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Posts Tagged ‘learning

I sum up the already short tweet above with this: To teach is to learn twice.

To teach is the learn twice.

With enough reflective experience and well-grounded theory, it is easy to understand why teachers might become content experts. They are constantly performing retrieval practice and so they get better at learning the content.

Educators who have caught on to this by being well-read apply this in their classrooms and courses — they get learners to teach one another. This can happen in pairs or in small groups, take the form of short instructional videos, or any method that requires students to first internalise (consume) content and then externalise (express) it.

As learners do this, they will experience what all teachers do. They will struggle with explaining or communicating aspects of content. They then revisit or relook sources of information or clarify with their peers. This is a natural and authentic way of learning.

Students are not teachers. They do not have the experience or the education that teachers might have received about pedagogy. However, this should not stop them from doing what works, i.e., retrieval practice.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) declared that Learning is a Learned Behavior. It is not wrong, but it is not completely right either.

We do need to learn how to learn. This is because we might forget how we learnt before, are taught in school to “learn” a certain way, and we need to adapt to new circumstances.

But the HBR makes a vague declaration that “learners are made, not born” and prefaces that phrase with a “growing body of research”. That research seems focused on adult learning and casually ignores child cognitive development studies. If you dive into the latter, you might learn that we are born as learning machines and we get more sophisticated as we grow.
 

 
The author has the right to focus on adult learning, but should make that clear at the onset. Learning is not only learnt, it is also innate.

Ignoring the latter capacity in children and adults is to offer an incomplete and inaccurate picture. This, in turn, leads to an interventionist bias, i.e., what must I do to you because you cannot help yourself?

If we realise that the capacity to learn is also innate, we take an observer’s perspective, i.e., how you do already learn and what can we do to help you do more?

Therein lies a “secret”: Educators know that they cannot think of themselves only as planners of lessons and vessels of content. They must also be designers of learning environments and opportunities.

One issue that came up in this Twitter exchange was the difference in teachers being lesson planners and learning designers.

This is my perspective: The two are not separate or dichotomous. They are related and stem from overlapping behaviours. For example, both require deep pedagogical-content knowledge and empathy for learners.

However, there are nuanced differences between the two. I offer just three mindset factors that distinguish designers of learning from conventional instructors.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Messiness
I have long put forward that teaching is neat while learning is messy. A good educator recognises that learners do not have the same content structure and experiences as she does.

Someone with structure and experience has already been through one or more journeys. They can look back and try to guide others through. However, that guiding is not the same as the learning journey.

A learning journey is messy because it is full of trial and error.

Meddling and tinkering
Whereas teaching is structured and logical with the benefit of hindsight, learning is exploring the unknown. The best way to move forward is to take cognitive risks by trying.

Some might call this process tinkering. We are programmed to do this from the moment we are born. Soon after, adults try to reduce such risks — and such a natural way of learning — in the name of efficiency or safety.

When these adults are teachers, they deliver in chunks. This is not wrong, but it is also not congruent with how newbies learn. If teachers are to be designers of learning, they need to learn how to be the meddler-in-the-middle.

Being a lead learner
One key strategy to be a meddler-in-the-middle to the learn constantly. This way you know what it feels like to be uncertain, to struggle, and to empathise with learners.

Some call this being a lead learner. This is an apt moniker because the designer and facilitator of learning is just slightly ahead and around the learners. She is there relating to the struggle and struggling along with them.

This does not mean that a lead learner is uncertain or poorly skilled. Quite the opposite. A lead learner models thinking skills and problem-solving. A lead learner thinks out loud. A lead learner teaches reflexively and reflectively.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

The takeaway from my descriptions should not be that these are prescriptions. I have just described mindset change. This is something that is shaped from teacher preparation to professional development and from policy making to systemic change management.

These two summaries below of research on flipped classrooms and flipped learning seem to exemplify what and how the phenomena has been studied.

First, studies that focus on test scores or academic results often report the “no significant difference” (NSD) phenomenon. This is typical of quasi-experimental studies that attempt to replicate test and control treatments.

It is not surprising that there rarely are significant differences in treatments because there is often just one key outcome — test scores. Like most social phenomena in schooling and education, test scores are subject to many influencing and confounding factors. It is impossible to implement pure treatment no matter how much you try to control for them.

Second, studies that review other studies reveal what practitioners might sense intuitively — reports tend to be cautious trials that tout ideas, but rarely follow up despite the claim for “future areas of study”. This results in the dearth of practice-informed theory.

Both are often symptomatic of the unethical research game: Propose studies, clear review boards by assuring no harm to human subjects, receive grant money, collect data, publish for appraisal points and promotion.

Who benefits? The researchers and publishers, especially the latter who put high-sounding work behind walled gardens. This crosses ethical boundaries particularly when the money is publicly sourced. If the money is from taxation, it does not help the people who paid the taxes because they can neither access nor understand the articles.

Even when they are simplified by abstracts and summaries (or dumbed down by this dummy!), the reported efforts offer NSD or offer no real answers. That is flipping research (and other research) in the nutshell.

We know so much and yet so little for something so simple. That was my main response when I watched the video below.


Video source


What if a child asked you why their tongues stick out when they concentrate? How would you answer? What would you do?

It would be relatively easy to try to teach the child what you think you know. It would be very easy to direct them to the video, but that would not make the learning any more authentic. It would be more difficult to guide the child with question asking (problem-seeking) and answering (problem-solving).

We know so much and yet so little for something so complex.

If you read this tweet or attend this session, you should have an open but critical mind. For example, what exactly does “bringing authentic contexts” mean?

Does it mean watching videos? Are the videos supposed to provide a window to the real world? For me, authentic watching of videos happens when people travel on the train or potato on a couch.

Or might the authenticity actually extend to learners creating videos by collaborating and critiquing?

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.


Video source

Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.


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