Last post for this course. Updating our ICT curriculum.
Well here we are… At the end of another course for another term. I have to say this one was a lot of work but I think I survived but we shall see when the grades come out.
This weeks Blog post is supposed to answer the question, “What will future learning environments look like?” and my short answer is… I haven’t the foggiest.
Actually that is not true, there is one thing I can be certain of. Learning environments of tomorrow won’t look anything like the learning environments of today.
There you have it, the sum of my collective wisdom but I suppose my prof might like a little more insight so I guess I have to give a long answer.
I think it is safe to say that future learning environments will be a lot messier than they are today. For better or worse, the regimented, orderly Victorian school model we were all brought up in is quickly going the way of the Dodo. The extinction of this 300 year old educational paradigm has caused a great deal of distress for many and for good reason. This is what we know, this is what has worked for 300 years and this is what brought us to this point in history. Why throw it out?
People genuinely feel that we are on the brink of a change that may lead the world to ruin and they may be right or they may be wrong. That is the thing with change, you can never predict the result with 100% accuracy. So where are we headed?
I think the biggest and most immediate changes will being at the top and move their way down to the lower grades and much of this will be driven by the economy not technology. We are already seeing kids question why they should bother going to University if becoming gainfully employed once they are done is a crapshoot at best. A university education is no longer a ticket to a prosperous existence. As a result, young adults are starting to assess their education needs rather than blindly heading to University because that is “just what you do.” The result of this is that the one size fits all on masse education system is crumbling from the top down.
Young adults are now faced with either going through the motions of a traditional university education or doing something that allows them to become gainfully employed without acquiring a mass of educational debt. It is here where you can begin to see the engine behind the personalized learning movement.
If a young adult can become educated in a field that interests them and provides them with gainful employment without 4, 5, 6+ years of university education, then why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? If we can start a young adult down that road when they are 16 and have them become a useful tax paying citizen before they are middle-aged, why wouldn’t we?
It doesn’t take much to see how starting from the top and working our way down the grades, personalized purpose driven education can begin to take hold. The problem is, how deep do we go? Don’t we need a common education by which we can build our society around? If we allow our children to specialize too soon, doesn’t that deprive our children from educational opportunities down the line as they get older?
These are good question that need to be considered but in the same breath, having our population of young adults warehoused indefinitely in post secondary institutions just because “that is the way it has always been done”, isn’t very good for them or society either.
In a world where university dropouts have proven to be just as capable of success as the long tortured university graduate, you begin to wonder if encouraging kids to go through the motions of a lengthy prescribed education program is really the best thing for everyone?
Don’t get me wrong… Education is good. Your odds of living a happy, healthy, productive life still go up if you attend a Post Secondary program but is there a better way?
So back to the original question. What will future learning environments look like? With the aforementioned in mind, here are my predictions.
- Learning will become ever more connected and dependent on the internet.
- If schools don’t deliver the curriculum they desire, students will develop their ares of interest outside of the school setting.
- If skills learned outside of the school setting begin to be recognized by employers as valuable and relevant we will begin to see an increase in High School Drop out and a decline in Post Secondary attendance.
- Organizations like Degreed will continue to recognize and give credence to work and learning done outside of the formal setting.
- In the digital world, programs like Mozilla Badges and Google’s Certification will continue to grow and allow learners to showcase their learning and skills outside of the formal educational setting.
- Hands on learning opportunities will become more in demand and traditional lecture style learning will decline significantly.
- Student will have to become more independent and self motivated as teachers stop dragging kids through the curriculum.
- Assessment will become more about show me rather than test me.
- Thousands of students will be left behind in this transition from old school to new school.
- The age of Free Agent Learning will become the order of the day.
For better or worse this is my prediction for the future of learning in the Western World.
There is one factor that may throw a monkey wrench into the who thing, which is probably worth a mention and that is the way we parent our children these days. Today’s parents have this strange compulsive need to engineer their children’s lives and this need for control fly’s in the face of what 21st First Century Learning is all about.
Parents these days won’t let their children be independent, experiment, inquire, free play or god forbid fail. Everything a child does these days has to be a carefully engineered exercise, maximized for optimum learning.
21st Century Learning is about independence and letting go of control over the child. 21 Century Parenting is all about complete control of every aspect of a child’s life. The two are completely incompatible.
This weeks topic is MOTIVATION or lack there of.
I am supposed to answer why and how I stay motivated to be a lifelong learner, specifically as it pertains to this program I am currently in. I suppose I should start with the things that will get me bonus marks which consists of a little must see video by RSA. It encompasses all the reasons I am doing this program.
This video looks at a number of motivators that drive us namely Money, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose and is rooted in the research of Edward L. Deci. There is also a very good book by Daniel Pink called Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us.
I will tell your now that yes one of the reasons I am doing this program is so I can get paid more. I know… greedy no good teachers shouldn’t get paid anything! They should be forced to work for nothing and live in jail like cells, only to be let out for the school day then back in when their work day is done. (how can you tell it is contract negotiation time again?)
But in line with all the “right motivators”, the other reason I am doing this is that I want to become more autonomous in the work I do. In the public school system the only way you can become more autonomous is to do something no one else is doing. As the vice of scrutiny continues to clamp down on teachers and what they do in the classroom, professional autonomy is on the decline. It is my hope that by doing something that most people are not doing and has yet to have a defined role within the school system, I will be afforded more autonomy in my career going forward.
The mastery piece of my motivation is for the most part, well under way. I know stuff about educational technology that most teachers don’t and as a result, I get asked to do stuff for others on a fairly regular basis. The problem is, that I don’t have that piece of paper that says I am a master of this area of expertise. Yes I get a lot of attention and work because of what I know but I would like to further this knowledge and formalize my “mastery”
The purpose piece is easy. I see a purpose in what I do with technology. I do not view myself as a particularly good classroom teacher. To be quite frank, on some days I feel like I am a fish out of water but when I am working with technology and helping others use it constructively, I am comfortable. It is something I believe I do well and so my purpose is to get myself into a position where I can help others effectively use technology as a teaching tool.
The final motivator I will discuss is the one which is driving me to complete this post as quickly as possible. I have a flight to Maui I need to catch and if I don’t finish this post… I am going anyhow.
Gonna put the world away for a minute
Pretend I don’t live in it
Sunshine gonna wash my blues away
Knee Deep – Zac Brown Band
Well here we are once again, typing like a fiend on a Sunday night. Shiraz in one hand Macbook in the other, sitting at my dining room table. There is something therapeutic about this combination but I must say, it is hardly a poetic. Before this program is over my goal is to write something while sitting at Le Dôme in Paris. I will leave you to figure out why this is significant.
If anything, this Masters program is keeping my Google rankings up because I am cranking out content on a weekly basis. Not only am I getting all edumacated, I am moving up the Google charts for a variety of keywords.
As coincidence would have it, this would be an example of a 21st Century Skill that people should have and it is referred to as SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Recently it has been rebranded for the lay person as the “Positive Digital Footprint”.
I wouldn’t say this is a do or die skill but if you are going to operate in the wired world and get recognized for your work, you need to know how to leverage the net for you benefit.
The problem is that schools spend so much time “protecting” our kids and shielding them from prying eyes on the web, this isn’t really something that schools see as something that should be taught. Yet for an adult who wants to get noticed and make a living these days, it is kinda important to create a positive digital footprint that people can find. See more at Teach Hub
Although I get ragdolled by my colleagues for promoting or trumpeting the importance of my second skill, I still think it is perhaps THE MOST important of 21st Century Skills. That is being a Free Agent Learner. The days of looking at education as a means to an end are gone. There is no endpoint to our education any longer, we have to continually be learning and if you cannot do this on your own, you are screwed.
Actually I think being a Free Agent Learner is more of a composite skill than a skill all of its own. To be a really good Free Agent Learner you need to have three things.
Reading Skills - I do not care what anyone says, the ability to read well trumps all other learning skills and will remain as such until I am long gone. It is such an efficient way to gather information that there is simply nothing even in this high-tech world that can compare.
Communication skills - I was about to put down writing skills but here is an old school skill that has given way to modern technology. Yes writing is the primary communication skill of a Free Agent Learner but it has given way to other means of expression as of late, primarily video and podcasts. Getting the message out seems to be easier than getting the message in.
Will / desire / purpose – Up until today I would have put this down but after seeing the Tony Robins Ted Talk (Yes I said Tony Robins) I would have to say this is the glue that keeps it all together. I think Robins referred to it as “emotion”. Now I don’t think this is actually a skill but it is crucial to being a Free Agent Learner. It is the realization that you have to be dependant on others for your learning and your future. Steve Jobs put it very well in this really short clip
Problem Solving / Critical Thinking Skills are one of the Trendy 21st Century learning skills that everyone and their dog are espousing as Critical to a child’s future. The problem is, kids are not allowed to problem solve or think critically any longer.
Kids don’t have to make decisions of even the simplest of kind because we the adults have created a thought free bubble in which they live. In the 2009/10 season of CBC’s Doc Zone they produced an episode called Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids which masterfully brought to light just how engineered our children’s lives have become, something we now call helicopter parenting.
The irony here is that even though we have come to realize kids can’t think for themselves because we have over engineered their lives, we think the solution can be found through creating even more engineered learning opportunities so they can think critically and problem solve.
I have an idea, how bout turning off the Xbox and throwing them outside for a couple of hours each day so they can problem solve and think critically all their own. See some examples of just how it was done back in the day
Collaboration is the last of the 21st Century skills I will share in this post and I figure I would start with saying I hate collaboration. I know (((GASP))) Take away his teaching certificate! He is a wretched, wretched man for speaking such heresy… but it is true.
I use to play along with all those collaboration crazed people because I thought that it was what I had to do but then Susan Cain came along and reassured me that not playing well with others was ok.
As Ms. Cain puts it: The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.
I work with kids every day that do amazing work all on their own but stick them in a group they fall by the wayside. Now don’t get me wrong, people who collaborate are important and we need to teach kids how to do this but does it need to be the end all and be all of 21 Century Learning?
There needs to be a place for those who do their best all by themselves. More Susan Cain Quotes
I know there are dozens of other 21st Century skills out there I could have chosen and probably should have included but I gotta go to bed. G night.
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.
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.”
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?
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:
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.
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.
“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)
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.
- CAN IT TEXT?
- 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?
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.
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
Allow students to work in groups. Group work creates a space for positive social interactions, support, and leadership.
Ask questions that cannot be answered by a simple Google search. Ask questions that require learners to interpret
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.
EDCI – 335 Blog Post #6
Attention is a scarce commodity in schools these days. Some students can muster a few minutes of it, while others can barely pay enough attention to determine what class they are sitting in. In the past 17 years, I have seen a definite shift in the ability of kids to pay attention. I have anywhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes to get my point across at the beginning of class and that is about it.
Even the tried and true such as showing a movie in class is lost on most kids these days. You can pretty much forget about asking kids to identify a plot line, a theme or moral imperative within even the best that hollywood has to offer. Unless the movie you are showing starts off with either a gratuitous sex scene, a gunfight or aliens having gratuitous sex in the middle of a gunfight, kids just aren’t interested.
So where does this leave us teachers?
The question we are struggling with at this point is. Are teachers just not effectively utilizing digital teaching tools to engage students, or is technology simply leading the human race to ruin?
The biggest problem here is that we do not have enough longitudinal data to be able to point a finger at any one digital innovation and say “SEE!!! Satan lives within!” We also don’t have enough information on how to effectively utilize technology to engage kids and maximize learning. All we can go by is what we see before us in our classrooms and the anecdotal evidence is mounting. The digital world has changed how our children learn and interact with the world.
The thing about the digital world is that everything is designed to demand your immediate attention. Our devices and our social networks constantly beckon us and demand a response. It is like some sort of digitized Pavlovian experiment where instead of a bell, there is a notification sound or buzz in your pocket and the reward is a little message instead of a chunk of meat.
Our need for recognition and adulation from our peers via social media has become so all-consuming that we interrupt virtually anything to check our messages. The Retrevo Gadgetology Report in 2010 looked at data from 1000 social media users and discovered that some people are even willing to interrupt sex in order to check their messages. Now last I checked, sex takes ones full attention… usually. If digital technology is powerful enough to pull you away from perhaps the most enjoyable human interaction of all, teachers don’t have a hope in hell in keeping their student’s attention whilst regaling them with the finer points of Shakespeare soliloquies.
Gigi Vorgan & Gary Small wrote in their 2009 book iBrain that:
When paying partial continuous attention, people may place their brains in a heightened state of stress. They no longer have time to reflect, contemplate, or make thoughtful decisions. Instead they exist in a state of constant crisis-on alert for a new contact or bit of exciting news or information at any moment. Once people get use to this state, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It feeds their egos and sense of self-worth and it becomes irresistible.
How we go about competing with this state of perpetual attention seeking in a classroom is a bit of a mystery at the moment. If Vorgan and Small are correct, the very things we are trying to get kids to do in the classroom are effectively hamstrung by this constant need for digital affirmation. Of course the simplistic solution is just banning the device from the classroom but that doesn’t work because your students spend the entire class jonesing for their digital fix.
The simple thinkers in the crowd (usually politicians) then say… “Well then if they are glued to the device all the time then start delivering curriculum through it!” but the kids are not interested in the device so much as the kind of message it delivers. How do you go about breaking curriculum into snippets of information that “feeds their egos and sense of self-worth” so kids will internalize it? Personally I don’t think we need to butcher our curriculum to suit the digitally dependant.
As much as I love technology, I don’t think the solution can be found with more technology. I work with kids everyday who have managed to find a balance between digital and non digital learning environments. The can read, think, reflect and do all those things we have expected of kids in days gone by and then they can turn around and use technology to demonstrate their learning with some amazing results. As much as I would like to claim these kids have found this balance by way of a teacher such as myself, more often than not it is because of their parents digital use policy at home.
To solve our problems in the classroom involving digital technology, we need kids to have home environments where access to digital devices is not unlimited or unmonitored. A home where phones are not welcome at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table and the digital device is never used as a pacifier. Books should be paper and plentiful and never should attending to your cellphone be more important that attending to your child.
Paying attention to something isn’t something kids only do at school. In fact it starts long before they ever set foot in our classroom. As with everything, a good foundation begins at home.
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)
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.