research be integrated into practice. Teachers are professionals whose influence on human lives cannot be overstated. It’s critical that they make instructional decisions informed by evidence.

The author followed up with actionable steps:

  1. Follow the research. He likened progressive teacher preparation to medical schools that no longer teach and test bloodletting.
  1. Prepare research-savvy teachers. To the author, this was like doctors who would not “blindly accept what pharmaceutical representatives market to them to inform treatment decisions”.

Both are good points. But what is the harm in letting teachers try to address learning styles? The author argued that teachers would not only be wasting their time, they would also not focus on more productive and effective strategies.

Think of it this way. It is one thing to read your horoscope and then laugh it off as creative storytelling. It is entirely another to take astrological predictions seriously and plan your life around them.

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