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Posts Tagged ‘learning

This MindShift article was one of the better written critiques on “personalised” learning.

Most current vendor offerings and institutional implementations of “personalised learning” tend to focus on individual pacing. These tools and platforms might allow learners to go at their own pace and explore a walled garden.

If I had to summarise the critiques from the article of such “personalisation”, I would say that:

  • those implementations might forget that learning is also cooperative and collaborative
  • the tools and platforms are based on biased algorithms that do not learn and adjust
  • self-pacing with outdated material is still learning outdated material

The bottomline? Pacing as personalisation is only good for low-level procedural learning. It is the low-hanging fruit, and since it is easier to reach, it is sold and implemented.

At the higher and opposite end of the spectrum of personalised learning is individualisation. Will Richardson and Stephen Downes might call it “personal learning.”

At the minimum, personal learning involves the learner and helping them to set goals and then to follow up on them. It necessitates the provision of choice and agency. Both these stem from empowerment.



If you think that this seems like a tall order and is drastically different from a conventional school, then you are right. But while doing this is more difficult, it is not impossible. The article also described examples of personal learning in action as well as research revealing its effectiveness and ineffectiveness.


Video source

The video above described the “five-hour rule” — setting aside an hour a day to read, write, set goals, and learn. It also listed and briefly describe what some famously successful people so to learn deliberately.

It went on to elaborate on what such learning might look like:

  • Planning for specific outcomes
  • Practising deliberately and getting feedback
  • Reflecting deeply on such practice
  • Actively setting aside time and effort to do these things
  • Dealing with small problems as they arise instead of waiting for them to grow
  • Tinkering with ideas

When I used to lead a department of about 20 lovely folks, I recall requiring them to do most these things. When I left, most left me notes that they learnt a lot. Not from me; they taught themselves because they became more deliberate learners.

One might take a simple observation (like the one tweeted below) and turn it into a teaching moment.

At first glance, you might see nothing wrong with the set up and leave it at that.

As the Twitter personality points out human foibles like laziness or oversight, you might look for something wrong. So a second look might reveal how the rolled up screen cannot be lowered past the projector.

Even so, anyone who has used a short-throw projector knows that 1) it is typically used with a wall-mounted whiteboard (like the one in the same photo), and 2) the projection on the board is often interactive. The second point means that the presenter can tap or write on the board — this requires a stationary surface, not a dangling one.

Still, someone whose job was to install the projector could have also removed the old screen. But even that is not nuanced enough. Why replace one type of projector with another?

Administrators and policymakers have bought into the sales pitches of vendors who say that such interactive projections are the next big thing. They are not. They leave the teacher squarely at the front of the classroom, with little involvement of the learners.

To teach is the learn twice.

If the adage that “To teach is to learn twice” is true, then we understand why teachers become content experts. They are constantly unpacking and repacking content for others.

How about the learners? Would they not benefit from teaching one another more often than not?

If teachers have just one critical job (for the record, they have many), it is to ensure that students learn effectively and meaningfully. Presentations on screen do not ensure learning; performance using the new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes do.

Learning is not a spectator sport. --Chickering and Ehrmann

Anyone who still thinks that the VAK (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) typology is valid should watch the video below.


Video source

A few people were blindfolded and had to guess who other people were and what they looked like just from the sound of their voices.

Proponents of any “learning style” inventory paint themselves into a corner because we are all visual learners (unless we are visually-impaired, of course). We are also auditory, kinaethetic, and other learners.

We are not predisposed to learning a certain way. Each of us might have learning preferences, but we also adapt to contexts. For example, there are times when only the written word or audio recordings is available. At other times, physical activities need to be performed and not just watched or listened to.

Extreme proponents of “learning styles” argue that teachers should provide what learners prefer. Not only is this impractical, doing that spoon-feeds instead of challenges students to learn new skills, e.g., active listening, improvising.

I say we stop supporting the charade is learning styles. It is time to remove that mask and to see the messiness of learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

The end of every semester gives me time to reflect. Even though I am no longer a full time faculty member, I do this because I am still an educator of future educators.

Most times I take notes — literally in macOS Notes — of what to do differently the next semester. This semester a conversation with one future faculty member reminded me to stay the course.

A graduate student I had just evaluated on student-centred pedagogy stayed back and asked me why I insisted that higher order thinking be challenged to and attempted by groups of learners.

The simple answer was the same as what that student recalled from workshop sessions — getting students to work with one another was more engaging. I did not give that answer because I know that empowerment is more effective than engagement.

I provided a broader answer. I replied that getting students to think deeply was important individually, particularly in a university context. However, we also have a civic responsibility to prepare students for the work place.

These are the same work places that have to deal with ill-structured problems. Often workers operate in teams or groups to find or devise solutions.

Universities have to play catch-up with the work place. Faculty who claim to prepare students for the work place need to operate accordingly. That is why higher order thinking, like peer teaching and cooperative learning, are critical.

To teach is the learn twice.

I helped that learner connect dots that he did not realise went that broad and that deep. I realise that I do not do this often enough. This reflection is a reminder for me to not just take these teachable moments, but also to make them.

Learning is not a spectator sport.

The old school stance was mostly learning about content. Such content retention and understanding was and still is quite efficiently measured with tests.

The current mood of schooling seems to be shifting to learning to think. This recognises how information is more readily available and fluid, so much so that the student and worker needs to learn how to process such breadth and uncertainty.

The school of yesterday and today might have paid lip service on learning to be. It is not enough for students to learn and think critically about science, history, or architecture. They need to learn how to be scientists, historians, or architects.

The reality is that we need all three: Learning about, learning to think about, and learning to be. The reality is also that it is easier to determine the outcomes of learning about, even if that learning is superficial or temporary.

It is much more difficult and probably illogical to test for contextual thinking and acting. Perhaps the school of tomorrow might focus on learning to be and finding ways to better evaluate embodiment of learning.

The mind works in strange ways. Right before I fell asleep two nights ago, I remembered a conversation I had with an educator in the US eight years ago. She remarked that we had different ways of using the word “enable” as well as its derivatives “enabling” and “enabler”.

This rise-above statement arose because I mentioned that technology should not be used to merely enhance teaching and that it should enable learning.

My conversation partner’s perspective of “enabling” was somewhat negative, e.g., enabling someone else’s alcoholism by buying alcohol. Her perspective might also include being passive, e.g., not intervening or interfering with the addiction.

In the contexts of schooling and education, such enabling could allow systemic racism or bullying to persist and perhaps get worse. So I saw her point about how enabling was negative.

But this was not my perspective on enabling, particularly on enabling learning with technology. I saw (and still see) enabling as showing support by freeing learners and empowering them.

In the contexts of schooling and education, enabling is knowing when to let go, e.g., if learners show initiative instead of reining them in. Enabling is also giving learners ownership of processes and products of learning.

I still do not know if I got my point across then. I know I still have to make that point to teachers and educators today. I can try to free and empower them with dissonant thoughts, but only they can choose to learn.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. -- Todd Rose (In “The End of Average”)


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