Over the last few months I have appreciated working with future-focused educators and school designers in Australia and Asia exploring ideas around designing learning and learning environments that support engagement. The essence of the keynotes and workshops I have presented is the future of learning, I see this as the pointy end of human growth. It provides the foundations for exploring potential and inspiring learning as a lifelong pursuit.
Today, we talk a lot more about learning, than teaching. There is a shift in emphasis from content-centred to learning-focused approaches, in school education, as well as workplace and corporate environments. There is even a Wikipedia page for ‘Chief Learning Officer’, described as “the highest-ranking corporate officer in charge of learning management”. Once upon a time this was called ‘training’. It usually involved specific job or task-related skills, where the trainee was assessed for competency. Now we appreciate that learning goes deeper and extends further than the technical and cognitive skills required, and that all of us are learners on a life-long journey.
What is ‘learning’?
The online dictionary definitions describe learning as the acquisition of skills and knowledge through study, experience or being taught. It doesn’t seem quite adequate. Perhaps this one is better:
“We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that—when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced—changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.” From The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner (here)
Learning is about creating the conditions for change within the individual with the view to enabling a broader benefit, perhaps to the community or society. It’s a transformative process, where information is not acquired for its own sake, but the learning has purpose, it is added to life experience. Knowledge acquisition has its place, where an individual may pursue an area of curiosity just for the sake of it. But I will argue, that learning occurs when this knowledge is applied and transferred to a meaningful context, enabling the individual to solve authentic problems, making human connections.
Each of us come to the process of learning with prior knowledge and experience, and if we have the privilege of teaching, this applies to ‘our’ learners as well.Therefore the context for effective learning deliberately creates a ‘need to know’, asking What do I already bring to this and how can I take it even further? If this isn’t enabled, then the learner may pass the test, but what has been taught is of little further benefit.
Today it is the need-to-know that sets learning apart from acquiring knowledge and delivering content. For a century or more, the act of ‘teaching’ was considered effective when it was didactic, delivered and content oriented. This was when knowledge was held by limited individuals and resources, today knowledge is open.
How might we create a need to know?
- Understand your role as designer of learning rather than deliverer of content
- Explore how the prescribed content standards or outcomes can provide opportunities for learners to find solutions to problems that have meaning to them
- Inspire learners with an entry event that releases their imagination
- Plan authentic mountain top experiences (culminating events/products) for learners that share learning with an audience beyond you.