On The Learning Circuits Blog, Tony Karrer’s Big Question for December is What Did You Learn About Learning in 2009?
I reviewed my posts over the year, following Tony’s advice, looking for things that might be relevant to this. There are several recurring themes. Some I’ve also met on other bloggers’ posts. I've selected two main ones that are related - the quick pill and learner engagement.
I’ve a lot of questions, and few convincing answers.
We are often dogged by tradition when it comes to theories of learning. They are many and varied. But it’s too easy to discard time-honoured philosophies and replace them with something new and seemingly innovative.
Thinking and learning
One theme that’s prominent is related to multi-tasking, among a series of other linked ideas that took my interest this year. It prompted me to think of how ideas on thinking and learning evolve in the first place.
The discussions I’ve followed on the merits and demerits of multi-tasking seem to be at cross–purposes to each another. Those who believe that it can be done effectively are seemingly oblivious to hard evidence that it just can’t be done.
The quick pill
Learning is not often easy. It nearly always involves concentration, thought and patience. A person looking for a learning panacea (don’t all learners do this as some stage?) may end up having to make a strategic choice, and stick with that long enough to see if it works.
It doesn’t always work. It’s no different for the teacher who is looking for a quick pill to offer learners.
Teachers have a more difficult job in many respects, for they have first to assess the learners’ progress, and interpret these assessments to see if a method works. Teachers who believe that assessment is not required or who neglect the need for these are short-changing their learners and fooling themselves.
Learners who know something about metacognition may have more facile routes to similar destinations. But they also have to assess effectively their own progress before they know if a learning technique is any use to them.
The smorgasbord of tips and ideas to do with learning that learner and teacher confront, tends to be so much in-your-face - a plethora. And there are conflicting arguments in abundance over the merit of each tempting morsel – which one works for what situation, etc – everything from where the learning is sourced, to how it’s supposed to be assimilated:
- Are books a good idea? Should learners be able to read AND listen to mp3s? Does listening to music really assist learning? What type of music is best if it does? Is the Internet a fast option? Can a learner listen to or watch instructional DVDs and read the Internet at the same time?
Does the learner have a so-called digital-immigrant’s barrier to accepting these learning technologies? If so, what can the learner do about it if they have?
What other barriers to learning can impede the progress of the would-be-learner? The list goes on.
Another theme I’ve seen a lot of this year is learner engagement. Again, a whole set of questions arise out of this.
- What is it that hooks the learner? How can the hook be put to further use? Is there a way of maintaining an effective level of engagement once initiated? Is it individual engagement or is a community more likely to achieve a better level of success?
What influence does the support of the learning environment have on learning? Are parents, partners or other significant people important to the learner when it comes to motivation?
What circumstances are best for learning – situational or isolated instruction? Of these, are the benefits associated with either, dependent on the occasion?
Where does praising the learner fit into all this?
I find this difficult. I’ve covered so much ground this year, it’s a hard task to prioritise and select the most significant ideas or the most interesting thoughts, for I’m really not sure of their relative importance.
They are all fascinating in their own captivating way. The practice of the good teacher is to select, revise and re-activate from past actions those that work best in the ever-changing environment of learning.