21 August 2010

Learning Changes

Paradox Educational Services began operations just a little over a year ago. During this time, I have tried to find information and advice that would help me organize the service in ways that would be of most benefit to my clients. As a result of this reading and exposure to Internet materials, my thinking about learning and education has changed in several ways. Here are a dozen of them.
  1. Good teachers are not sages-on-the-stage; they are also not guides-on-the-side. Good learning is disruptive, provoking, and challenging; the teacher is the meddler-in-the-middle. Good teachers have made constant learning a priority in life.
  2. Learning is not merely the comprehension and control of information. This concept has long been known, but an understanding of Bloom's taxonomy, though well received among educators, is slow to gain currency in many educational settings. Coverage of much material looks impressive, but little time is given to the more valuable educational pursuits of analysis, application, and the creation of new media-expressions of the information.
  3. Education resources should be free. The assignment of ownership to information and ideas assumes that it is appropriate for such information to be kept from some people (those who cannot afford to pay). Our commitment to the sale of educational materials, by which some people are privileged over others contradicts our commitment to an egalitarian and open society.
  4. Web 2.0 tools should be used to help people collaborate as they learn. Resistance to the use of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom is higher among educators with a fundamental commitment to education as information transfer. Web 2.0 technologies empower students to search for information and perspectives on the world from a number of sources, not just from the authorized teacher/textbook.
  5. Communities of people enhance the learning process. Some people learn best while they are completely alone; these people are a very small minority. When the goal of learning is the assimilation of information or the mastery of individual skills, learners may make progress more quickly on their own than they do in groups. However, when the goal of learning is to exceed the abilities of any member of a learning community (teachers included), then group activity is a much more efficient use of time spent in learning.
  6. Online synchronous interaction is a powerful learning tool. It has long been known that supplementing the classroom education with online activities that could be completed on a more flexible schedule increases student learning in courses. What is only recently being discovered is that synchronous activity, even when logistics require that such sessions be online using such tools as Skype, Elluminate, Dimdim, or WiZiQ, is a vital part of all learning.
  7. The textbook industry is inefficient and expensive and should be phased towards open resources and online publications. Many university students report marginal use of textbooks in courses. Often these books cost more than $100 apiece. Even with the possibility of resale of the texts after the courses have been completed, the average student appears to spend $900 annually on books that are used only as a backup system when lectures are missed (or when lecture coverage of the curriculum proves inadequate for the examination). The production and availability of the materials is not the problem; the cost is. Existing online structures and capacities mandate the creation of open archives of all such educational material, so that everyone has access to the material. (Of course, a corollary of this assertion is that Internet access to information must be considered a basic right of all people.)
  8. People need to be in control of their learning to make the most of their courses. No matter how long people are in school, most of them will spend a longer time outside of school than inside. However, learning is a lifetime process. Therefore, the ability to direct one's own learning is an essential skill that should be encouraged and nurtured.
  9. Doing well in a traditional course does not correlate with proper practice of principles in the field. Recent studies have shown, for example, that successful, or even exceptional, completion of a secondary course in elementary physics did not substantially increase students' abilities to predict physical behaviour of objects in the real world. The ability to properly manipulate the formulas taught in the classroom well enough to arrive at the correct answers on tests does not correlate with any application of these principles in everyday life.
  10. Most people in school classrooms dislike school; almost all these people value learning. Schools often encourage passivity, orderly and quiet behaviour, and conformity to established norms. Schools were designed around expectations of mindless labour for most of the population, who were to be encouraged to work hard following the directions of others and to buy things, so that the system would be well provided with consumers.
  11. Having fun is a necessary condition to learning. A learning environment does not prohibit its members from having fun in their learning. This fun will often seem earnest and intense, just as many sports contests are. Having a noisy classroom does not guarantee learning, but neither does having a quiet one. Having fun in the classroom, likewise, does not guarantee that people are learning, but prohibiting fun is almost certain to stifle learning.
  12. The number one goal of people seeking education is to find meaning; these people must be encouraged to make meaning. Education is not a discovery process; it is a process of invention.
The items discussed above represent things I either had not thought about in education before this past year, or things I would have disagreed with categorically. I leave it to readers to guess which items are which! I would appreciate interaction from those who would like to disagree or present contrary views. Those readers who do not have anything to argue about are also very welcome to give additional thoughts or to extend applications and examples in areas not mentioned here.
Interested people may want to browse the Diigo links I have collected this past year on these topics. Some of the major contributing organizations and individuals to my research are the people at Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning (IT4ALL), WikiEducator, LearnCentralClassroom 2.0, and Will Richardson.

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