Educational Development

The only thing worth teaching is how to learn

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4am.. yep its another one of those sleepless mornings when counting sheep just won't settle the mind. Its like waiting for santa on christmas eve, or going through your paces before a big game... this time its what I'm going to say in the 10 minutes I've got today to sum up everything I represent in this game of teaching and learning.

I have 10 minutes to give a presentation in the first of 4 workshops as part of a course called Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. The course is part of a new certificate called "Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching" being run in my place of work. It is a certificate that all teaching academic staff will likely be expected to have in our organisation, a trend of certification I am quite familiar with in Australia.

So anyway, I've decided to talk about the only thing worth teaching. My presentation is the last of 3. The others are talking to case studies in flexible learning design. One is talking about the development of an online learning resource, the other (I think) is talking about the development of an online learning community for a particular occupation area. The thing that has been worrying me (and the reason I'm awake at this hour) is that with a distributed and networked learning design (that's kinda what I want to talk about), it is difficult to find something that shows how it works at a glance.

That's why I love Jay Cross' graphic on informal learning. I intend to use this graphic to talk about what our organisation calls "graduate profile". A graduate profile is what a student will be like when they finish their time with us. It has statements in it about being a life long learner, a self directed learner, and stuff like that. I want to use that profile and combine it with Jay's illustration of informal learning, and set them up side by side and use them as the target learning outcome when designing for flexible learning.

So it might go something like this:

When a student comes to us, it is probably for one of 2 reasons. They are a novice learner and need support in starting out their learning in a particular area (a bus ride as Jay puts it); or they are an already expert learner (a bicycle rider as Jay puts it) and have to be here because some other piece of paper says they need this piece of paper. Not much I can do about the paper bit, and it certainly can be a demotivating distraction for some groups, but at least I can try to make the bus ride learning (designed for novice learners) interesting for bicycle riding self directed learners.

So, we have a group of novice learners in their first year. They are expert bicycle riders in other subject areas, but in ours they are confessing novice status and want to come on a bus ride (the lesson, or course plan). What we want to do as bus drivers is teach these people how to appreciate riding bicycles in our subject area. Make sense? Well it is 4:30am...

In short, we want these learners to be functional self directed learners in the field before they graduate. Our graduate profile is a bicycle rider.

What does this mean in real terms? It might go something like this:

In their first year (assuming we as teachers have the luxury of talking in years with our course plans) we join people to classrooms. These may be real 9 to 5 type classrooms or these may be virtual online classrooms. We start them off with presentations, lectures, our own learning materials, and otherwise passive/delivered information. But sooner than later we are asking them to start reproducing what they are learning and interacting with the subject.

In the second year (or phase) we introduce them to existing learning communities where they can witness a more informal learning process. It is here we start teaching how to learn this way. We wean them out of the classroom learning, building confidence around themselves and their understanding of the subject. We help them manage communications technology and the skills needed to work it to THEIR favour, and give incentives to use that technology in whatever informal learning they may already be involved in.

Finally in the third year or phase we add further incentives to now focus their informal learning processes on the subject. Taking their place in existing subject oriented learning communities, developing a voice within it and/or breaking away and starting a new learning community. The main point is to develop a person to be an expert self directed learner in the field before they walk out that "door" with a funny hat and a rolled up peice of paper.

Now with that seemingly obvious objective out of the way, what are some of the impediments to that happening? Well, the classroom for one. If by the end of the 3rd year or phase, your classroom or learning management system is still full, then the objective is still a long way off. You need to get as many as you can out of your classroom (bus) an on their own journey (bicycle) as you can in the short amount of tiime you have. In more than a few cases some people may take a lot longer to develop confidence in learning the field informally than others, a few of these may come to realise that your field is not what interests them. Other obstacles are in measuring learning or assessment, but these bureaucratic challenges are where the fun begins for a creative and energetic teacher.

So, its 5 am and I think I'll sleep on it for an hour or so now. But at least I have it out now. Its rough, and may not make any sense to anyone but me - I bet there are a bunch of people who are thinking that I have just contradicted myself in all this, but I have that in mind and I don't think I have. When I come to re-reading this, all puffy eyed and at work - we'll see.

5 Responses to “The only thing worth teaching is how to learn”

  1. Blogger jay 

    Leigh, it makes perfect sense to me... except for your timing. Years? Accelerate the schedule. People take to the new environment readily. Or course, maybe the faculty takes years to adjust.

    Good luck with the talk.

  2. Blogger Adaptive Software 

    Hey Leigh,
    Very interesting thoughts. As you mentioned, measuring the learning can get a bit challenging. Any thoughts on how we can achieve it?


  3. Blogger Leigh Blackall 

    I do have a few thoughts...

    Learning outcomes that I have experience with are usually pretty nebulous as they are so measuring the outcomes is always pretty difficult. With the use of networked / web 2 type tools like blogs, wikis, and RSS, we have tools to assess someone's knowledge quite quickly. Take you for example. I can see your work at a click of a link, follow its leads in all sorts of directions, enter into a dialogue with you, or formulate a list of questions based on where you are going in you blog, and conduct an assessment interview... there are other web based tools that I can apply to your blog URL that will visually map out your network. DIsplayed as a concept map, all the links and reference you make, and that are made back at you are easy to identify and simple to track. Then there's good ol Google searching, technoratio searching and analysis of your position in numerous socially networked softwares...

  4. Anonymous jvvw 

    As well as issues as to what to do if students don't engage and how you fit assessment into everything, I think you'll also find that learning communities at the right level won't already exist for many subjects. (And those that do might not welcome a couple of hundred students joining in!)

    So you're going to have to work out how to actually create the learning communities from scratch. That's obviously worthwhile and I think exactly how you do that is an interesting question. You can't just go and say to your students 'start a learning community'.

    I do also think that one of the roles of a university is to provide exciting stimuli for students related to their subjects to get them interested and give them something to discuss if they want. That's quite hard too, but I think you want that as well as the learning communities.

  5. Blogger Leigh Blackall 

    absolutely! Creating learning communities is badly needed in so many subject areas and getting a start on it will be very difficult. But that's where I see schools and their captive audiences as having a key role to play.

    Looking at existing communities such as the area of teacher training there is plenty. There are plenty for programming and application development, for some areas of design - plenty, specialist mechanics - plenty.. farming.. imagine a rural region where farming of some sort was the main industry. Imagine if farmers in that region kept blogs. They already would keep a journal of some sort, putting it online and networking it with other's in the region would surely improve the region's productivity, efficiency and resistance to pests and disease...

    Imagine a fence builder keeping a blog of the jobs he/she completes... not only is it an easy to maintain website helping to market the business, but it could also be a resource of some sort for people learning about fencing...

    In many instances it strikes me that we need to encourage people to be more communicative with their work. Just by communicating openly online they achieve lots in terms of marketing and record keeping, its not a waste of time by itself. Once a number of people do it, and a network begins to form, then the networked learning or learning community happens naturally.

    Its really just the next step from forums. All it is is people in that forum building more of an online identity for themselves and communicating through that...

    But the biggest obstacle in my opinion, is the consumerist culture we have built. Being expressive and creative seems to be well - not the norm and there are very few things to encourage it. Blogging seems to be the activity of a significant minority, and while it does help those who do it, in my experience it has put me at odds with my immediate community on more than one occasion. Being globally networked doesn't necessarily mean you are locally networked :( but its early days yet.

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