Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The only thing worth teaching is how to learn

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.

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alexanderhayes said...

It all makes perfect sense to me. In fact thats what I began teacher training - to enable others to reach a level of self-realisation that education lay in their hands and that teachers were simply the conduit where some things could be realised through - not in spite of.

hence my decision, long agonised over , made yesterday and actioned today. I spitball that I have much to offer beyond pointing to best practice.

The finger has been pointed at me often enough requesting assistance to enable others to realise what I as a teacher take for granted. More steps forward into the idea of connected, distributed, networked knowledge realising happiness and communication between learners of any age.

Anonymous said...

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.

A lot of your early morning rant seems to rest on these assumptions which I believe are false.

True - some are novices - thats why there are novice courses. But as for the experts - well I am one. And I have attended courses at your institution. I can assure you that I would not take any course just because I need a bit of paper. I have enough. I don't need to chase paper - most of my colleagues are in the same boat. I attended courses for one reason and one reason only - I believe that there are things I can learn via the classes which I could not learn as well on my own.

Sometimes this is because I find the topic too boring to study by myself (and I do a LOT of self-study) perhaps I need the motivation of classes and a structured program.

Sometimes it is because I respect the teachers expertise in a particular field or topic and value spending time learning from them and with them.

You totally misrepresent ME (and I suspect most experts) when you claim we are blindly chasing paper. I don't give a shit about paper, if I get some then it just happens to be coincidental on me taking a particular group of courses over time.

And of course - if your initial assuptions are wrong all of your conclusions are possibly off beam.

oh - there is one other reason I took a course, I waanted to learn welding and didn't have the gear which was provided in the course. Good course too - worth doing. And NOT one to learn by the seat of your pants.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hello again any mouse. I think you raise some points worth debating, and of course they are things I've considered - that may surprise you.

I think the 3 points you make are:

1. Some people do courses because they are simply interested in the topic.

2. Some people do courses because the topic may be too boring to do "alone".

3. Some people do courses because they don't have access to the resources needed to learn the topic.

I suspect you take offence at the idea that YOU may be a novice learner in some topics. Just as I would accept being a novice learner in some topics. Perhaps I should go back a reread my rant and see if I need to be clearer about that. So in all 3 cases you put up, in their particular topic area, were you a novice learner in the field? Did you lack the motivation, connections, resources, and subject area info skills to be able to learn for yourself? If so then you're a novice in the field.

If I were to consider learning how to weld for example, I would certainly be considering taking a course - although with the price of courses these days I might seek alternatives - and I would enter what ever learning path I chose as a novice looking for a bus ride. (BTW, did you take a look at the diagram?) But by the end of the course I'd expect to be an expert learner of welding by the time the course was finished. I'd expect that if a new technology or practice for welding came along, that I'd be networked and capable to adapt and learn for myself.. otherwise I'm back to being a novice again.

So, some of the criteria I would have for a welding course would be: at the end of the course will I be able to communicate effectively with others in the field? Do I know how to access information and new ideas and tools in the field? Am I inspired and motivated to continue to learn about welding, or do I feel more like I have taken a pill and know everything I need to know and can go on being a welder.

Its about here that I start to falter as I don't know enough about the practice of welding. Is it being affected by the info age? Is the technology and practices for welding changing?

But in many areas today, the practice is undergoing radical change. Not just that but the likelihood for people to be in the one area all their life is changing. The tools for design have changed heaps, teaching is changing, communications, media and journalism, nursing, oh the list could be huge. Basically any area where the influx and access to information is causing change. Do the people who do courses for these areas leave that course confident, skilled and motivated to stay connected to information and continue learning so as to be adaptable? Are they adequately networked, does information come to them? etc.

As for those who do courses for paper, I wasn't meaning to belittle them, I was meaning more that there are increasing numbers of occupations that require certification these days. Teaching for one.

Thanks for taking the time to articulate your points mouse, if you're the same mouse as before, and I've no doubt you are, I appreciate the more constructive comments to my ideas. I'm not sure why you take such emotional issue with the things I write in my blog, they are not intended as authoritative statements, just statements of my thinking for others to engage with if they choose. Perhaps some day you'll reveal yourself and we can laugh about our hostile beginnings.

nswtox said...

Another thought provoking posting from Leigh. I have an aversion to the paper chasers. At every level of study there seem to be those who claim to be there for the paper to the detriment of their learning with an open mind. An open and hungry mind is far more likely to become a self directed learner than a compliant paper chaser. What is it with our system that seems to want push poeple into situations they should be choosing as an opportunity to learn and nourish their minds.

Leigh Blackall said...

The Metal:ED project is focussed on empowering teachers of Metal Fabrication and Welding to produce their own Video based resources. We will be exploring Video Production Techniques, eLearning Resource Development, Web 2.0 and Mobile Learning as part of this project.

Other trade related web 2 stuff: