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Posts Tagged ‘learning

Warning: Do not read beyond this sentence if you do not possess this third educator trait.

Have you ever wondered something like this out loud?

If so, we have the perfect platform for you. Introducing: Cave minus 10.0.

Secret Cave by heyyu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  heyyu 

For confidential topics, retreat to our Cave. It is wireless (no wires or power), signalless (no smartphones), and connectionless (no Internet, no social media, no YouTube, etc.).

There is no writing on any medium (not even the walls), no storage or archiving (you already have baggage), and no surface for reflection (you already know best because you have class).

Why use our Cave? Simple. Anything online is never completely confidential. It can be video-recorded, screen-captured, or otherwise copied and shared.

SS helmet by gwilmore, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  gwilmore 

We also offer a special brainwashing head gear, Cognitive Helmet (patent pending), that helps people forget the little they remember or learn. If they remember something, they can take it out of the Cave and share it elsewhere (like they did with the Math Olympiad question on Cheryl’s birthday).

Note: Helmet does not help remove bias that your cave people will already have. It has been proven to permit only assimilative thinking and resist cognitive dissonance and accommodative thinking.

The combination of Cave and Cognitive Helmet provide a virtual learning experience. You will think you are teaching and your people will think they are learning. Virtually speaking, of course.

For optimum experience, we encourage your people to bring their own devices. Devices like ear plugs and blinder-equipped glasses. If you think isolating yourself from the rest of the world is good, removing yourself even while in the presence of others is even better. Teach and learn in isolation or even in a vacuum; it is neat, peaceful, and clean.

If you subscribe now, we offer a free* wall of fire (Fire Wall, patent pending) to keep intruders, the curious, and the non-entitled, non-payers out.

*Fuel for fire is limited and subject to supply demand the depth of your budget.

We can be part of this world, but not of it. We ignore calls to break down classroom walls or make them transparent. Why should we let people see what really goes on in there? We refuse external inputs because we have all the experts we need. What do those charlatans know to do anyway? Parody sales pitches?

Screw so called 21st century fluff and fake modern beliefs like connectivism, climate change, evolution, or “the earth is round”. We do not just wish for the Age of Enlightenment or Renaissance men (sorry, women), we create the conditions for it. How do you put a price on that?

We do! It will cost you a lot of money for the few that will use it. But you know that it is worth it because it costs so much! How many other people can say they own a white elephant?

The World in a Bubble (September 2012) by skippyjon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  skippyjon 

Too long, didn’t read? Create your own bubble of confidential content delivery with Confidential Cave -10.0, Cognitive Helmet (patent pending), and Fire Wall (also patent pending). It will not burst. We promise (fingers crossed).

Contact our sales staff today by smoke signal, carrier pigeon, or telegraph (we are trying this new technology but we expect it not to last).

If you prefer, you can visit us in our underground office located at Ostrich Neck Lane. If you hit Frog-in-Well Industries, you have gone too deep. We are shallower than that.

This message was paid for by Van Doores, Pte. Ltd. and supported by Al M. Esse & Associates and Dead Tree Inc.

The blog entry I shared in my month-old tweet was an interesting reflection on micro learning vs micro content.

Cynics might say that the argument was about semantics, but I disagree. Words hold meaning, meaning is born of philosophy, belief system, or mindset, and these shape behaviour.

It was important to tear down “micro learning”. At the risk of sounding like a squeaky wheel: Learning is learning; there is no micro or mega learning.

The important question is: How do we make learning happen?

There are many ways. I suggest just three design philosophies in the context of the article: Designing for 1) relevance, curiosity, or motivation, 2) learner agency and ownership, and 3) micro content.

Relevance, curiosity, or motivation. If a university offered a six-week MOOC and someone was only interested in a topic in the second week and quit shortly after, did they learn anything? If that person was interested and found some content useful, they learnt something because they wanted to.

They did not fail to “mega learn” the whole course. They did not “micro learn” the content of the second week. They learnt what was relevant to them, what they were curious about, or what they were interested in.

The question a designer needs to ask is not “How do I make this course interesting?” (which is teacher-centric) but “How do I take advantage of what learners are interested in?” (student-centric).


Learner agency and ownership. If a resource provider decided to provide short videos that taught a large, complex topic in smaller chunks and in an interesting manner, will that help students learn better?

The common saying is that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. A less common one might be you can try to feed someone an elephant one small piece at a time, but they might not eat.

Only when the learner thirsts or hungers for it does learning take place authentically. If not, they pretend to drink, they shuffle uneaten bits on their plates, or avoid the food and drink. If forced to imbibe, they might comply only to spit out elsewhere.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I leverage on or create the natural need to learn?”

Micro content. We might be tempted to assume that a large, complex topic is valuable and needs to be learnt, or we can decide that the micro contents are useful units in themselves. This is the argument for reusable learning objects: Micro content can be learnt for its own sake or be part of larger components.

This might explain the success of micro formats like edu-Twitter or short videos in YouTube. They might not be part of an official and larger curriculum, compliant to a set of standards, or address a list of desired objectives. Every educational tweet or instructional video is valuable in itself. It is left to the learners to judge its value and decide if that tidbit is enough or if they want more.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I create micro content that resembles LEGO bricks that stand alone or can be combined into larger wholes?” or “How to I take advantage of what is happening in social media and YouTube?”

Microscope by BWJones, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  BWJones 

There is no micro learning, only micro thinking. This is the sort of thinking that prevents instructional designers, subject matter experts, and teachers from designing and using micro content because they think that the mega complex forms makes them valuable.

It is also the sort of thinking that focuses on how to teach instead of how people learn. It takes humility to admit that teaching does not always lead to learning.

Effective resource design and teaching starts with understanding the learner and learning. It is about starting with learner relevance, curiosity, motivation, agency, and ownership. It is about going to where the learner is at.

In conversations I participated in #asiaED last week, I detected some confusion about “formal” and “informal” learning.

If talk and write about “formal learning” or “informal learning”, I am not thinking about different thought processes. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal. Instead I am thinking about formal or informal contexts for learning. These might include places, spaces, and circumstances.

Places might include the school (typically but not always formal) or the home (typically but not always informal).

Spaces might include a classroom in school (where a teacher instructs formally) or a bathroom in school (where kids share information informally). An online space like Edmodo can be used formally (e.g., teacher sets a curriculum-defined task for students) or informally (e.g., kids talk about hobbies, ask for homework help).

Places and spaces do not define formality or informality.

If Person A (teacher or student) shows Person B (another teacher or student) how to troubleshoot a technical problem while in school but not during class or professional development time, is that formal or informal? If a parent arranges home-based remedial tuition using school textbooks and worksheets, is that formal or informal?

It is the circumstances that might define formality or informality. The place and space alone do not. Learning can happen in any context. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

Teachers might equate formal contexts with formal learning. Teachers might also like to think that formal teaching leads to learning, but there is no guarantee of this because such teaching is not always meaningful, just-in-time, or just-for-learners.

Learning does not need a formal invitation to learn, a defined set of objectives, clearly delivered content, or even well constructed tests.

Learning happens when the learner is ready. Learners are most ready when there is a need to learn or when there is cognitive dissonance. This then affects motivation and curiosity.

Simply consider how people learn from YouTube when they are driven to learn a new dance move to show off, to play the guitar to impress someone, to try a new recipe to improve their repertoire, or to try a new gaming strategy to outwit an opponent.

A skillful and caring teacher can create this same drive in class. A group of boys exchanging tips in a school bathroom on how to bring and hide cigarettes creates the same conditions.

When I shared the tweet above in response to a question about designing “modern learning environments”, I was not being flippant. I was trying to send a message.

Focusing only on classrooms or schools so that they become “modern learning environments” is misguided practice. It might not recognize that learning happens everywhere and anywhere.

Students can and do learn while they are on public transport, waiting in a queue, or seated on a “throne” at home. They typically do this with a smartphone in their hands.

Google knows how important mobile access and resources are so much so that it is changing search returns to favour mobile-enabled sites. Do schools recognize the importance of mobile access and contexts? Or are schools still concerned about the physical classroom instead of enabling learning with mobile devices?

School authorities and vendors can do all they can to make schools and classrooms safe for learning and to simulate “informal” spaces, and they should for the good of learners and learning. But they should not do this under the guise of the false dichotomy of formal or informal learning.

I would rather time and resources be spent helping teachers reconnect with what learning is like and how learning takes place than creating “special rooms” for teaching. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

The moderator at this week’s #asiaED slow chat posted this question:

I had to respond with:

I had to because MLEs are not confined to the classroom.

Kids and adults alike learn while they are in the loo, travelling on public transport, or waiting in a queue. They study or even have remedial tuition at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

One way to rethink the design of classrooms is to make them look more like home or cafes.

In 2009, my former workplace, the National Institute of Education, Singapore, took the initiative to convert all the tutorial rooms on the ground floor to “collaborative classrooms”. There were almost 70 of such rooms and several other special rooms on other floors.

I shared a few photos of these places with this message: MLEs can be designed to look like where the learners are already at. If learners are already comfortable in cafes and their living rooms, simulate that.

I also tried to warn that MLEs should not just be about transforming the physical space.

A redesigned classroom can be most impressive to visitors or administrators. But what good is that if teachers teach the same way and students do not learn any differently (e.g., not at all, only in isolation, sans Internet)?

The previous director of NIE provided some anecdotal evidence at a talk about two years ago. As he walked around campus, he could peek through the windows of our collaborative classrooms. He wondered out loud why tutors and professors still seemed to be standing in front. (Background: We had started a professional development programme on using such rooms effectively, but 1) it took time to reach almost 400 instructors), and 2) only the usual suspects and the already converted tended to show up.)

It is easy to paint walls, buy new furniture, and change layouts. These also cost a fair bit of money.

It is more difficult to change teacher mindsets and behaviour. But I rarely see such MLE change initiatives include rigorous professional development. The cost of not doing this is even higher, not because it is expensive but because you spend money to make changes to the outside (the classrooms) without tending to the insides (instructor beliefs and mindsets).

When there is superficial or no pedagogical change, the cost is high because it does little to benefit learners. This can happen when vendors sell only furniture and classroom layouts without considering professional development or student inputs.

Caveat emptor.

5981-DB-sm by alee_04, on Flickr
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I invested the last week in revisiting reflections on flipped learning (flipping). Here is why I did it.

Here are the links in case you missed them.

I had initially planned on six reflections, but I decided to rise above. Yesterday I reflected on the differences between flipped learning and flipping a classroom as well as being a flipping change agent.

Teachers contemplating the flip should first distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. This article makes a distinction.

I draw my own differences. The flipped classroom focuses on what a teacher can do. Flipped learning focuses on what learners can and should do.

Teachers do not have to change their behaviours very much when flipping a classroom: They still prepare content and dish out homework. They might have to reorient themselves to using class time for more coaching and differentiation, but good teachers should be able to do this.

To flip learning, teachers might have to reconsider what they hold sacred, e.g., their command and control, their content expertise, their curriculum. Teachers who flip learning realize the importance of getting learners to create content and to teach one another.

Teachers who flip their classrooms might know how to swing from being a sage-on-the-stage to the guide-on-the-side. If they use videos, their stage is the movie platform where they create and/or curate; if they use a webquest, their stage is filled with the resources they wish their students to consume online. If they are skillful back in class, these teachers learn how to guide students individually or in small groups towards self, peer, or teacher-oriented help.

Flippers do these but also learn how to be the meddler-in-the-middle. A meddler does not create a fire-and-forget video or tell students to “just Google it”.

Meddlers circulate and are the centre of circles. They move around the class or the online space to interact with learners in order to create dissonance or to restore balance. The demonstrate skills and they model thinking.

Meddlers realize that good questions drive learning, not answers. They direct and connect their learners to resources instead of just dishing out answers.

Meddlers are comfortable taking risks and are willing to fail forward. Meddlers are not interested in labels or rhetoric; meddlers take action. But meddlers also know what works (practice) and why (theory).

Meddlers do not walk past change and ignore it. They are the poster children of change.

This is the sixth part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

Yesterday I explained that having students create or co-create content is a critical dimension in flipping because this is an active process of learning.  

Another active learning process is teaching and I include it as my third dimension of flipping. 

Why is it important for students to teach one another?

Teachers know how difficult it is to teach. Let us consider a basic example: One person trying to explain a concept to another person.

Using Bloom’s framework as a reference point, the person trying to explain a concept must be able to recall and comprehend that concept first. That person must combine that understanding with a degree of application to explain it to someone else. The explainer has to juggle these while getting visual, auditory, tactile, or other feedback from the listener. Processing this feedback will require analysis as well as an evaluation of noise vs signal. After deciding what is important to say and show, the explainer will need to synthesize something that makes sense to the listener.

In short, anyone who has to explain a concept to someone else has to constantly recall, process, and reprocess.

Teachers become content experts not primarily because they read up on that content or complete worksheets. They teach that content over and over again and get better at it. They develop deep knowledge of that content and some even fall in love with it, all because they teach it.

If you want students to understand something better, then get them to teach it.

Monarch School Mobile Stories by MACSD, on Flickr
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Learning is messier than teaching. Some teachers forget that structured teaching does not always lead to learning. Formulaic teaching by a teacher can sometimes take out the discovery, joy, and necessary struggle of learning because the teacher over-simplifies and does the thinking for his/her students.

Leveraging on messiness of learning means applying Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. In a nutshell, cognitive dissonance is mental unease or discomfort due to new information. For example, if you strongly believe that only teachers can be trusted to create content and teach it, what I am proposing about flipping will cause some cognitive dissonance.

When applied to flipping, using cognitive dissonance means strategically allowing learners to struggle with what they think they already know (or do not know) and letting them teach each other what they could know or should know.

For example, a group of learners might wrongly assume that all Muslims are terrorists. A teacher could tell them otherwise, but this is no guarantee that the learners will believe the teacher.

Instead, a teacher could get the learners to analyze and share with one another their findings from various sources of information, e.g., books, articles, interviews, videos, websites. While this does not guarantee a change in mindset, the students learn to think by thinking.

Didactic delivery is faster, but that does not mean that it is effective. If you want students to appreciate something better, get them to teach it.

DSC_0030 by Holtsman, on Flickr
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I wager that many teachers have experienced this scenario. They try explaining something ten times to Student A and s/he does not get it every time. Student B comes along and explains the same concept once and Student A has a eureka moment.

Students develop a language and understanding of their own that teachers sometimes cannot or do not tap into. As I summarized earlier, learners:

  • can find ways to make the content more relevant and exciting
  • are more creative with relating concepts or ideas
  • are closer to the “a-ha” moments and reach their peers in a more visceral way

If you want students to learn, get them to teach it.


Getting students to learn by teaching is not a new discovery. Dale first theorized something like this in 1949 and revised it in 1969. He posited that it was more effective to learn by doing concretely than by any other method.

A side note: Dale’s cone was more about the effectiveness of different media forms and experiences. Others after him repurposed it and added numbers to the levels to indicate effectiveness for learning. These numbers have little or no research merit.

If you are still not convinced about the effectiveness of learning-by-teaching, read my quick review of two studies that showed how students who expected to teach or had to teach performed better than those who did not.

There are other reasons why teachers should encourage their students to teach content, e.g., the audience effect (Google it or read my summary near the end of this reflection).

I have described four reasons for flipping who teaches: When students teach content, they have to learn it more deeply, they learn to think more critically, they teach in ways we cannot, and research says they learn better. If these are not good enough reasons to flip learning, I do not know what is.

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