Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way
We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:
The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0
The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)
All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.
Facilitating the Process
The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.
Expectations for Self-Directed Learning
In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.
In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)
In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.
Educator as an Observer
If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally. Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.
Educator as a Resource
The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.
The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).
The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.
Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies
A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . . Sort of. In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.
The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).
“If educators are serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment (It really is about the technology and . . .). This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.
Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful
It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.
The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning. Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).
Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning
The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.
Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).
Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).
Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities
Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).
Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.
With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is messy:
Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://learningismessy.com/)
. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:
I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).
Use of Open Technology and Resources
In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly” (Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.
How the Learners’ Benefit
I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:
- Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
- Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
- Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
- Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
- Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
- Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
- Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
- Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
- Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.
Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.
July 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm
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