User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘passion-based learning

Feelings During FLOW-Related Learning

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Watch children, youth, and even adults when they are immersed in learning something of interest of them, and you will see often complete engagement and personal joy. When education is done “right”, learners often feel and experience the following in their both formal and informal educational environments:

  • Joy
  • Engaged
  • Excited
  • Wonderment
  • Intrinsically Motivated
  • Creative
  • Accomplishment and Pride (in themselves and in their work)
  • Connected (to the content, to other learners, to experts)
  • Purposeful
  • Important
  • Valued

Learners Should Experience

All of these feelings described above are often experienced as part of a FLOW state. The characteristics of “Flow” according to its originator and researcher, Czikszentmihalyi, are:

  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating – with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable – that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity
  6. Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward (http://austega.com/gifted/16-gifted/articles/24-flow-and-mihaly-csikszentmihalyi.html)

Joy and engagement are intentionally at the top of the list as I believe these two feelings  are needed in order for all others to occur, for flow to occur. First and foremost, for me, is my desire to help learners experience joy in the learning process:

Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, wouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, why not focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activity, like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems? These focuses are not so different from the things to which they already gravitate and in which they delight.(Joy: A Subject Schools Lack)

As for student engagement . . .

Student engagement, described as the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities, is a key construct in motivation research (Thijs & Verkuyten, 2009). Consequently, compared to less engaged peers, engaged students demonstrate more effort, experience more positive emotions and pay more attention in the classroom (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Further, engagement has also been associated with positive student outcomes, including higher grades and decreased dropouts (Connell, Spencer, & Aber, 1994). (Encouraging Positive Student Engagement and Motivation: Tips for Teachers)

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to set up the conditions for learners to experience flow. To achieve a state of flow in the educational environment isn’t nor does it need to be that complicated. It can be as simple as replicating real life learning in more formal schools. I have discussed this in my post Natural Versus Unnatural Learning. In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

Given a growth and flexible mindset, educators can easily implement these ideas within their own classrooms.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2016 at 11:43 pm

Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

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Too often marginalized populations (e.g., some populations of people of color, students from lower economic communities) are approached with a deficit model. Attempts are made to instill in these groups of students the skills to make them successful at the Eurocentric education that dominates most schools in the United States.

The deficit model of education sees kids as

  • lacking in some way
  • defective
  • deficient
  • needing to be fixed
  • not as good as . . .
  • needing to develop skills valued by mainstream society

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at. We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. (http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2013/03/28/stop-deficit-model-thinking/)

Sadly, many educators and administrators aren’t even aware of the deficit model of education prevalent in many schools systems. It follows, then, that they are definitely not aware of the differences between deficit and asset models.

The differences between deficit and strength-based thinking help to explain why efforts to improve the public schools have often been counterproductive and certainly less than sustainable.  Most elected leaders and educational bureaucrats tend to view the public schools in deficit terms and seldom focus on individual and school-wide strengths. (http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference)

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http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference

The asset model of education approaches kids from marginalized populations as:

  • having unique strengths, passions, and interests
  • being competent and capable in settings that are important to the learners
  • having their own personal powers
  • having much to offer to other learners and their school communities
  • sources for educating others about their communities and cultures
  • thriving in a climate of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning
  • even though they are not marching to the beat of traditional school design, it doesn’t mean they are out of step

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Every child has a gift; the challenge is helping them discover that gift. This strategy focuses on the students’ abilities rather than inabilities. As students understand what they have to offer, they can focus on their abilities to accomplish tasks in any subject area. (http://www.schoolimprovement.com/initializing-asset-based-education/)

There is a growing body of research that urges schools to acknowledge the social and cultural capital present in communities of color and poor communities (Moll & Greenberg, 1990; Gonzalez, 2005; Yosso, 2005). Tara Yosso (2005), for example, critiques static notions of cultural capital that fail to recognize what she refers to as “community cultural wealth”—characteristics, such as resiliency, that students of color and poor students often bring to school that should be recognized and built upon. Similar research by Wenfan Yan (1999) suggests that academically successful African American students bring unique forms of social capital with them into the classroom that are distinct from white, middle-class cultural models and that African American parents tended to contact their children’s schools regarding their teens’ future career aspirations and experiences in schools more than White parents. As this body of research continues to develop, schools and school agents may abandon deficit perspectives, affirm the cultural richness present in these communities, and implement more culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic strata. (http://www.education.com/reference/article/cultural-deficit-model/)

Of special interest is the current trend towards maker education in both formal and informal educational environments and insuring equity for all populations:

A huge part of trying to bring equity to every moment of tinkering is to see students as full of strengths from their home community, their families, and their experiences. Kids are brilliant and it’s our responsibility to notice their brilliance and deepen it. This perspective has allowed kids who don’t fit into traditional ideas about what it means to be smart, or academic, thrive in the tinkering space. (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/03/tinkering-spaces-how-equity-means-more-than-access/)

If we sincerely believe in creating school systems based on equity, then we need to design systems that honor and respect all students.

educational-equity

Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?

questions

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Learner Empowerment

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A major theme during the Educon 2.8 conference in Philadelphia during the last week of January, 2016, was learner empowerment. Here is a Storify of tweets about empowerment from the conference: https://storify.com/jackiegerstein/what-conditions-are-necessary-for-empowerment-in-s.  Highlighted Tweets include . . .

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The conference and Twitter discussions motivated me to write this post on learner empowerment. Thomas and Velthouse offered a specific description of learner empowerment by identifying four dimensions:

  1. Meaningfulness – This describes the value of the task in relation to individual beliefs, ideals, and standards. If the work you need to do doesn’t have much or any meaning to you, doesn’t seem to hold much or any importance, then there isn’t much or any motivation to work hard and produce quality work.
  2. Competence – Here’s the confidence piece. Empowerment derives from feeling qualified and capable of performing the work. You can handle what you’re being asked to do.
  3. Impact – The more impact you believe you will have, the more motivation you feel to work hard. You are empowered if you believe you’re doing work that makes a difference—work that matters and is important.
  4. Choice – This dimension relates to whether you get to determine the task goals and how you will accomplish them. The more choice you have, the more empowered you feel (http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/whats-empowered-student/).

Sadly, most educational institutions from Kindergarten through College do not create conditions for empowerment. They are often the antithesis of empowerment. Students of all ages are told what to learn, how to learn it, and how they will be assessed for what they are supposed to learn. Way too often there is a lack of opportunities for meaningful learning and choices for individual learners. Competence only comes for the best traditional students, ones who thrive in these drill and test environments. Too many learners often feel that whatever they do within school doesn’t matter.

In a school climate of empowerment, educators become purveyors of hope.

Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empowerment).

With the assistance of educators, learners can develop feelings of empowerment within their school settings. This often translates into increased hope for their educations, their lives, their communities, and their futures.

Some strategies that educators can do for setting up conditions for learner empowerment include:

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As a parting shot, here is a video of one of the Educon 2.8 panels on empowerment:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

A Model of Good Teaching?

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for 8 to 12 year olds, and as an educator, I have been analyzing it as a model for good teaching.  My observations include:

  • The challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for these kids. They are based on the kids’ passion for and interest in cooking.
  • The kids don’t need to be graded about their performances. Consequences are natural. Food gets burned. The kids sometimes get burned. The food dishes taste good or they don’t.
  • There is a gamelike atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up (each subsequent challenge is more difficult), a sense of mastery or achievement upon accomplishing each challenge. The experience is immersive with the kids living the part of a chef. The kids get to try new roles such as team leaders, lead chefs, team representative, and being popular (this is one of the first situations that some of these kids get to shine).
  • The kids push themselves to the limit within seemingly impossible challenges – mostly because of their love for cooking, a strong intrinsic motivator. The kids often create very difficult food dishes that they have never created before. They often rise to the challenges surprising both themselves and the judges with what they created.

Just seeing the kids … when their hands go up, and the look on their faces of what they have done is unbelievable. You can tell right on their face at that moment if they’re happy or if they’ve completely blown it. Obviously there are failures, and they’re crying. For the ones that have done well, when they put their hands up and they are proud of what they just put on the plate, that look — there’s no words to even go there with it. It’s unbelievable, because you know that they put everything into it. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for the kids – there are things like mystery food boxes; the judges introduces challenges are astronauts; the kids cooking for other kids at an amusement. The kids visible shake with excitement and anticipation while the challenges are being introduced.
  • The judges are clear, specific, and truthful with their feedback: both positive and negative. The judges give brutally honest feedback. They are very specific in describing what worked and what didn’t work about about the kids’ food creations. Sometimes the kids cry but there is visible respect that the kids have for the judges and that judges have for the kids.

Even when Gorden (the top chef and host) is disciplining them, or yelling at them about something, there’s this level of respect that the child has for him, and he has for the child, that total care. They know, they get it. He’s this grandiose father figure that has the career of their dreams, and he just does it so naturally. He doesn’t sugarcoat things for them like they are a toddler. I mean, he really goes at them when they need it, but there’s always this wonderful constructive element. So that was awesome to see. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • There is an atmosphere of mutual respect . . . kids for the judges, judges for the kids, and kids for one another.
  • The adult judges will come in and help the kids if they see any individual being pushed too far over their limits and capabilities. This intervention is based on teaching the kids proper technique not doing it for them.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another. The objective is to win but the kids seem more concerned about their own performance rather than the performance of their peers.
  • The kids, through working together on many of their challenges, develop into a close knit team and visibly support each other. Even though they are competing against each other, they seem to understand they are with like minded peers. In effect, they develop their own PLNs based on similar interests. For some, it is the first time they have been with peers with a passion for cooking.  Many cry when one of their peers in eliminated from the competition and say that they made friends for life.

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What I believe the kids learn during their MasterChef Junior experiences:

  • Additional cross-curricular skills including math skills, oral communication, following directions;
  • Working with a team;
  • Tolerance for frustration;
  • That their passions and interests are valuable and meaningful.

Many of the kids in interviews following their elimination from the competition state that it was the best experience of their lives.  I have a hunch that many of these kids would say their MasterChef experiences taught them as much or more than all of the school years combined. I’ve written about creating the conditions for the best day ever.

It’s mind blowing how much I grew as a chef, how much I grew as a person. 12 year old Zac

Educators, in this era of learning, should focus on those conditions that create an environment that each and every one of their students love coming to school and love learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

The Future Belongs to the Curious: How Are We Bringing Curiosity Into School?

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What is curiosity? The word is associated with the irregular form of the Latin verb cura, which can mean worry or care about or cure. The word closest in meaning is inquisitive, which also has a Latin root: quaere, to search into, to seek. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

Curiosity is the quest for new ideas and information. Folks who are curious aren’t satisfied with what they already know or have figured out. They go after what they don’t know or can’t understand—and that missing information can become a driving need to find out. “Curiosity’s most distinguishing characteristic is its open willingness to explore….” (Cultivating Curiosity in Our Students as a Catalyst for Learning)

The future belongs to the curious . . .

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A recent research study found a connection between curiosity and deep learning:

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it. Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward.  Third, when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. (How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning)

So what are we doing (or not doing) in our educational institutions to encourage and spark the curiosity of learners?

Curiosity is inherently dynamic and propulsive, not sedentary and passive. Most traditional instruction depends on the latter state and seeks to control the former. This is true especially of the interrupting student or precocious child who wanders about, ignoring the lesson while remaining intent on some mission of his or her own.

The only rational answer to the conundrum of curiosity is to disengage our educational system from standardized testing and common curricula. Curiosity does not hold up well under intense expectation. Give agency to teachers, with the explicit message to slow down and provide students time to wonder and be curious. Counter-intuitively, our role as teachers is not to provide answers. Our role is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions, and let our students exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

In this era of overly scripted, overly tested, overly controlled students AND teachers, there seems to be little or no room for curiosity at school. So what is the cost of curiosity-void schools?  The result , way too often, is a school culture of malaise rather than a culture of curiosity, engagement, excitement and joy for learning. Educators along with their administrators need to be agents of their own teaching and bring curiosity into their classrooms especially if they have the slightest belief that the future belongs to the curious.

What follows are some strategies for allowing curiosity to flourish in the learning environment:

  • Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.
  • Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.
  • Find out what learners wonder about.
  • Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.
  • Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).
  • Do curiosity projects.

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Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.

The first and possibly the most significant action that educators can take is tapping into the curiosity of their students is to find, embrace and use their own curiosity as an integral part of their teaching strategies.

The power of modeling and social learning cannot be overstated.

When researchers invite children into a room containing a novel object, they find that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the experimenter makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore the interesting object. Experiments I’ve done show that children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials. In other words, children’s curiosity can be fostered or squelched by the people they spend time with. (The Case for Curiosity)

Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.

“What ifs” are defined, in this case, as what could be, what is possible. It is about possibility thinking. “What ifs” open doors to curiosity, imagination, and divergent thinking. A classroom filed with “what ifs,” generated by both the educator and the learners, is open to all kinds of possibilities. It is not constrained by what it but is becomes a place where thinking centers on what could be.

Find out what learners wonder about.

Micheal Wesch, the acclaimed digital ethnography professor from Kansas State University, had this to say about wonder:

What is needed more than ever is to inspire our students to wonder, to nurture their appetite for curiosity, exploration, and contemplation, to help them attain an insatiable appetite to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions, so that they can harness and leverage the bounty of possibility all around us and rediscover the “end” or purpose of wonder, and stave off the historical end of wonder.

I’ve developed and implemented a What Do I Wonder About? activity that I’ve done both 1st graders, 5th graders, and even college students.  I observed 100% engagement by all aged learners. Other wonder activities can be found at 4 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Wonder (And Why it’s Important).

Not only do activities like these assist the educator in discovering what their learners wonder about, they give learners the message that what they wonder about it important and valued.

Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.

Wesch believes that a sense of wonder and curiosity is nourished by learning to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions. The great educational philosopher Paulo Freire agrees with the power of the question and its direct relationship to curiosity:

I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity. (The Future of School)

There seems to be lots of educational writings about how educators can use effective questioning techniques in the classroom. But these are the questions that are of interest to the teacher; that are composed and asked by the teacher.  These questions may tap into the interests and curiosities of their learners, but they are may not. If educators really have a desire to open up the channels of curiosity in their learning environment, they will facilitate helping learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions. As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:

If the true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer. (Learning To Ask The Right Question)

Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).

As formal educational settings have evolved (seems a bit like a misnomer), there has also been less time blocked off for unstructured play, exploration, and tinkering. It seems that most Kindergarten through graduate school education have added more and more instructional time during each day leaving less time to just play.

Everywhere we turn these days we find pundits and politicians arguing for more restrictive schooling. Of course they don’t use the word “restrictive,” but that’s what it amounts to. They want more standardized tests, more homework, more supervision, longer school days, longer school year. (Learning Requires Freedom)

If learners of all ages had more time to just play, then their natural curiosities would emerge:

Whatever happened to the idea that children [and the rest of us] learn through their own free play and exploration? Every serious psychological theory of learning, from Piaget’s on, posits that learning is an active process controlled by the learner, motivated by curiosity.

If we stop to think about it, that the most valuable lessons we have learned are not what we “learned in kindergarten,” nor what we learned in courses later on. They are, instead, the lessons that we learned when we allowed ourselves the luxury of following through on our own interests and our own drives to play, fully and deeply. (Learning Requires Freedom)

Do curiosity projects.

Educators can even do a guided curiosity project with their learners. If educators want more detailed directions or a template for bring a curiosity project into their classrooms, see https://goo.gl/8HgZ7s written and implemented by Scot Hoffman.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. — Albert Einstein

Let’s change this! Let’s bring curiosity based learning into more formal education to help learners belong in the future of curiosity.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 14, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

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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:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

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

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

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.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

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