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?.