Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quest for better learning

Learner-centered practices have been validated with years - no, decades! - of global research in education and psychology. Why are the authoritarian practices still so widely used in classrooms? I wish I knew!

I often admit to my own students (teachers and trainers pursuing their graduate degrees) that I am on an ongoing mission and my goal is to corrupt a teacher a day into learner-centered practices.  It usually makes people laugh, but I am dead serious: the only way we can spread the use of learner-centered practices is to use them in our own design and instruction.

Learning happens everywhere, all the time, and school learning is just a specific type of learning we do. Supporting students individual interests and personal strengths makes school learning easier and more intrinsically interesting.

American Psychological Association publishes excellent materials. Please check the Top 20 Principles for K-12 and Learner-centered education!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Schooling or learning?

What is the perception we have about education? Is it something that we actively engage in? Or something the educational systems do to us?

The difference between these two perceptions is huge. When people believe that education is a life-long learning journey, they are more likely to feel ownership over their learning -and their kids' learning-  and be empowered to search and find tools that help in learning. This type of learning happens everywhere, inside and outside of classroom and fosters students' curiosity. Learning is very subjective and learners are seen as agents of their own life and learning. Successful learning means creating transferable and applicable knowledge that is personally meaningful.

However, when learning is attributed to an external entity like school, it is more likely to think that a learning professional is needed to provide the "correct" learning materials or resources. Learning is done at school and for school, there is less personal investment in learning activities. Learning is very objective, there is a correct answer to questions, and the teacher can help you to find that answer. Successful learning means passing the tests or getting good grades.

I believe the current educational systems should foster the subjective life-long learning, because learning cannot end in graduation in the 21st century societies, where information and misinformation are available for everyone with few clicks on a computer.

The research report below about Low income families being less likely to use online learning tools prompted me to blog about this important issue. My first thoughts were how shared devices and mobile/internet access must be a contributing factor for not using online tools, but then I was also thinking about the ownership and empowerment we have about our own learning. I am working on my dissertation about learner agency and think that all too often we forget to emphasize the learning ownership.

One question to ask while creating the online tools is: does this app or resource empower students to learn for life or is it designed to help a student to pass a test?

Is it built for learning or for schooling?

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Big Picture for Learning Centered Education

The previous posts have discussed learning and teaching philosophy and dispositions, as these are important for the consistency and integrity of the chosen instructional methods in the classroom while beginning to emphasize learning-centered education.

Sometimes it is hard to recognize the underlying ideals in all the great resources that can be found in the internet. What has been helpful to me, is to think first what is the view of the knowledge and the learner in any given resource, and then either use it as it is or tweak it so that it better fits to my philosophy. The picture below shows an overly simplistic model of my thinking about why behaviorism shouldn't be the only learning theory used in the classroom, or while doing instructional design.

When the scientific model used in a resource only refers to the hypotetico-deductive model of reasoning, and omits all other types of inference, I know the mechanist worldview is emphasized over socio-cognitivist humanism. Examples of this are references to formulating hypotheses or following the "traditional" scientific method that is familiar from positivist or objectivist  view of reality (knowledge is measurable, objective and value free). Constructivist or subjective view of knowledge emphasizes situationality and contextuality of learning.

When education focuses on learning, the emphasis is not in arriving to the only one objectively correct learning outcome that has been defined during the instructional design phase, but in supporting students' reasoning skills and their ability to infer and support their claims with suitable references.

I think it is appropriate to note here that I am a qualitative researcher and strongly believe that qualitative and quantitative research must be conducted hand in hand in order to both create theories and test them. Students in 21st century MUST be taught both approaches, and we as educators have much work to do in getting there.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Agency and ownership of learning

Learning is an important part of being a human. We couldn't survive without the ability to learn and adapt to the environment where we live, work and learn. Human development doesn't end in adolescence, but continues throughout our lives.

School learning is a special type of learning, even though we often seem to refer to schooling when we are talking about learning, and keep on emphasizing teaching over learning. This must change, because students are the ones who need to own their learning, and teachers are there to help students to learn. The goal of formal education system is to help students to obtain information and construct knowledge, but also to become capable for independent judgment. Examples of situations where this judgment is important are reading comprehension, understanding scientific principles and being able to support one's opinion with facts.

Agency in any given social situation refers to the intentionality of one's actions and the opportunities to make choices. Agency includes the aspect of time, as the continued engagement in the process of choosing combines one's actions in the past, present, and future. Our choices today often result from choices we made previously.

In the classroom environment learner agency denotes the quality of students' engagement. 
Agency is not something students have, it is something students do. Students may choose to engage in their own learning, or just strategically or ritually comply with the tasks and activities presented to them - and the big problem in schooling is this detachment or disengagement that results from students having no ownership over their own learning.

Learner agency requires for students voice to be heard, so that they have ownership over their own learning. The first step is to make sure that students believe that their choices and actions will make a difference in their learning process. By supporting learner agency throughout the formal education it is possible to foster life-long learning, which is crucially important in the rapidly changing world.

Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2006). How is agency possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. University of Exeter School of Education and Lifelong Learning, Working Paper, 5. 
Priestley, M., Biesta, G., & Robinson, S. (2014). Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter?.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Learning Strategies

Learning is such an individual experience! We all have our own way to learn, and the orientations, approaches and strategies we use for learning have been acquired during childhood and educational experiences, thus becoming quite stable by constant reinforcement and tending to last throughout our lives. However, it is possible to help students to become better learners by teaching learning strategies and metacognitive skills as byproducts of the subject matter.

We live in a world where life-long learning is a must. It doesn't have to be formal, academic learning, but being able to adapt to the new technology and the rapid changes in our lives. Where ever I teach,  I always want to support my students' self-regulated learning by engaging in process-oriented instruction and learning facilitation (as seen in Simons,1997).

Sometimes people confuse learning strategies with instructional strategies, but these are two distinctively different concepts. Instructional strategies are used by the teacher, learning strategies are in each students' own repertoire. Sometimes also learning styles are confused with learning strategies. Distance Learning Association has a good online presentation about learning styles and strategies.

Vermunt and Vermetten (2004) concluded that students' learning strategy patterns generally belong to one of the following dimensions: undirected, reproduction-directed, meaning-directed, or application-directed. TheKalaca & Gulpinar (2011) table below displays the learning components attached to each learning strategy (called learning style in the table).

Learning often gets hard for students who rely solely on undirected or reproduction-directed learning strategies. Both approaches focus strongly on memorizing the content without connecting the details to a hypernym (i.e.umbrella term). With external regulation of learning, these students aim to pass the exams, but find it hard to assess their own learning.

Meaning-directed students try to first understand the entities and then relate the details into these bigger concepts. Focusing on learning in the context, these self-regulating students try to connect the new information with their existing knowledge. They may be critical, as forming an opinion about the topic is important, and they may engage in independent search for additional material to better understand the concepts to be learned.

Application-directed students value learning about useful materials and topics, and they try to find practical applications for the content they learn. Being both externally- and self-regulating, these students reflect on their own experiences and relate their practical knowledge to the theoretical concepts to be learned.

Students in all four dimensions benefit from learning more about self-regulation and metacognitive strategies in order to become life-long learners, and able to choose from the information and misinformation that is available on every computer and handheld devise. The necessary instructional strategy for teachers - in addition to supporting learning process and teaching metacognitive strategies in various ways - is to learn how to ask non-googlable questions.

Kalaca S, Gulpinar M. A Turkish study of medical student learning styles. Educ Health [serial online] 2011 [cited 2016 Feb 12];24:459. Available from: http://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2011/24/3/459/101429
Simons, P. R. J. (1997). From romanticism to practice in learning. Lifelong Learn. Europe 1:
Vermunt, J. D., & Vermetten, Y. J. (2004). Patterns in student learning: Relationships
between learning strategies, conceptions of learning and learning orientations.
Educational Psychology Review, 16, 359–384 http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10648-

Friday, September 25, 2015

Life-long, life-deep and life-wide learning

In  a classroom, or within any group of learners, the reality is that each individual has a different learning experience, even while they all are instructed the same way. Fascinating, isn't it?!

We all bring into the learning situation our own learning history and cultural background, our life-long, life-wide and life-deep understanding what learning is. What we all need is support for our individual development, and empowering learning facilitation that helps us to learn even more.  This support is the basis of good learning experiences. In order to further strengthen learning we as teachers must have a strong communicative intent in our work, instead of emphasizing the code or doxa, which has different features in all educational institutions, depending their location and culture. Yet, regardless of the culture, the effort to communicate and support learning instead to reinforce and mandate compliance is what sets great schools and teachers apart from others!

Principles of life-long, life-deep and life-wide learning:

  1. Learning is situated in broad socio-economic and historical contexts and is mediated by local cultural practices and perspectives. 
  2. Learning takes place not only in school but also in the multiple contexts and valued practices of everyday lives across the life span
  3. All learners need multiple sources of support from a variety of institutions to promote their personal and intellectual development. 
  4. Learning is facilitated when learners are encouraged to use their home and community language resources as a basis for expanding their linguistic repertoires.

I am expanding these principles to apply to all learners, not just multicultural, because every student has their own diverse home- and family culture which sets them apart from the rest of the group and contributes to the learning experience.

Every student needs to know that all learning counts, both formal and informal. Invisible learning and measuring what we value (instead of trying to value what we measure) are what education should be about, because learning cannot be limited to schools and universities!


Read more about life-long, life-wide and life-deep learning:
Learning in and out of school in diverse environments: Life-long, life-wide, life-deep. LIFE Center, University of Washington, Stanford University, and SRI International, 2007. Retrieved from: http://www.life-slc.org/docs/Banks_etal-LIFE-Diversity-Report.pdf

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wonderings about learning and intelligence

It seems that intelligence - or the way how we understand intelligence - is very much context dependent. In formal education those students who are able to reproduce the learning material delivered to them are often considered to be intelligent. This ability is evidenced by various exams, multiple choice tests, and other evaluations. The need to do well in exams is ingrained into students thinking very early on, and often students develop their (academic) self-concepts according to the grades they receive. To me this way of knowing (rule-based, or instrumental, see Kegan 1982, 2000; Drago-Severson 2004) is just a beginning of becoming a learner.

When you are invited to play a game, you most likely will want to follow the rules, in order to gain something from playing - whether it is winning a price like getting your diploma, or something else we perceive having value, like being accepted by your peers and other people. This certainly is socially intelligent behaviour, but how much does it really relate to the cognitive part of intelligence: the physiological effectiveness of out neural system in storing and retrieving data from the brain and the ways of knowing? Or understanding our own values and being willing and able to negotiate with those who have conflicting views?

IQ testing is an attempt to measure operational intelligence. The component behind our cognitive skills (language/math skills, logical reasoning, spatial sense, etc) is called the general intelligence factor. While I do recall going through reading speed testing at school, I never got the impression that intelligence would have been overly emphasized during my schooling. The message was more along the lines that everyone can learn and that we should engage in dialogue to better understand each other.

So, what about the meaning-oriented learning, and the intelligence that is much harder to measure by standardized IQ test? My own thinking about intelligence and learning is growing along the lines of the adult development and life-long learning, and I think that reproductive learning orientation is not sufficient.

Van Rossum & Hamer have a fascinating book "The Meaning of Learning and Knowing" that has influenced my thinking about how we learn.

Learning as understanding the connections between different theories or models is the way I see broad/general intelligence to be used best. This type of learning includes challenges and problem solving, but also requires lots of collaborative meaning-making and learner agency being a central part of each individual journey.

I think I am a lifelong learner -- there is so much to lean, and so little time to do it!


Drago-Severson, E. (2004). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. Teachers College Press.
Kegan, R. (2009). What” form” transforms. A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. Teoksessa K. Illeris (toim.) Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists in their own words. Abingdon: Routledge, 35-54.
Van Rossum, E. J., & Hamer, R. N. (2010). The meaning of learning and knowing. Sense Publishers.