Friday, August 16, 2013

Teaching Vs Learning

There is a new study that suggests that students learn better from experience than from simple rote learning, methods like memorization of facts, dates, figures and formulas.  Did we really need a study to tell us what we already know?  The process of learning unfortunately hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years with most learning taking place in a closed environment with a teacher lecturing and students required to stay still and listen.

One of the major issues in education has been the designation of learning styles.   Everyone seems to fall within one of the areas a little more prominently than another, for example If you like to listen to a lecture and you prefer to learn that way you would be designated as an auditory learner, if you like to tear things apart just so you can see how they work then you may be more of an kinesthetic learner.  Other learning styles include visual and reading-writing preferences.

There are other models as well that designate learners based on past experiences and conceptualization and observation and I suspect there will be many more models outlined and tested toward the hopeful goal of understanding the mind of the individual sufficiently to clearly classify and designate groups of students solely for the purpose of finding that illusive and impossible magic method that will guarantee that all students attend college and become PhD’s in something not too practical.  What they don’t understand is that the human mind should not be categorized and classified and then grouped.  The very process of grouping is nothing more than an excuse to avoid the real questions that need to be answered about learning.
There is a stark difference between learning and teaching and for too long we have been stuck in the mode of forcing teaching techniques and models, with programs and interventions that do nothing to improve the area of learning.  No appreciable differences have been measured over the past 50 years in relation to educational performance; this is primarily due to the lack of focus on the aspects of learning and too much focus on the realm of teaching.

In short, teaching is imparting information, however that information is given, teaching is the medium of delivery.  We will always need some form of teaching in order to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next but teaching is not learning and the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

Learning is the process of individual understanding and discovery.  Teaching cannot cross the learning barrier unless the learner allows it.  A teacher can teach, expound, motivate and encourage until their blue in the face but until the student decides to learn, no learning will be accomplished and all that effort toward teaching is wasted.

Because we have spent so much time on teaching we have forsaken the aspects needed for the learner to excel.  It reminds me of the problem were facing with malaria and other mosquito born problems.  For generations we have attempted to marginalize the effects of the mosquito by killing the bug, reducing its habitat and inoculating against its diseases.

In a recent Popular Science article it was proposed that instead of the above we change our tactics and actually inoculate the mosquito so that the parasitical influences cannot be transferred to humans.  Killing the bug within the bug changes the entire paradigm of disease prevention and holds great promise toward complete eradication of many of this world’s most heinous plagues.  By shifting to a learning model instead of a teaching program we will ensure that students learn not just sit there and feign interest while secretly texting their friends two rows over.

There are three important aspects of developing a successful learning model.  The first is interest.  Each student has to have an interest in what is being learned.  Second there must be motivation toward learning and the third is the opportunity to learn.

Interest is the spark that we all innately have.  Redesigning the curriculum toward a plethora of interest based lessons will increase the viability of a positive educational response.  If a student likes surfing, design a program around that interest.  The size of the board the displacement of the water, the speed of the waves the history of surfing and how it related to other histories and events….Each topic, each interest can be started with one single fact and then expanded to encompass the entire collection of man’s knowledge. 

Interest is the key, the spark that starts the brain toward wanting to learn, motivation keeps that learning alive as students see the real world examples and process of what they have learned take form and coalesce into a deep understanding of not only their simple interest but of the related topics covering math, science, history and every other conceivable subject.

The last portion of developing an interest model of learning is opportunity, student need to have these options available to them.  When an interest sparks in the mind the opportunity to expand upon that spark must exist.

I know this would not be an easy transition but in relation to past and current statistical failures in education shifting the paradigm of education would really not cost any more than what we’re spending now.  It may take a few years to develop an extensive library of lesson around individual interests but as these are forthcoming the learning potential of every student will be enhanced.