All posts by Christopher Lister

The Changing Role Of The Teacher In The Digital Age

In my latest #tiegrad class I was invited to discus the changing role of the teacher in the digital age.


Three Distinct Relationship Changes For Teachers In The Digital Age


Richardson, W. (2012) understood the changing role of the teacher when he stated, “In this new story, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like – not just with a teacher and some same age peers, in a classroom from September to June. More importantly, it happens around the things we learners choose to learn, not what someone else tells us to learn.” (p. 1).


In order to understand the changing role of the teacher in the 21st Century, it is important to consider the historical role of the teacher. For centuries, direct instruction was the pedagogy of the day. The teacher held the position of absolute authoritative power and was the holder, and dispenser, of knowledge. Students worked to achieve curricular objectives designed and assessed by the teacher, and were given extrinsic motivators like grades and rewards as reasons to memorize information and demonstrate understanding of taught concepts. In contrast, the digital age represents an important time of educational change. The role of the teacher is evolving as new, digital, epistemologies form in an increasingly connected and networked world. In classrooms and schools around the globe, teachers are changing their methods to better suit the increased use of digital technologies available in education. Advances in technology have led to a more networked and connected world, and has given rise to a myriad of useful resources. Classrooms today are no longer confined to one specific educational theory, or limited by physical space. Education is no longer just about delivering curriculum in a way to actively engage the student in the room; it is about access to information. Active engagement and active learning have now become interactive learning. Teachers and students now co-learn across school districts, provinces, and countries. They share, collaborate and create information with a simple keystroke, click of the mouse, or via video conferencing available on their mobile devices (Thiele, Mai, & Post, 2014). The changing role of the teacher in the digital age can be characterized by three distinct relationship changes; between teacher and student, teacher and curriculum, and teacher and pedagogy.

Teacher with student

One fundamental change teacher’s face in the digital age is the change in the teacher-student relationship. According to Lemley, Schumacher, & Vesey (2014), “The 21st-century student will expect the 21st-century learning environment to provide opportunities creating a different role for the teacher” (p.6). In this version of school, the learning environment is flexible and dynamic. Learning is no longer restricted to the confines of the regular school day. It extends to the home, the community, and beyond. Learners prefer not to have education confined to the classroom, but want to have the freedom to be able to learn at any time and in any place (Rosen, 2011, p.5). Another shift between learner and teacher revolves around exploring curriculum together. Learning is a shared experience between teacher and learner. At one time, the relationship between teacher and learner was hierarchical in nature. The teacher was the dispenser of knowledge and communication between student and educator was one-way. That model no longer provides the best learning experiences for students. In the digital age, teachers are learning with their students through co-learning and collaboration. These methods form the basis of personalized learning.

Teacher with curriculum

Teachers are re-examining their relationship with curriculum and are moving from a teacher-centred perspective to a student-centred perspective. British Columbia’s version of this change in curriculum and pedagogy coined the BC Education Plan. Government of British Columbia (2013) states, “Our education system is based on a model of learning from an earlier century. To change that, we need to put students at the centre of their own learning” (p. 2). A move towards student-centred learning refocuses on the interests of the child rather than others involved in the education process. Teachers are making changes to their curriculum to include periods of inquiry learning. Exploring the path of inquiry learning with students follows a constructivist theory of education. Self-directed in nature, inquiry learning develops critical and creative thinking skills; skills learners will need in order to be successful in the future. Maiers, A., & Sandvold, A. (2010), talk about the importance of student-centred learning in The Passion Driven Classroom. They relate inquiry learning to finding learner’s passions and say, “It will be the passion that students hold, not for every subject, but for the ACT and PRIVILEGE of learning that will allow them to reach rigorous outcomes and excellence” (p. 6). When teachers move curriculum from methods of talk and show to methods of inquiry, they focus on each student’s passions, abilities, and learning styles; thus, allowing the teacher to move from a position of administering to facilitating learning. In addition, when teachers integrate inquiry methods in their curriculum, they honour the importance of student voice and recognise that it is central to the learning experience for every student.

In a student-centred classroom, students choose what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will assess their learning. Student-centred learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their learning. This aligns with Thiele, Mai, & Post (2014) findings in their research on learning in the 21st Century, “The implementation of technology can enhance learning by making the classroom more active and student-centered”(p. 1). In the digital age, teachers have a variety of tools and resources available to create curriculum with students, invite learners to discover the pleasures of lifelong learning, and open the classroom up to a global audience. According to the Government of British Columbia (2013), “Curriculum will increasingly emphasize key concepts, deeper knowledge, and more meaningful understanding of subject matter, and give teachers the flexibility they need to personalize their students’ learning experiences” (p. 3). Dewey, J. (1929) also realized the importance of student-centered learning in My Pedagogic Creed when he wrote, “The true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities” (p. 4).

Teacher with pedagogy

If pedagogy is the art and science of educating (Webb 2012), then the relationship between teacher and pedagogy has changed dramatically in the digital age. Assessment practices, professional development opportunities, and a stronger understanding of how students learn best are reshaping relationships between teachers and their craft. Assessment practices have moved from ‘assessment of learning’ to ‘assessment for learning'; from teacher-directed assessment to peer and self-assessment. All this points to the learner becoming an active participant in the learning process. Advances in digital technologies have created complex assessment experiences, such as game-based assessments and online collaborative problem-solving. A wider variety of participants are invited into the assessment cycle including peers and outside experts. According to Webb (2014) there is, “Increasing evidence that uses of technologies are producing persistent changes in children’s brains and hence changing their capacity and capabilities for learning” (p. 10). Neuroscience is growing rapidly, and teachers are incorporating the latest brain research into their practice, specifically to assist in developing self-regulated learning skills. New digital technologies allow educators to engage in personalized, professional development, strengthen pedagogies, and create learning communities that cultivate professional relationships outside of school buildings. Collaboration in the digital age enables teachers to reach out and connect with like-minded educators. Historically, teachers developed their pedagogy through a combination of curriculum documents, colleagues, workshops, and other professional development opportunities. The digital age has changed the way teachers develop their pedagogy. Networked teachers continue to develop their practice around traditional methods, but also embrace new technologies such as video conferences, social networking services, and online learning communities. Couros, G (2010) agrees with the importance of a collaborative pedagogy, “We must ensure that we are working together as an educator community to continue to move education forward.”


Relationships teachers have with their learners, curriculum, and pedagogy are changing rapidly in this time of digital enlightenment. Early educational theorists such as Dewey and Montessori understood the needs of learners and the constraints of curriculum. Digital technologies have allowed teachers to realize the dreams of early educational theorists. Educators no longer need to work in isolation. They have the knowledge and resources to facilitate learning by exploring curriculum with their learners. When teachers revisit their relationships with learners, curriculum, and pedagogy in the 21st Century, they create innovative change to the education system and encourage children to thrive in a dynamic and rapidly evolving world. They accept that students must be at the centre of a more personalized approach to learning and must be given the freedom to pursue their individual interests and passions in the classroom.


Abrami, P. C., Venkatesh, V., Meyer, E. J., & Wade, C. A. (2013). Using electronic portfolios to foster literacy and self-regulated learning skills in elementary students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 1188–1209. doi:10.1037/a0032448

Couros, G. (2010). The power of working together.  The principal of change: stories of learning and leading. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed. In I. D. Flinders & S. Thorton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34–43). New York: Routledge.

Government of British Columbia. (2013). BC ’ s Education Plan, 1 – 9.

Lemley, J., Schumacher, G., & Vesey, W. (2014). What learning environments best address 21st-century students’ perceived needs at the secondary level of instruction? NASSP Bulletin. doi:10.1177/0192636514528748

Maiers, A., & Sandvold, A. (2010). 1 Achievement gap or passion gap? The passion-driven classroom: a framework for teaching and learning (p. 6). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Richardson, W. (2012). Part 1: old school. Why School? How Education Must Change when Learning and Information are Everywhere (eBook) (p.1). TED Conferences. Retrieved from

Rosen, L. D. (2011). Teaching the iGeneration. Educational Leadership, 68, 10–15. Retrieved from

Thiele, A. K., Mai, J. a, & Post, S. (2014). The Student-Centered Classroom of the 21st Century : Integrating Web 2 . 0 Applications and Other Technology to Actively Engage Students. Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 28(1).

Webb, M. (2012). Pedagogy with information and communications technologies in transition. Education and Information Technologies, 1–20. doi:10.1007/s10639-012-9216-x.



Self-Regulated Learning In A Changing Educational Landscape

Point Of View: The Importance Of Self-Regulated Learning In A Changing Educational Landscape.


The landscape of education is on the precipice of change.  Digital technologies have removed the need to follow an educational epistemology based on the pursuit of knowledge.  Montessori (1918) saw the need for change when she said, “We know only too well the sorry spectacle of the teacher who in the ordinary schoolroom must pour certain cut and dried facts into the heads of the scholars” (p. 28). In order to develop higher-level thinking skills, our youngest learners must enter an education system, which follows themes of inquiry and is learner-centred.  In order for learners to be successful in a system built on inquiry, they must develop robust self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies to take control of their own learning, and reach their full potential. Developing students’ self-regulated learning skills can demystify assessment, increase student engagement and motivation, and form the basis of productive collaborative learning communities.


Assessment can be a debilitating experience for many students.  Vaughan found that the four most common words associated with assessment were: fear, stress, anxiety, and judgment (Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. 2013). Self-regulated learners are able to control their environment, evaluate their work, and determine how to adapt their learning to increase performance.  They understand the assessment and feedback cycle, and use it to their advantage.  Self-regulated learners are also cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and can fully utilize instructor feedback, as well as engage in peer and self-assessment practices.  Digital technologies such as blogs, wikis, collaborative writing tools, and other social media resources can provide students with increased flexibility and communication opportunities to engage in all aspects of assessment. According to Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, and Garrison (2013), learners cannot observe, analyze, and judge their own performances on the basis of criteria and determine how they can improve without being self-regulated learners. Effeney, Carroll, and Bahr (2013) agreed when they said”Self-regulated learners… monitor their learning by seeking feedback on their performance and by making appropriate adjustments for future learning activities” (p. 774).


There exists in our schools today a motivation and engagement gap in learners.  This gap stems from a disconnect between how students learn best and how instructors teach.  Improving self-regulated learning skills in children from an early age can help bridge this gap.  Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012) found,  “The motivational components of self-regulated learning help students persist in the face of difficult tasks and resist other sometimes more tempting options” (p. 6). Developing the behavioural and emotional states of children is paramount before engaging in any other type of learning. In order for learners to engage with content in the classroom, they need to be present in the learning experience and be active participants.  Regulating behaviour and emotions can help learners to focus, enhance self-belief, and develop the grit they need to embrace success and failure on the way to achieving their goals. According to Clark (2012),  “SRL is predictive of improved academic outcomes and motivation because students acquire the adaptive and autonomous learning characteristics required for an enhanced engagement with the learning process and subsequent successful performance” (p. 205).  Explicitly teaching self-reflection and metacognitive skills to learners can develop higher-level thinking skills, which enhance motivation and increase engagement.


Self-regulated learning skills also form the basis of active collaborative learning communities, and can help develop a successful framework.  Organization, motivation, and collaboration are essential factors in the success of any collaborative learning community.  Borup et al. (2014) found, “Researchers have suggested that without adequate organization, online students will procrastinate, especially students with special needs” (p. 115).  Dewey (1929) says, “I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual, and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction” (p. 34). If learning is socialand involves interactions between learners, instructors, peers, and community, then it is important to prepare students with the emotional, responsive, and reflective skills they need to be successful in these areas.


In summary, if we want the next generation of students to be self-directed, autonomous, and life-long learners, we must instil the strategies of self-regulated learning into all areas of education, including assessment, motivating and engaging designs for learning, and across all collaborative learning communities.  Essential self-regulation skills such as metacognition, self-efficacy, and self-reflection combined with social skills such as regulating emotions, perseverance, and behaviour are key indicators for success in our changing educational landscape.  The increasing use of digital technologies arm the self-regulated learner with the tools, collaborative learning spaces, and resources to reach self-determined goals and targets, and take control of their own learning.



Borup, J., West, R. E., Graham, C. R., & Davies, R. S. (2014). The Adolescent Community of Engagement: A Framework for Research on Adolescent Online Learning. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 22(1), 107–129.

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205–249. doi:10.1007/s10648-011-9191-6

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: a natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002

Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.),
The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34 – 41). New York: Routledge.

Effeney, G., Carroll, A., & Bahr, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning and executive function: exploring the relationships in a sample of adolescent males. Educational Psychology, 33(7), 773–796. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.785054

Montessori, M. (1918). A Critical Consideration of the New Pedagogy in its Relation to Modern Science. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 22 – 33). New York: Routledge.

Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Assessment (Chapter 5). Teaching in blended learning environments, AU Press, Athabasca University. [Retrieved from, July 17, 2014.]


20 Research Papers On Self-Regulated Learning

Within the context of k-12 schools, I used to think self-regulated learning was limited to regulating the behaviour and emotions of the students; However, thanks to the likes of Phil Winne, Allyson Hadwin, and Mariel Miller I realize it’s so much more.  In its simplest form, self-regulation speaks to the skills students need to become independent life-long learners.

Phil Winne from SFU Education on Vimeo.

In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to compile a short bibliography of twenty recent (2013-2014) articles on the topic of my choice – self-regulated learning:

Belski, R., & Belski, I. (2014). Cultivating student skills in self-regulated learning through evaluation of task complexity. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(5), 459–469. doi:10.1080/13562517.2014.880685

Bjork, R. a, Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 417–44. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143823

Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (2014). Feedback and Self-Regulated Learning: A Theoretical Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–281.

Cheng, G., & Chau, J. (2013). Exploring the relationship between students’ self-regulated learning ability and their ePortfolio achievement. The Internet and Higher Education, 17, 9–15. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.09.005

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205–249. doi:10.1007/s10648-011-9191-6

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: a natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002

DiDonato, N. C. (2012). Effective self- and co-regulation in collaborative learning groups: an analysis of how students regulate problem solving of authentic interdisciplinary tasks. Instructional Science, 41(1), 25–47. doi:10.1007/s11251-012-9206-9

Effeney, G., Carroll, A., & Bahr, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning and executive function: exploring the relationships in a sample of adolescent males. Educational Psychology, 33(7), 773–796. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.785054

Friedrich, A., Jonkmann, K., Nagengast, B., Schmitz, B., & Trautwein, U. (2013). Teachers’ and students’ perceptions of self-regulated learning and math competence: differentiation and agreement. Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 26–34. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.005

Järvelä, S., & Hadwin, A. F. (2013). New frontiers: regulating learning in CSCL. Educational Psychologist, 48(1), 25–39. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.748006

Major, A., Martinussen, R., & Wiener, J. (2013). Self-efficacy for self-regulated learning in adolescents with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 149–156. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.009

Marchis, I. (2011). Primary school teachers’ self-regulated learning skills. Acta Didactica Napocensia, 4(4), 11–18. Retrieved from

Metallidou, P. (2012). Epistemological beliefs as predictors of self-regulated learning strategies in middle school students. School Psychology International, 34(3), 283–298. doi:10.1177/0143034312455857

Perry, N., & Drummond, L. (2014). Helping young students become self-regulated researchers and writers. The Reading Teacher, 56(3), 298–310.

Samruayruen, B., Enriquez, J., Natakuatoong, O., & Samruayruen, K. (2013). Self-regulated learning: a key of a successful learner in online learning environments in thailand. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 48(1), 45–69. doi:10.2190/EC.48.1.c

Sha, L., Chen, W., & Zhang, B. H. (2012). Understanding mobile learning from the perspective of self-regulated learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 366–378. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00461.x

Shi, Y., Frederiksen, C. H., & Muis, K. R. (2013). A cross-cultural study of self-regulated learning in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment. Learning and Instruction, 23, 52–59. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.05.007

Stefanou, C., Stolk, J. D., Prince, M., Chen, J. C., & Lord, S. M. (2013). Self-regulation and autonomy in problem- and project-based learning environments. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14(2), 109–122. doi:10.1177/1469787413481132

Throndsen, I. (2011). Self-regulated learning of basic arithmetic skills: a longitudinal study. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(Pt 4), 558–78. doi:10.1348/2044-8279.002008

Tsai, C.-W., Shen, P.-D., & Fan, Y.-T. (2013). Research trends in self-regulated learning research in online learning environments: a review of studies published in selected journals from 2003 to 2012. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(5), E107–E110. doi:10.1111/bjet.12017

Wang, C., Shannon, D. M., & Ross, M. E. (2013). Students’ characteristics, self-regulated learning, technology self-efficacy, and course outcomes in online learning. Distance Education, 34(3), 302–323.

Learning Environments of the Future

Learning Environments of the Future



“Schools and universities can no longer claim a monopoly as seats of learning or of knowledge. Such learning and knowledge now resides in distributed networks. Learning can take place in the home, in work or in the community as easily as within schools.”Graham Attwell

What will the future of learning environments look like?


Will learners continue to turn up, in droves, at brick and mortar schools where they will be divided into learning groups by age, sat in desks with the teacher and whiteboard as the focal point, compartmentalized by constricting classroom walls, and taught individual subjects within the narrow confines of a curriculum dictated by an educational governing body?  Probably not, so are we then on the cusp of radically altering our learning environments to better suit tomorrow’s learners? – Learner’s whose brain physiologies are changing and whose socially connective needs are rapidly evolving.


Learning environments transcend the traditional four-walled classrooms and may include books/text, e-learning, resources, relationships/communities, assessments, and physical learning spaces.  Simply put, learning environments are physical and virtual spaces or objects that are directly connected to the learning process.


Nobody really knows what future learning environments will actually look like, but we know they need to evolve from the current model.  In Sugata Mitra’s TED Ed video titled, “Build A School In The Cloud” he talks about the today’s learning environments with reproach.  He accurately conveys that today’s model of education is rooted in Colonial British Empire history.  A model that was important 300 years ago but not so much any more.  This mirrors Sir Ken Robinson’s view of current learning environments in his video, “Changing Education Paradigms.“  Education is a slow institution to change.   To better communicate my vision what learning environments might look like beyond today, I thought it prudent to look at the future in two steps – the near future and far future.


Near Future:

I believe learners will continue to attend brick and mortar schools to receive their education, but I expect they will have more choice over their learning.  Learners will be permitted more freedom to direct their own learning and pursue their own methods of inquiry.  Rather than educators steering learning based on a set of learning outcomes, learners will work in collaborative groups spanning global communities.  Learners will find each other and organize themselves based on area of interest rather than age.  The near future of learning environments will continue to follow the blended learning model and may include some of the following learning needs:


  • Collaboration – many teachers have developed their own personal learning networks to deepen their understanding of how people learn.  In the same way, learners will be encouraged to develop their own networks.
  • There will be a shift from teaching content to teaching how to learn.  Brain science will be explored further with respect to understanding the changing physiology of our learner’s brains.
  • Content will continue to move from analogue to digital and involve highly personalized learning.
  • Learning won’t be restricted to the confines of a traditional six-hour school day.  Learners will follow their own paths of inquiry and take advantage of the expanding role of open education.
  • School will need to be resigned into dynamic physical learning spaces.  Our current classrooms have changed little in 100 years.

Far Future:

Learners will no longer attend brick and mortar schools to receive their education in the way they currently do, and educators will not be employed by a governing body like they are today.  Instead, educators will morph into coaches.  Coaches may be ordinary folk who happen to have a certain skill(s) set in demand.  This type of learning will likely be conducted in a virtual environment and be available to anyone wanting to develop that particular skill(s).  Educational communities will naturally develop as like-minded learners find each other in virtual environments.  Like Attwell says in his article, The Future of Learning Environments, “…major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society.”


Future learning environments will no doubt be exciting and fulfilling and are very likely to be rooted in science and technology.

  • Technology driven  – no need for spelling, writing, pens, or pencils in these environments.  The evolution of computer interfaces means the end of the keyboard and a shift to cognition form of communication.
  • Science driven – Science will continue to help us understand how learn best and we are sure to maximize this in the learning process.


What will future learning environments look like from your perspective?


The future of the physical learning environment: school facilities that support the user –

The Science of Motiviation

photo (46)



How do you stay motivated to continue learning, doing assignments, and progressing as a lifelong learner?


“Humans, by their nature, seek purpose—to make a contribution and to be part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.” – Daniel Pink, Drive


Why is it then that many of us struggle to motivate ourselves?  What is the secret behind motivation and learning?  We cannot start to answer these questions without first defining motivation.

Wikipedia defines motivation as: “The driving force that causes the flux from desire to will in life.” Educational psychologists define motivation as, “…the processes that energize and give direction or purpose to behaviour (Wlodkowski, 1989).”  


In simple terms, I think motivation is the internal desire to complete a task one has imagined possible.  I clearly remember the night I decided to run my first ultramarathon.  It was New Year 2006.  I had been trail running for about a year, and could consistently run for a couple of hours on the trails without issue, but the Diez Vista was an altogether different challenge.  I would be required to run non-stop for over seven hours.  Where did the motivation come from to transition from running two hours on a Saturday morning with friends to running 50km?  Looking back there were six key elements to my motivation:


  • Plan/schedule – at the time I was running with friends who had developed a detailed training plan
  • Practice – every time I practiced, I felt stronger and moved a little closer to the goal
  • Confidence – after each training session I had inevitably run longer than I had ever done before, and with that my confidence and belief in myself increased.
  • Overcoming adversity – on our last training run which was scheduled to last about 7 hours.  I snapped the laces on my trail shoes and got lost.  The smaller group I was with turned a 7 hour training run into an 8.5 hour run. At that point i knew I could finish the race.
  • Support – I received and gave emotional support to ten friends for the four months we trained for the race.  I also received coaching, tactical, and nutritional support from my fellow runners.
  • Challenge – for the majority of the time I was training, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I could actually complete the race, and I believe this uncertainty was a driving force behind my motivation.

My mantra throughout my training was an inspiring quote I found in a running magazine in 2006:

Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else; it’s the ache in your lungs, the burning in your legs, & the voice inside you that yells, “Can’t!” But you don’t listen, you push harder. You hear the voice whisper “Can.” and you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the one you really are.” - unknown


Motivation and Life-Long In Education

When I think of my own motivation for lifelong learning it stems from a desire to master my craft.  I can see the educator I want to be.  I have a strong mental image of him.  I know exactly what he looks like, his educational pedagogy, how he interacts with his learners and his peers, and how he designs his learning experiences.


A recent Scientific American article titled, Three Critical Elements Sustain Motivation helped me to better understand how I maintain a love of learning, and what keeps me motivated through the process.



Motivation can manifest speedily when we feel like we are the captains of our own ship.  When we have a level of control over the direction of our learning, we are more likely to be motivated to move along the continuum to mastery.  The energy and enthusiasm applied to a given task increases significantly when one is given the freedom to approach a new learning experience in ways that best suits one’s own learning style.  Learner autonomy is important in this phase.  As Dirksen says, “You may be able to influence your learners, but you can’t control them.”



When I compare the most successful learning experiences I have had with my learners with my own learning experiences I noticed that both events have a clear purpose for learning.  When I canvas my learners about learning that is most purposeful I often hear responses such as “Can I use it in real life?” and “Will this help me with…” In order to motive today’s learners the work they complete needs to have real life applications.  It has to be authentic and engaging.  More importantly, the work needs to be purposeful for the learner and not necessarily what the teacher thinks is purposeful.  The only way an educator can achieve this is to spend the necessary time to understand each of his/her learner’s needs.



Proficiency is equally important in the science of motivation.  To maintain motivation levels one needs to feel success on a regular basis.  Going back to my trail running experience for a moment – If I hadn’t see small gains in performance each week, then I’m sure my motivation levels would have dropped to the point that I would have discontinued my goal.  From a learner’s perspective I believe it is important for students to see and measure the progress they are making in order to maintain their motivation levels.  Video gaming is an excellent example of facilitating an ongoing level of progress to maintain motivation.  Gamers are constantly being provided with feedback on their performance.  This feedback enables them to see progress, and they can visualize their goal and maintain their motivation.



Design For How People Learn, Julie Dirksen

Drive, Daniel Pink

Four Skills for the 21st Century Learner

There have been numerous blogs, articles, and websites that have created meaningful dialogue on the topic of the skills necessary for the 21st century learner.  As part of my #tiegrad courses, I have been asked to contribute to this topic by adding my own set of skills.  I designed this model to help myself make the connections between the people, the content, and skills required for learners in the 21st century.

21st Century Skills

Four skills important for the 21st Century learner that relate to my practice are social and emotional skills, and physical/natural skills, basic (core) academic skills, and higher-level thinking skills.  When these skills are supported and practiced by the school, home, and the community, and combined with authentic, meaningful and real-world practice we are preparing our learners to make positive contributions to society.

Skills in order of importance:

1. Social and Emotional Skills

“Research conducted during the past few decades indicates that social and emotional learning programming for elementary- and middle-school students is a very promising approach to reducing problem behaviors, promoting positive adjustment, and enhancing academic performance.” – John Payton, CASEL

I have written about the importance of social and emotional skills in learning before.  As we become more connected in a technology sense, we become less connected in a face-to-face sort of way.  The skills required to be successful in the real world involve collaborating and problem solving with others.  Humans are far more productive and effective when they work together in groups consisting of people with different strengths and not independently.  The 2008 CASEL report, The Positive Impact of Social and Emotional Learning for Kindergarten to Eighth-grade Students emphasizes the importance of these life skills and their direct correlation to academic success.

2. Basic Core Academic Skills

It is critical to develop basic core academic skills in learners, as they are lay the foundation for the development of higher order thinking skills later in life.  How is it possible to develop a cell phone battery that lasts an entire day without knowing how electricity flows in a circuit?  I feel there is a shift in education towards engaging our learners in higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking, synthesizing, evaluating, and producing at the cost of developing basic academic skills.  Higher-level thinking skills are important but there needs to be a balance between these skills and the development of foundational skills.  In my experience those learners who know their times tables are far more effective at completing multiplication task when compared to those who.  They are stronger at working on problem solving, and generally enjoy mathematics more than those who struggles with basic computation.  It can be compared to children reading for information.  Fluent readers are far more effective at reading for information when compared to those learners who need to decode, break apart, and sound out the majority of the words they read.  Learners need opportunities to repeat tasks over and over to achieve mastery.  If they are constantly challenged with new material they may suffer from academic burnout and shut down – effectively stagnating their learning process.  In Kelly Tenkely’s article, Why Drill and Skill are Necessary in Education and later comments she defends the need for drill and skill in education.  By no means does she suggest that her entire curriculum should be founded on these skills, rather she advocates for balance. “These activities give students an opportunity to practice a skill and become familiar with it before creating with it.  Drill and skill games and activities give students room to find patterns and build understanding.”

3. Physical/Natural Skills

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole.”

Richard Louv

A 2013 Maclean’s article titled, Early education: this is not a field trip reports on a pilot kindergarten program designed to exposed young children to the wonders of nature.  With “90 per cent of Canadian children are gaming and six out of 10 households have a gaming console” there exists evidence that children are not spending the same amount of time playing outdoors as they once did.  Children who do not engage in active play outdoors don’t learn to socialize, share, and problem solve in the same way children who are in touch with nature do.  In my experience, students spend entire weekends playing video games, and rather venture outside to play.  A healthy balance between indoor and outdoor play has been lost.

4. Higher-Level Thinking Skills

We need to develop, in our learners, the ability to use the technology that exists at their fingertips today, the technology that will be developed in the future.  I genuinely believe we need to be raising a generation of socially conscious learners who, through the use of technology, can make the world a safer and healthier place for generations to come.  By facilitating the learning of higher-order thinking skills such as problem solving, critical thinking skills, a sense of inquiry, comparing and identifying ideas, and using old concepts to create new ideas, we can encourage our learners to innovative.  The basis of robust learning design focuses more on what learners can do with knowledge and not how much knowledge they can retain.

In summary, there are many skills that are useful for today’s learner.  You may or may not agree with the importance of these skills I suggested or how they relate to today’s learner, but in my experience and based on the 9-11 year olds I work with, these are important skills.  When learners have a strong support network, when they engage with content that is relevant and meaningful, when they are allowed to follow their own paths of inquiry, and have their physical and emotional needs met, they take a step closer to becoming lifelong learners.
What skills do you think are necessary for your learners now and in the future?

Social and Emotional Needs: The Basis Of Successful Learning Design

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In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to think about, and reflect on, a misconception/misunderstanding about teaching and learning I have experienced, and how it has led to new insights and knowledge about my craft.  

The biggest misconception/misunderstanding I have experienced since I started teaching in 2006 is the realization that learning cannot take place before the social and emotional needs of my students are met first.  I used to think my role as an educator was to teach content to students based on a set of guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education, and students would attend class each day ready and able to learn – but I’ve learned the hard way that this is not always the case.  Before I realized the importance of attending to the social and emotional needs of my learners, I tended to open the academic floods gates at the morning bell and get straight to work.  I didn’t know any better.  I assumed that my students were ready, willing, and able to learn.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

“Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning and maintaining wellbeing.” – Dr. Stuart Shankar.

The ability of my learners to self-regulate is an important part of meeting the social and emotional needs of my learners.  Making time to explicitly teach skills around self-regulation (making our learners aware of conditions they need to be successful, teaching them how to deal with unexpected situations, and how to relate to others) has become increasingly important in today’s classrooms.  The best learning design in the world cannot reach the dysregulated learner.  One can design experiences, which engage students fully in the learning process, ask questions that lead to meaningful exploration of the topic, and allow time for students to follow their own line of inquiry, but unless we are able to decode our learners and understand their state of mind as they enter our classrooms we are fighting a losing battle.

Two Techniques To Attend To The Social and Emotional Needs Of Students:

1. Restorative Classroom Practices

By creating conditions where students feel safe to express their emotions and build community and support with their classmates, Restorative Classroom Practices can have positive effects on learner’s emotional needs.  The simple act of gathering in a circle at the start of the school day, checking in with how we are feeling, creating a sense of equality, and giving a voice to every student, Restorative Classroom Practices have had positive and meaningful impact on the student’s classroom experience.  Perhaps the biggest shift I have made over the years is that I have been able to shift decision making process from teacher to the students with remarkable success.

2. MindUp Curriculum

Using the latest research in neuroscience, MindUp curriculum provides educators with the tools to engage their learners in how the brain functions, what the optimum conditions for learning are, when the brain develops roadblocks for learning, and techniques to overcome these roadblocks.  Many of my learners struggle to attend to the ‘present’ while in the classroom.  They’re either reflecting on the past, or looking forward to the future, and this lack of attending to the present is having negative effects on their school experience.  Creating a ‘mindful’ classroom is not just a buzzword of 21st Century learning.  It is precisely because of the speed and the attention grabbing technological world we live in that students need to create time and space to disconnect, focus within, and calm their minds.  A mindful classroom creates a space for the dysregulated learner to find comfort and a sense of belonging.

It’s A Book, Jackass!: Technology v Attention

“The average time spent with screen media among 8- to 18-year-olds is more than twice the average amount of time spent in school each year.” (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007–2008)

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Whenever I think about use of technology in the classroom and its impact on learning and attention, I cannot help but make connections to the book,  “It’s a Book” by Lane Smith.  The book centers on two characters.  One is a digital native and the other is an analogue learner.  The two of them are having different experiences with a paper book.  When I read it I think of the analogue learner as a grandfather and digital native as a grandson.




- WI-FI?


- No… it’s a book.

We live in a vastly different technological world than we did just 10 years ago, and advances in technology are unlikely to slow down.  Realistically, these advances are likely to tax our attention more and more.  We no longer need to ask the question Do advances in technology affect our learner’s attention? Because there is mounting evidence to support this.  In a recent New York Times article titled Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say Dr. Christakis showed that students saturated by entertainment media, experience “supernatural” stimulation that teachers might have to keep up with or simulate.  He further explained that heavy technology use “Makes reality by comparison uninteresting.”  Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, claims there exists the possibility physiological changes in the brain as a result of advances in technology, “Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,”

The question we need ask ourselves as educators is “How do we continue to provide engaging and meaningful learning experiences for students with or without attention difficulties? Research conducted with the help of classroom teachers by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that studies the effects that media and technology have on young users, shows that technology advances have affected learner’s ability to attend to a variety of tasks, but at the same time the research found an increase in learner’s ability to find new information and multitask effectively.  A recent Psychology Today article written by Jim Taylor, Ph.D. supports some of the findings in the Common Sense Media research by claiming that exposure to technology isn’t all bad.

Research shows that, for example, video games and other screen media improve visual-spatial capabilities, increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among clutter. Also, rather than making children stupid, it may just be making them different.”  

I think it is safe to say that in order to develop successful learners who are able to contribute meaningfully to society a balance needs to be established with the use of technology.

Attention In My Grade 5/6 Classroom

I have worked in the same grade 5-6 classroom for the last five years, and the majority of my students spend many hours interacting with technology by playing video games and watching YouTube videos.  It is difficult to establish whether there is a direct link between increased in screen time and a drop in learner’s ability to attend tasks, but what is clear is the difficulty I have in capturing and maintain attention in class.  It would be pompous of me to think I do not own a slice of the problem, and need to continue to work on improving my learning design to better suit the needs of my learners, but I work in a system that is slow to change and adapt to a different style of learner.

So How Do We Adapt To Attention Changes Within Our Learners?

  1. We can use stories to capture and hold learner’s attention.  Stories are logical, they have a sequence we are all familiar with, they promote questioning and inferring, and can create and convey strong emotions.

  2. Use visuals cues such as infographics to help students absorb information.  “Verbal and visual cues are processed differently by the brain….Unless someone has a vision or related impairment, they learn from visuals.” Dirksen

  3. Allow students to work in groups.  Group work creates a space for positive social interactions, support, and leadership.

  4. Ask questions that cannot be answered by a simple Google search.  Ask questions that require learners to interpret

  5. Put your students a state of cognitive dissonance.   Cognitive dissonance occurs when learners are present with an event that is contradictory to their own experiences.

Learning Design: A Memorable Learning Experience

In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to reflect on a highly memorable learning experience and link it to my understanding of learning and memory.

Sadly, I can probably count on one hand the number of highly memorable learning experiences I have encountered.  With this in mind, I don’t know why I am so surprised to see some of my students unengaged and unmotivated.  As it turns out, learning experiences are more often than not largely forgetful because it is a complex and individual experience:

“Learning is not simply a process of absorbing information from the environment. Rather, it is a process of making—actively and intentionally constructing—knowledge and understandings.” – Ormrod (2010)

One of my most memorable learning experiences occurred recently.  For six weeks in November of last year I attended prenatal classes with my wife and unborn child.  These six sessions, although highly engaging, did not involve a lot of ‘hands on’ work, nor was there time allotted to practice the skills necessary for a healthy, active, and participatory labour experience.  This contradicts some of the learning strategies we use in schools and classrooms around the country while creating robust learning experiences for students.

Why was this experience so memorable?

For two main reasons:

I was highly motivated about the content because I could see how the skills learned in the classes would help make my life easier during a transitional time in my life.  I had enough life experience to know that there was a real benefit for me to retain as much information as possible in an effort to retain a healthy work/life balance.  Retaining information is sometimes difficult for me.  Most of the time, especially during professional development opportunities my district offers, I do not move information from my working memory to long-term memory very effectively.  Why?  I think I am an automated learner, and are not actively engaged in my own learning – especially when my life is busy and my mind seems full.  In our text, Design For How People Learn, Dirksen talks the steps required to move information from working memory to long-term memory.  She uses the  example of ‘shelves’ on which information can be stored, much like a well organized filing system in the brain.  The more shelves one can place important information the better chance one stands of retrieving it when needed.  “Anything that you do remember becomes part of a series of associations – you don’t learn anything in isolation.” – Dirksen.

When it came to prenatal classes the information was easy to encoded because I had enough life experience to see a direct and immediate need the information.  It was easily retrieved during the lengthy labour process because I filed it away on many ‘shelves’ including being a support to wife, being a good husband, be an advocate for my wife during labour, and being able to care for a newborn.

Another reason why this was a memorable learning experience was because the content evoked strong emotions within me all the learners present.  The use of role-playing was highly effective during class, and helped a great deal prepare my wife and I for a very different birth experience than we had planned.  One of the last activities we completed in our prenatal class was to role play what it would look like if labour did not go to plan and an emergency cesarean section was required.  Our instructor, Michelle, did an excellent job of explaining how a cesarean section was vastly different from a natural birth.  She directed the fathers in the group to role-play what would happen in this scenario.  After the session I knew at what point a caesarian would happen, how my wife’s care would be transferred from midwife to obstetrician, that we would separated for a short period of time before and after birth, that the operating room would be full of doctors and nurses, that the room would be painfully bright, and that I would be with baby directly after surgery and not, ideally, my wife.

“Even though we know it’s not real, role-playing can be an effective way to create the feel of the emotional context, especially if you have effective playing the part.” – Julie Dirksen  

In summary, in each of the six prenatal lessons the information that caught my attention the most, information I moved from sensory register into short-term memory, was information that evoked strong emotions, and information I needed in order to be the best support I could be for my wife.  As working memory tends to hold information for only a few seconds I needed to encode this information into long-term memory, quickly.  I used many associations to encode the information as mention above.  I placed the information on several ‘shelves’ with labels such as ‘best practices for being a supportive husband’, ‘skills required to be a great first time father’, ‘baby’s needs’, ‘worst case scenarios’, etc.  Having numerous associations helped me easily retrieve information when I needed it, even under stressful and unexpected conditions.  “Learners are especially likely to retrieve information when they have many possible pathways to it – in other words, when they have associated the information with numerous other ideas in their existing knowledge.” – Ormrod (2010)

Learning Design In Practice

In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to consider why learning design is important and how it can be useful in my own practice.  Here are some of my thoughts:


When I use robust learning design to explicitly plan, structure, and sequence learning experiences for and with my students I find the quality of the instructional time to be high, and the user experience more satisfying.  One example that comes to mind immediately are the resources, curriculum, and lesson plans I use from Free The Children.  When I first partnered with Free The Children, in 2010, I used their resources in my social studies classes to raise awareness of local and global issues, but instead of adapting the resources to suit the needs of my learners I rolled out the lesson plans from the box, verbatim, and they failed.


Why did they fail?  They were after all well written, scaffolded appropriately, and supported with multimedia options, but that wasn’t enough.


After persistently and feverishly struggling through several lessons I took the time to reevaluate the experience my students were having and made some changes.  In essence, I started the learning design process.  The lessons were bombing because they were not my lessons; they were someone else’s.  The first change I made was to restructure the content and make sure I fully understood what I wanted my students to learn.  Next I evaluated the learning needs of my students and quickly found out they had a very limited knowledge of the geographical world around them, so I helped to quickly fill some knowledge gaps.  Finally, and most importantly, I moved away from a lesson plan format where I shared information, and we worked on the gradual release of responsibly on a specific task, to a much more hands on method.  My students have learned that the best way of understanding social justice issues and working towards positive change in the world is by creating awareness, educating others, and taking direct action.  My students now hosts assemblies to educate the school on the importance of education, they hold movie nights to talk about the importance of clean water, and they indulge in a day of silence in support of child rights.  Robust learning design has proved helpful in increasing student engagement and motivation.


Advantages of Learning Design

  • Can lead to student centered learning rather than teacher centered learning
  • Leads to differentiated learning – Blooms Taxonomy
  • Can connect learning to real-life situations
  • Keeps the learning experiences ‘honest’ – How does this lesson relate to the goal?
  • Creating learning experiences based on latest neuroscience and tailored towards how children best learn today


My Learning Design

One area of learning design that is most important to my own practice is differentiating the learning experience for my students.  Sometimes I use the excuse that I have such a challenging class with a variety of complex needs that I cannot possible create meaningful learning experiences for everyone, but with a more robust learning design plan I can reach more of my learners.  Through understanding the cultural, knowledge, and skills gaps in my learners I can tailor learning to suit the individual needs of all my learners in a more effective manner than trying to squeeze all learners down a path they may not have the skills and experience to navigate.