Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rethinking Teaching - Reshaping Learning

In January, 2013, the New Media Consortium met during its Future of Education Summit to identify the most "wicked problems" facing education today.  The "wicked problems" are "issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise." Through this conversation, the Summit came to the consensus that there are five essential challenges to education:
  1. Rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching
  2. Re-imagine online learning
  3. Allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success
  4. Make innovation part of the learning ethic
  5. Preserve the digital expressions of our culture and knowledge
The challenge that evokes the most passion for me is number one: To rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching.
We think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning. - John Carolus
It is well understood that our educational systems rely on teachers.  Whatever techniques are used in modern culture, nations rely on the teacher to educate children the most. I believe as we move forward in rethinking teaching, transforming the teacher should be our highest priority. 

There is much talk in the world of educational technology that steers conversations to the possibilities of self-directed learning opportunities for students. It originates in the ed tech world because technology is the enabler.  It is truly the essential tool needed for great self-directed learning.  While there is little argument that it has great value when it works, its effective implementation in our current educational system is seriously lacking. With access to a universe full of content, the challenge of today and tomorrow is motivation.

For example, educational technology has relied for decades on the idea that anything digital means better engagement.  As schools move to increase access with one to one and BYOD programs, digital has less meaning for engagement. It is becoming glaringly clear that the digital tool means much less about engagement than does meaningful learning experiences. So, if we are losing the weak argument that learners are better engaged when they have digital tools, then where do we find engagement and ultimately motivation?

I believe it is in the creation of meaningful learning experiences.  And those meaningful learning experiences must be grown in rich, fertile soil. That rich fertile soil must be cultivated and ultimately harvested to bear fruit.

Teachers are essential in the learning process, however, teaching is not as essential.  It is not as essential because students can learn anytime and anywhere they want. But who plants the seeds of curiosity? Who provides the nourishment needed for growth? Who cultivates the learner? Who is the harvester? The teacher. 

But what does a teacher grow?  

Emphasis must move away from what is learned to how it is learned.  Students must become learners.  We must begin to concentrate on the teaching of learning instead of the teaching of content. We would be better served if we taught our students how to be great self-directed learners, not compliant school students.  

We have to begin by purposely reframing the teacher's role away from teaching.  We need to begin by being honest and saying out loud that teaching is no longer as valuable as it was ten years ago.  When we face the reality of learning, not teaching, as the highest priority and truly understand what this means, we can truly move forward with reshaping learning.


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