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Posts Tagged ‘sdl

SDL is short for self-directed learning. The person who asked the questions below about the role of Gurkhas in Singapore could have used a large dose of SDL.

A simple Google search would have revealed answers to the basic questions. But the more pointed (and frankly insulting) questions require a dose of humility and perspective-taking.

Take, for instance, this humble perspective from a daughter of Gurkhas. Or this photo essay by Zakaria Zainal.

If SDL is too much work, then keeping mum might be easier and wiser.

Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

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Humour me. Pretend that you watched this video about the Student Learning Space (SLS) without knowing that it was about the SLS.

What makes it stand out from just about any other online schooling platform?

I do not ask the question sarcastically, but critically. My question comes from a place of earnestness and honesty. I ask because we should question buzzwords.

I ask because I want to know whether you see what I see. I see two main things.

First, without knowing that this was about the SLS, it could have been a pitch for any LMS or CMS. Providers of these platforms and services tout essentially the same things. I see no difference, except my next observation.

Second, one thing that is supposed to make the SLS stand out is its push to promote self-directed learning (SDL). The official statement and the video led with it.


While SDL might sound self-explanatory, it has different connotations. Like any other term, e.g., socio-emotional learning (SEL), it is important to have shared understandings of SDL.

If you explore the literature, specifically the work of Gibbons, you might discover that SDL is a continuum. Gibbons identifies true SDL as “Courses or programs in which students choose the outcomes, design their own activities and pursue them in their own way.” Does the SLS allow these?

If you organise your own unPD with Twitter, you might discover at least seven elements that characterise SDL at the independent learner end of the spectrum. Does the SLS enable these elements?

BTW, the #edsg folks who volunteered their time also shared their thoughts on SDL in 2014. I curated the conversation and resources with Storify. Like most LMS, the SLS will allow students to converse. Will it allow students to create and curate as a result of learning conversations?

So, what form of SDL will the SLS promote and nurture? I ask this knowing that the SLS is not just about the platform. The social and pedagogical aspects of its use help answer the question.

Will the SLS be as natural as Googling and looking for YouTube videos? Will it be a first response or a last resort? Will it be leveraged in skilfully or superficially? Will it be integrated seamlessly or stand out?

Answers to these questions lie in its use. The way it is used depends on its users. Its users need to know its expectations of use and to see new models of integration. Its teachers need professional development (PD), not just of technical know-how, but also social and pedagogical nous.

I have no doubt that teachers will get some training and PD. These will be met with the usual range of teacher responses. I wonder how many will depend on their own SDL to learn more about the SLS.

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Some people might react to this headline with alarm.

There was cause for worry given that the 8-year-old not only drove a mile (1.6km) to a nearby restaurant for a cheeseburger, he also brought his 4-year-old sister along.

Some might point out that YouTube empowered the child to an extreme form of self-directed learning (SDL).

I disagree. The story is an example of normal SDL and independent learning. The child had a need (craving for a burger), but faced a problem (the inability to drive). The solution (driving) was enabled by watching YouTube videos (SDL).

SDL is not entirely up to adults or teachers to define. They might be the least attuned to possibilities that technologies afford and are held back by history.

I am not saying we throw caution to the wind. I am saying that we provide guidance and reframe what is possible with fresh and child-like eyes.

When I was a boy, I had to wind my wristwatch and use a key to coil a spring in household clocks. Today it seems like the only way to get wound up by a watch is when its battery runs flat.

You can either bring the watch to a shop to get the battery changed, or you can attempt it yourself. When I first watched how someone else did it and how much the battery and service cost, I decided that I would do it myself in future.

Back then it looked like a specialised or skilled task. It is not any more. There are numerous websites and YouTube videos that show you how to open up the watch yourself and swop the battery. Many of these resources are brand or model specific.

I change my wife’s and my watch batteries once a year or every two years, so I sometimes forget my self-taught lessons.

A recent reminder was how rare some batteries are.

I had to find an equivalent for a battery for a dress watch because the exact brand and type was not available in hardware stores here. So I searched online, found the equivalent types, and made price comparisons. I saved anywhere between five to ten times the cost by DIY compared to going to a shop.

The result of this exercise was a renewed appreciation for how easy it is to be a self-directed learner nowadays. All this is because we have accessible platforms and creators who share openly.

The timely reminders are that we need to create conditions for this sort of learning and nurture learners who not only know how to consume helpful content, but also how to give back by creating and sharing.

Here is a lesson on video-based learning as applied outside the schooling bubble.

Watch this video of a 12-year-old girl who taught herself dubstep dancing by watching YouTube videos.

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Administrators, instructional designers, and teachers might be seduced by the sentiment that the girl expressed: “It benefits you by rewinding, pausing… you can watch it over and over again, but in a classroom you can’t do that.” This is also what a vendor might say.

The self-taught dancer went on to say that the Internet was her generation’s way of learning things.

I do not deny those two points, but if we focus only on the technical affordances of YouTube videos and what seems to be a generational difference, we focus on the wrong things.

A video simply being on YouTube does not drive the learning. It is the learner that does this. In the words of the girl in the video:

If you’re on the Internet, you can really learn and teach yourself… You can do anything if you really have a passion for it.

What YouTube has done is made self-directed and truly independent learning possible. What the learner must do is desire to learn, search, watch, curate, practice, critique, and create. All are desirable outcomes, are they not?

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

I posted a rather cryptic tweet in the aftermath of #educampsg and in response to a query on flipping.

I unpack the tweet by illustrating with questions or comments that I get frequently from teachers.

One thing that troubles some teachers is the link between flipping and self-directed learning. They realize that for both flipped classrooms and flipped learning to be successful, students must learn to be more independent and self-motivated. However, they put the cart before the horse when they ask questions like: “Doesn’t flipping only favour students who are self-directed?” or “How do I ensure that students complete pre-class work?”

This sort of thinking presumes that self-directedness must be a prerequisite to flipping. They reason that if their students are not motivated, they will not consume content before class and flipping breaks down at the very first step. Furthermore, since academically strong students tend to be more motivated, teachers often make the assumption that flipping favours such students. Since students are not likely to cooperate or if flipping only seems to benefit a few, teachers reason that it is not worth the effort.

That is not how to approach flipping. I argue that well-designed and skillfully-managed flipping is one way of nurturing self-directed learners.

In a conventionally flipped class, a teacher might find out that only half of his/her class watched a video, completed a webquest, or collected some data beforehand. Flipping breaks down if the teacher opts to deliver content again in class. The students who refused to play their part get their way and the ones who followed instructions feel cheated.

A persistent educator will resist the urge to give in and might instead apply social pressure on those who have not completed their work prior to class. This could mean pursuing the in-class activity that is linked to and builds on the out-of-class activity, e.g., a Flubaroo-graded quiz. Both the teacher and the students who did work beforehand apply pressure on those who did not.

This takes time to work and can be very effective should students be provided access to resources whether at home or in school, and if school leaders and parents support the teacher. The students who do not play ball then run out of reasons to not join in the game.

Now all that said, a learner-centred teacher could also provide leeway to those who did not do the work beforehand but were still able to answer questions, solve problems, or complete tasks acceptably. The students could be quick learners or learn non-linearly by picking up cues and clues in class. This means that having self-directed learners is less of an issue here; the capacity of the teacher to differentiate instruction is.

Flipping is not the end result of having self-directed learners; it is a means to that end. Flipping is not a just a product of teachers who are already skilled in differentiating instruction; it is a means for teachers to learn how to do this.

thirsty horse by luigioss, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  luigioss 

About a week or two ago, I read a digest on school-related news with a equal measure of amusement and dismay.

Unnamed teachers lauded the yet to be named online portal of 2016 that promises to provide customizable content for learners. Even though “portal” is overused or sometimes improperly used, it was not what amused or dismayed me.

What did was the fact that teachers believed that the officially-sanctioned resources would promote self-directed learning (SDL) among learners.

These were press reports, of course, and you cannot expect non-teachers to understand that SDL is a continuum of behavior. Heck, I know that some teachers think that SDL is limited to them directing students to read something outside class on their own time.

I was dismayed that SDL is still misunderstood. I was mildly amused that some teachers think that a portal is a solution.

The expectation around a portal is that it is a place and that “if you build it they will come”. If you make it really good or seem very important, then even more will come.

But this was the promise of schools subscribing to content and learning management systems. Such technological systems have been used in old ways (repositories) or relegated to the periphery (e-learning days). I hope that from the CMS and LMS we have learnt that “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”.

The horse will only drink if it is thirsty.

SDL is tied to mindsets, motivation, and methods. It could be driven by the individual learner or by heutagogical practices of a teacher. A portal is not necessarily going to incentivise it or guarantee it.

Only thirsty learners are going to find the water and drink it. Responsible educators are going to show them how to find and drink from good sources of water. A portal is not going to create that natural thirst or provide that metacognitive skillset.

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